Standard e-learning courses that are linear in their format are no longer that interesting for learners, cannot grab their attention and lead to lower retention rates. Utilizing different methods such as gamification, microlearning or adaptive learning is a great way to diversify the e-learning courses that you create regardless of their educational purpose – for corporate training, skills enhancement, part of a university program, etc.
One of the approaches that give great results in creating highly-engaging modules is to present the learners with real-life scenarios and challenge them to solve certain problems that entail specific consequences. Including branching scenarios in the e-learning course puts the learners in the shoes of problem-solvers and allows them to use the theoretical knowledge they have in practice while utilizing the safe e-learning environment.
Once you get familiar with the idea of branching scenarios, you can unlock their unlimited potential. In order to do so, it is necessary to know what they are, how to create them and which are the best examples to use. It is also a good idea to be more creative and find suitable combinations of branching scenarios with other approaches. Below are a few ideas that can help and inspire you to include them in your next e-learning project.
What are Branching Scenarios and Why Include Them in E-Learning Courses?
Initially, the goal of an e-learning course was to present information in the form of text, images and/or movies in order to make people familiar with new concepts and skills. It is a great way to learn about new ideas and theories, however, it does not give the learners the necessary experience. In recent years the focus has shifted from learning about something to learning how to do something. The development of scenario-based modules allows learners to make decisions and to follow a certain path of development based on their choices.
Branching scenarios provoke learners to put their theoretical knowledge into solving practical issues and see if they really have the skills to do it. It has happened probably to all of us to perfectly understand something while learning it and feeling absolutely in dire straits when having to apply it in practice. Here is where scenario-based learning comes to help.
What is a branching scenario? Basically, it is an interactive form of learning that challenges the learner to put their knowledge into practice. The learners are presented with a question and several options to solve the issue and each of their decisions takes them on a different path. As the story unfolds, the learners are faced with more challenges and options. The scenario provides a safe environment to test your knowledge and skills and to learn from your mistakes without the consequences of actual real-life situations. There is no way to predict how the scenario will go on as each individual decision makes a difference in the story. This type of learning interaction is quite catchy and engaging and learners have fun while completing the modules.
A scenario is usually made of three parts:
- A description that introduces the learner to the specific situation giving all the necessary details and usually presenting the dilemma that is to be solved.
- A question with several alternatives where a decision is to be made for the story to unfold. Most commonly the learners are presented with two answers that they need to choose from. Depending on the level of difficulty or the intention of the module there can be one or more correct answers. Usually, there is one choice which is the best, while the others are either wrong or not as good. As the story goes, the learner is faced with several such options which lead them to different ends of the scenario.
- Feedback. This is an important part of any learning module as it allows the learner to realize the mistakes made and to learn from them. In the case with a branching scenario, feedback can be given at different stages of the story. One of the options is to give feedback immediately after a decision is made. In case the option chosen is correct, the learner can proceed with the module. If the answer is wrong, the learner is given more information and explanation and allowed to choose again in order to proceed. This approach is usually used with more complicated ideas and with beginners. For more experienced learners it is recommended to give feedback at the very end of the module. Thus, the learners are allowed to proceed through the scenario no matter if their choice is right or wrong. It gives them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.
Why branching scenarios are good for e-learning courses? The answer to this question is pretty simple – because they allow the learner to gain practical skills alongside the theoretical knowledge. It is a powerful learning experience because it provides a safe environment for the learners to make mistakes while placed in a real-life situation and learn from them without negative consequences. The learners gain invaluable experience that can be used in real life afterwards. The method is very suitable for company training and especially for leaders and managers who are faced with tough decisions every working day. The scenarios are good for any age as they are engaging and funny and the story can be adapted to fit the abilities and address the needs of the learners.
Is it Difficult to Create a Branching Scenario E-Learning Course?
Authoring an e-learning course based on a branching scenario is a serious undertaking that requires time, imagination and can be a complex and costly process, especially the first time. You need to be quite creative and careful not to lose track of where each branch leads. You need to create multiple pages, buttons, and actions and make sure that the story comes to an end.
Once you are ready with the module, you need to spend sufficient time to test it and run a quality assurance check. You need to make sure that each of the branches of your scenario works. The best thing to do is to plan for sufficient time in advance so that you can make sure that each detail is a perfect fit for the story. It is also a good idea to use specialized scenario-building tools such as Twine, Draw IO or BranchTrack. They will help you build the slides, which is probably the most time-consuming part of creating the course.
