Scenario based learning design

Over the summer, I worked with Amanda Griffiths (Student Wellbeing Manager) at the University of Sussex to develop “My Wellbeing” – a bitesize online induction course aimed at all students within the university.

This used a scenario-based learning approach to educate students on prevention and intervention within the context of health, safety and student wellbeing and to raise awareness of available help and support. This article will explore the approaches used to design, conceptualise and produce the resource. 

Image of My Wellbeing (learning design)

What is scenario based learning?

Scenario-based learning makes use of narratives to contextualise situations which adapt in response to decisions made by the student in relation to problem-based questions. The goal of this strategy is to enable students to develop problem solving and decision making skills within an authentic context and test choices and consequences within a safe, simulated environment.

For example, in medical training; the participant is presented with a scenario where they play the role of a doctor, consulting a patient who has described a set of symptoms they have been experiencing. Based on this information, the participant (doctor) is required to make a decision to help the patient from a defined set of choices; each choice leads to a different consequence which could for example, help or hinder the patient’s condition. After making a bad decision, the participant is then either presented with a further scenario to try and steer the narrative back onto the correct course or prompted with feedback to guide them to making better decisions when re-attempting the scenario.

Storyboarding scenarios

Planning and storyboarding is key to designing an online educational resource, especially when working with a subject matter expert, academic or collaborator who is providing content or inputting their own ideas. It is the most efficient way to share your vision and manage a project as it allows space for ideas to easily develop and change – this can be much harder and more time consuming to do once your project has moved into development.

A logical place to start planning is by thinking about the scope, audience and objectives of the course by defining a set of intended learning outcomes. Ask yourself “what do I want students to learn?”, consider your students background, level of knowledge or ability and how much time you want them to spend on the tutorial. If the learning outcomes are too complex or ambitious to achieve within the timeframe then consider simplifying or reducing the number of outcomes to something more appropriate. For the My Wellbeing course, a scenario was designed for each learning outcome to ensure that the key messages would be thoroughly explored and clearly communicated.

Developing narrative

The 5 W’s (What, who, where, when, why) are basic questions which are often used for requirements gathering and problem solving. These questions can be used as building blocks for setting the scene of a narrative and considering requirements for developing problem-based scenarios. For example:

  • What do we want the student to learn? to understand the need to register with a GP.
  • Why is it important? to ensure that whilst living at university; students are able to arrange an appointment with a GP as quickly as possible if they become unwell or need medical advice.
  • Who is this aimed at / likely to be involved in the scenario? a new student living away from home for the first time who is not registered with a doctor in the local area.
  • Where is the problem likely to occur? on-campus at a hall of residence.
  • When does is it likely to happen? students should ideally register before they arrive or as soon as they arrive – the scenario could take place during freshers week

By answering these questions I now have enough information to set the scene for the narrative; I know the purpose or moral of the story, the characters, where it takes place and at what time.

A principle adopted throughout the tutorial was that participants would take on the role of a friend offering advice to characters they encountered which meant that we could introduce a range of diverse characters to provide an inclusive experience with the message that the scenarios can affect anyone, even those who are not directly involved.

Components of scenario design: challenge, choices, consequences

As explained by Tom Kuhlmann in the article “Build Branched E-Learning Scenarios in Three Simple Steps”, he uses a basic 3c model to develop scenarios. This consists of a challenge, a range of choices and relative consequences of those choices. The challenge presented to the participant is the problem and the choices are the decision paths which they can select from, the consequence adapts based on the selected choice and alters the course of the narrative.

An extension to this could be that the participant is offered a chance to correct the narrative and set a new challenge which follows on from a consequence. Alternatively, if there is no purpose or logical point to continue the scenario then you could offer the participant a conclusion to explain a concept, provide feedback or summarise their decision.

This model was adapted for the My Wellbeing tutorial and offers 3 choices per challenge, the choices would include a proactive, reactive and passive response. The most positive outcome would stem from the proactive choice as this is the form of action and thinking we wanted to encourage throughout the tutorial.

From the basis of our narrative, we can now begin to structure a scenario using these building blocks.

