To give some context for why I think scenario-based eLearning (SBeL) should become a top priority of every business, let me start with something Todd M. Warner recently wrote in Chief Learning Officer:

Scenario-based eLearning should mimic real on-the-job scenarios.

For learning to work in the 21st century, we have to move beyond our fascination with content and start to develop a deeper fascination with the context of how work gets done. Leverage exists for learning in every organization, and we need to prioritize making learning more applied as a means to enable new ideas and ways of working to flourish (source).

He goes on to liken corporate learning to an ice cream cone with sprinkles where content is seen as the ice cream and the organizational context of how real work actually gets done is seen as the sprinkles. He suggests that this traditional approach is wrong because it’s backwards. The starting point or ice cream should be that real-world context and the actual learning content is what gets sprinkled onto that. In other words, close the gap between learning content and the work that needs to be accomplished. I think the best way to close that gap and make all learning more effective is to focus on scenario-based eLearning (also called problem-based learning, whole-task learning or case-based learning, to name a few variations).

Scenario-Based eLearning Defined

The basic idea of scenario-based eLearning is to embed the learning content within a scenario or story that mimics the real-world context of the work that needs to be performed. By embedding the learning in the scenario as it unfolds, learners are immediately applying what they learn in a simulation of what it could be like in the real world. This goes a long way towards closing that gap between content and context mentioned above. And because the scenario is a simulation and not the real world, learners have a safe environment in which to practice their work. Failures don’t have real-world negative impacts and instead become opportunities to learn from mistakes and reapply learning in another go through the same or similar scenario. The essential characteristics that make for good scenario-based eLearning are listed below. It’s important to understand that each one is a variable that can be present to a greater or lesser degree.

  • Realistic. The closer that the scenario matches up to the real-world context of work, the better.
  • Interactive. The more interactive the learning, the better. For more information on the importance of interactivity, see my recent article, Make Interactive eLearning a Priority in 2019.
  • Application. The act of immediately applying the learning in the scenario is the key to scenario-based eLearning, so the more it happens, the better.
  • Learner-Centric. The learner becomes the main character or protagonist in the story-like scenario and naturally wants to achieve a good outcome in their story, which translates into improved performance on the job in the real world.

The best way to close that gap and make all learning more effective is to focus on scenario-based eLearning

Why Scenario-Based eLearning Should be a Top Priority

You can see why businesses should be very interested in scenario-based eLearning. It’s very much geared towards improving performance in the workplace. Rather than learning about a bunch of abstract concepts and theories, you’re learning what you need to know and applying it in a safe, simulated but realistic environment. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) thinks this is important enough to offer a certificate course in SBeL. This is because they understand that when it’s done well, scenario-based eLearning can help enhance critical thinking skills, accelerate expertise, and boost the transfer of learning so it sticks better.

In an age when corporate learning programs need to prove their return on investment (ROI) more than ever before, scenario-based eLearning offers the clearest pathway to improved performance and productivity, making it much easier to show the positive impact it has on the company’s bottom line. When learners are immersed in realistic, interactive scenarios, they become much more engaged and motivated to learn, which has always been the elusive Holy Grail of corporate learning and training programs. The next article in this three-part series will take a deeper dive into various examples of SBeL to provide further insights into its value for a variety of workplace learning needs.