Scenario based learning

Let’s start with the first question I’m sure you’re dying to ask, hypothetical reader:  what exactly is scenario based learning? 

Scenario based learning (SBL) involves, as the name implies, teaching through the use of simulated scenarios which use narratives to guide learners through certain situations which can be adapted based on the choices and responses of the learners. 

Much of the basis for scenario based learning comes from situated learning theory, a theory developed by Jean Lave whose theory is that learning occurs best when understood as knowledge that is embedded within an authentic context, activity and culture and which occurs naturally as opposed to knowledge existing as abstract and out of context knowledge as it would be traditionally taught in a classroom environment.

Scenario based learning is therefore an attempt to try and bridge this gap, bringing scenarios that use and simulate elements of context, activity and culture into a classroom environment.

These scenarios work best when they mirror real world situations that learners are likely to encounter within their subject, i.e. medical students dealing with patients, engineering students dealing with a building project.

How is scenario based learning useful for my teaching?

So how can it help in regards to teaching, what’s the use of scenario based learning? It enables a safe space for failure, learners are able to make decisions, including mistakes, and see the consequences of those mistakes play out within the safe confines of the simulated scenario, students can then reflect and evaluate their potential mistakes without suffering negative consequences. 

For example a social worker playing out a potential simulated interaction with a client may make the wrong choices, but they’re able to then reflect on their wrong choices and correct them.

Forging a strong link between theory and practice, by seeing how the theory learners have learnt in an abstract sense can be applied in a practical sense so that learners can gain a greater understanding of the use of the theory and its real world applications.

There may be many discipline specific issues that only really arise and which learners can only learn to deal with when they emerge organically in practical situations, given that these sort of organic situations cannot be brought into the classroom environments learning scenarios provide the next best thing to a real world practical situation.

How can I use scenario based learning  in my classroom?

There are various ways SBL can be applied. One way is to use digital tools to present a scenario to students, scenarios don’t have to be complicated and can be created with simple tools such as a Powerpoint or Google Slides or by using a storytelling tool such as Twine (link to Twine blog post). 

On the other end of the scale there are more in depth tools such as Articulate which allows for the creation of complicated branching scenarios (please note that Sussex does not hold an institutional license for Articulate). Sussex’s online media platform Panopto could even be used for this purpose by creating videos that take the learner through a situation and using a tool such as Slides or Twine to link together the various different videos based on the learner’s choices.

You don’t necessarily need to use digital tools as you can pose scenario questions to students or even act out scenarios with them within a classroom environment and react to their decisions as they make them. 

If you are interested in developing or using scenario based learning within your teaching at Sussex please do get in touch with the Technology Enhanced Learning Team at tel@sussex.ac.uk. 

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2 comments on “Scenario based learning
  1. Tim Vincent says:

    Thanks George. Interesting to see what tools are available to academics for this kind of rich learning tool. I have seen some good results with BranchTrack (https://www.branchtrack.com/) and they offer one full-featured scenario for free. It’s quite commercially focussed but has high quality design/visuals. On the other end of the spectrum, I have also used OpenLabyrinth (https://openlabyrinth.ca/) which is fully free and open source but is more basic in its visual presentation. Would recommend any tutors to explore these too…

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