Challenge Choices Consequence Conclusion
During Freshers’ week, you meet Billy, a new student who’s moved into one of the campus halls of residence. He asks your advice about seeing a doctor. You advise that if he has already registered with a GP (doctor) at home then there is no need to register with one in Brighton. Billy’s symptoms get progressively worse, but because he isn’t registered with a local doctor, he can’t get immediate medical help when he needs it. It turns out that he has mumps and not only is treatment delayed, but he passes it on to some of his friends. Register with a doctor either before you arrive or soon after – do not wait to become unwell
Although you will have a choice of doctors, this choice is limited to the area in which you live – so that you can visit their surgery easily and they can visit you if they decide that a home visit is necessary.  You will need to register with a doctor in the area in which you spend the majority of the year – if you need to see a doctor when you are home in the vacation, you can see them (in the UK) as a temporary resident.
You advise that he should register with a GP (doctor) in the local area as soon as possible. Billy’s symptoms get progressively worse. Fortunately he had registered with a doctor and is able to arrange an appointment with his local GP at short notice. He gets a quick diagnosis of mumps, gets treatment which makes him feel a lot better and stays away from other students so they don’t catch it too.
You advise that there’s no need to register immediately as he can always do that if he starts to feel worse. Billy’s symptoms get progressively worse, but when he tries to make an appointment with the Health Centre on campus he has to wait as registration takes a couple of days to go through. When he eventually gets to see a doctor, it turns out that he has mumps and not only is treatment delayed, but he passes it on to some of his friends.

The finished article may look something like this, just add in some character dialogue and images to bring the story to life.


Development: next steps

Complementing your narrative with multimedia can add a touch of realism and provide an immersive experience for your students. Consider whether you could enhance your story with images, video or audio licensed under Creative Commons or create your own. You may wish to look at our Tips for mobile filmmakers or Understanding Creative Commons blog posts for advice. Image repositories such as Pixabay, and PhotosForClass are a great resource for free and licensed images which you can use in your projects.

There are a number of tools available for the creation of non-linear, branching-scenario style presentations in web-pages. If you are a Moodle user then you could use the lesson activity which is designed for building interactive self-study resources and is well adapted for creating branched scenarios. This provides all of the advantages of a virtual learning environment, including in depth collection of learning analytics. However it can be more difficult to use and get to grips with than some of the other options which provide more visual, user-friendly interfaces.

If you want a more professional touch and more flexibility over your design then you could use a rapid e-learning software package such as Xerte (open source) or Articulate Storyline (proprietary) to create a resource which can integrate into your virtual learning environment as a SCORM package. A much simpler, but limited option would be to use Google Slides, cloud-based presentation software which can be used to create non-linear presentations by creating internal links between slides.

Members of staff at University of Sussex can find out more about design their own online learning resources by contacting their school learning technologist.

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Posted in Digital scholarship, Learning Design
3 comments on “Scenario based learning design
  1. Adebayo Adebiyi says:

    Dear Author,
    I commend the context of this article. Well understood and explanatory. But,i have a question to ask as related to Scenario planning with the use of Social Media to enhance learning.
    1. What are the like links between Scenario Planning and Forecasting
    2. Is there any clear different between Scenario Planning and Scenario Analysis?
    3. How feasible is presenting to learners the context of a Scenario-based approach with the use of Social Media?

    • Pete Sparkes says:

      Hi Adebayo
      I think this would very much depend on the context of scenarios and the use of the social media platform. The types of scenarios which were discussed in this article have fixed outcomes and an advantage of this is that they are also using the idea of simulated or theoretical scenarios, the responses are not affecting real people so this makes it a safe learning environment to experiment and test solutions. I don’t think the same could be said for if you were testing responses on a real audience through social media. However, this may very much depend on specific use cases and what you are trying to achieve. Platforms such as Kiallo and Values Xchange are designed for facilitating social debates and might be more suitable for testing responses to scenarios than more mainstream social media platforms.

      • Adebayo Adebiyi says:

        Thank you pete,
        Actually, i am trying to check the effect of Scenario-based approach with use of social media on Learners, Cognitive skills.
        Any relevant ideas on this are welcome. Also, references to boost the understanding.

        Thank you.

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