The When and How of Building a Branching Scenario

Branching scenarios are a highly effective component of many learning management systems (LMS), but we have found there are some common questions about building branching scenarios. How to know when they’re appropriate to use and how to get started building one that works?

What is a Branching Scenario and When Is it Helpful?

First, the very basics of a scenario and more specifically, a scenario that branches:

A scenario in and of itself is something used in learning, including multimedia learning, as a way to show the student how to apply certain concepts, as opposed to simply introducing them to a theory or an idea. It provides the opportunity for a real world application of what a student is learning.

Training medical professionals with scenarios will prevent major errors when interacting personally with patients.

Training medical professionals with scenarios will prevent major errors when interacting personally with patients.

Scenarios are often great to include in eLearning for high-risk industries, where the learner needs to be able to make decisions and face the consequences of these in a safe environment. Some industries that particularly benefit from the use of scenarios in their LMS content include the medical industry, the medical device manufacturing industry, and manufacturing in general.

Employees in these settings don’t have the luxury of making mistakes while working with a patient or on the manufacturing floor because these mistakes can be deadly. Therefore, scenarios offer a training alternative that lets them explore their options without serious repercussions.

A branching scenario takes the concept of a basic or mini-scenario, and builds on it for something that’s more complex. When you introduce this type of scenario into your training or development multimedia content, you’re asking your learner to make decisions that build on one another as the learner progresses through a series of scenes or situations.

A branching scenario isn’t going to be ideal to include in training materials focusing on presenting a fairly concrete concept or series of definitive steps that should be taken. Instead, a scenario that branches is ideal for introducing a complex concept, and in particular one that requires critical thinking, assessment and decision-making on the part of the learner.

The focus of this type of scenario is really all about how well your learner has grasped larger principles and theories and then is able to apply those in a real-world setting.

Building a Complex Scenario

Since this particular type of scenario is inherently complex, it can be challenging to know where to start when it comes to building one for your eLearning content.

Of course the approach to including this kind of scenario in your multimedia learning content is going to vary based on your goals, your industry and your learner, but the following is a list of basic steps to take to begin the initial process.

  1. As with most training and development content, the first step to making effective materials is to be clear on what it is you most want your learner to grasp and take away from the scenario. Focus on your organization’s goals before you start outlining the situation in further detail, or creating possible outcomes.
  2. Often, many course developers find using a basic flowchart is the best way to lay out a complex scenario. When you create a flowchart it’s important to begin with a realistic challenge your employees will actually face in the workplace, and when you’re including possible wrong choices they can make to solve the challenge, ensure that these are also realistic. The more realistic the better—if there’s one right choice and then several blatantly wrong choices your learner isn’t going to have a valuable takeaway from the content. If possible, utilize actual choices that have been made by employees in the past, to increase the level of realism.
  3. Before you go into too much detail in terms of background information, skip ahead and work on your debriefing assessment. This will help guide you through the process of developing a branching scenario, and help you determine what’s most important for your learner to grasp.

A scenario offering multiple possibilities and outcomes is a great way to train professionals, giving them the opportunity to apply their knowledge without the fear of failure. Since it can be so complex and relies on a complete sense of realism, it’s challenging to create a scenario that branches, but you’re likely to see tremendous value from doing so.

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