The complexity of the branching scenario is one serious issue to be taken into account. A scenario has the potential to grow exponentially and you can easily get lost in the numerous branches you can create. A possible solution to limit the growth and to keep the focus in your e-learning course is to start by defining the desired outcomes. You can come up with three possible results and then start the scenario and create branches that lead to them.
Because of the time needed to develop a branching scenario and its complexity, the cost is often quite high. You need to include the development of the modules, their testing and quality assurance and any translation and localization services you may need if you are targeting a multilanguage audience. Note that the costs can be significantly reduced if the proper authoring tools are used, so make sure that you choose the right partners for your project.
What are the Best Ways to Create Branching Scenarios?
Branching scenarios include multiple questions that demand an answer from the learners so that they can proceed further. You may come to think that this makes them quite similar to quizzes. The difference is in the model – a quiz is linear, the next question does not depend on the answer you have given, whether it is right or wrong. There is no story that evolves and no practical experience. The quiz simply checks whether you have memorized and/or understood the new material. The branching scenario, on the other hand, is interactive. The story unfolds depending on the answer the learners give and each question or challenge that follows is based on that answer.
Having this in mind, here are a few ideas on how to create branching scenarios that lead to efficient and effective learning:
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the learner
Knowing what your learners can do and what they need to learn is the basic platform to develop your e-learning course. To have a good branching scenario you need to target specific gaps and set concrete goals to be achieved.
- Choose the desired outcomes
In order to create an efficient branching scenario, set up a given number of outcomes – three to five is best. It is easier to develop all the branches once you know where you want them to lead you.
- Map your course
Start by mapping each branch of your scenario. Outlining the problems and obstacles you can face with each scenario will help you stay organized. Work closely with your team to outline every detail and to make sure that it is relevant to the final goal you have set up in the beginning.
- Use a storyboard
It is a good idea to use an e-learning storyboard for the creation of your branching scenario. It will make you visualize the different paths the learner can take throughout the module.
- Focus on real-life context and make it challenging
Make your training relevant for your learners. Use concept from the real world and challenge your learners with real-life issues. Give them the option to make mistakes when faced with real-life situations and provide feedback and a lot of support. You can include links to other pages that can provide additional information and help the learner proceed with the scenario. Use thought-provoking situations that can engage the learner. Give them a range of choices that allow the learners to showcase their skills and knowledge in a practical but safe environment.
- Make your modules learner-centered
You can enhance the engagement of the learners by offering them a series of scenarios that they can choose from. Thus, you can attract a wider range of learners and show them that they are in control of their learning progress.
- Select the right authoring tool
The e-learning authoring tool is the one that can add value to your course and therefore it is important to select one that is the right for you. It is a good idea to test a few platforms and see which has all the elements you need for successfully developing a branching scenario course. The features that you need to look for are templates, images, icons, themes, videos and other media included in the tool that will facilitate the designing of your branching scenario. Using special software for branching scenarios is also a good idea to save time and money. You can also invest in an authoring tool that offers more advanced features that can enhance the learners’ experience.
- Test the final product
Make sure to test each path of your branching scenario to check that it actually works and connects seamlessly with the next stage. While running through the scenario, you should also pay attention to any grammar mistakes, inappropriate content or glitches that may appear in your module.
Combining Branching Scenarios with Other Training Formats
Creating a module that is based only on a branching scenario is an efficient training method on its own but it doesn’t mean that it cannot be combined with other activities. It is a good idea to focus on training activities that lead to a specific performance goal rather than always trying to utilize only one method for a single event.
Branching scenarios can be included as part of different pieces of training where the focus is on practical experience rather than formulating the entire training module. You can use them in the final part of the training where learners can test the new knowledge they have acquired or use them as an icebreaker even in live training to make the participants work together as a team solving a “mystery”. As long as you adapt the branching scenario to fit your training goals, you can combine it with other formats that you have identified as suitable for the specific course.
While branching scenarios are a great way to make your e-learning course more efficient and engaging, they are not a universal decision for all learners or for each type of new information that needs to be presented. Their greatest merit is the possibility to test your knowledge in practice and see the consequences of your decisions in a safe environment mimicking real-life situations. Still, the best way to design your next e-learning course is to select the best format that matches each activity rather than one format for the entire project.