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Scenario-based learning: 5 best practices and examples

Scenario-based learning makes employees active participants in their own learning process, better preparing them for the real issues they may face at work.
Scenario Based Learning
Credit: Blake Cale

Scenario-based learning is effective because it gives participants the chance to try out different behaviors (and fail), but even more valuable is that it does so in a controlled environment. Learners are able to make mistakes without being exposed to the risks that may come from making those errors in real-life situations. 

This is just one of the many advantages of scenario-based learning. To discover more of its benefits, learn how to design these experiences effectively, and see some impressive examples, read on. 

The benefits of scenario-based learning 

Scenario-based learning is an immersive training experience where learners have the chance to interact with realistic work situations. It allows learners to apply their knowledge by making decisions based on what they’ve learned and experiencing the consequences of those decisions. 

This approach creates a more engaging learning experience that prepares employees for the real issues they may face at work. The interactive framework allows learners to actively participate in the learning process rather than passively receive information. This helps improve retention of content and information recall. 

Scenario-based learning helps improve information retention and recall.

Another significant benefit of scenario-based learning is that it provides real-time feedback. When learners practice scenarios and either succeed or fail, this immediate feedback helps them gain understanding and confidence in their skills.  

Scenario-based learning is especially useful for teaching complex topics because it allows learners to see how the concepts can actually be applied. Additionally, it’s particularly effective for remote learning environments as it is self-guided and allows employees to learn at their own pace. 

Scenario-based learning examples and best practices

Scenario-based learning can take on many different forms. For example, this e-learning provides product training using a sales simulation. Rather than simply telling the learner about the product, it also uses an assessment to test their knowledge. Then, the training goes even further by providing a customer scenario that helps bring the content to life and puts the learned sales skills to use.

Another example of scenario-based learning can be seen in the informal compliance course in this article. The course is a practical and safe way to introduce learners to potential risks. It presents them with hazardous situations and prompts them to select the correct course of action. It also provides learners with feedback which allows them to learn from their mistakes. 

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These examples show how scenario-based learning can help drive behavioral change. However, there are several important things to keep in mind when attempting to design similar experiences. Below are a few best practices to follow.  

Ensure the scenarios are realistic

What makes this learning method most effective is when the scenarios reflect common, relatable, and relevant situations. Scenarios should be based on events that the learner may actually encounter in the real world. To develop them, learning professionals should work closely with subject matter experts to gain the necessary context. Additionally, when using characters in scenarios, they should be named and resemble the people they represent in real life. 

Enable learning from mistakes

Learners should be allowed to fail, because making mistakes promotes growth. Scenario-based learning should, of course, include cues that lead a learner to choose the correct option, however it should also include cues that serve as a distraction for the learner. It’s worthwhile to provide options that are incorrect but are considered “common mistakes” that one would make on the job.

This allows learners to make errors in a safe space. This only works, however, if the scenarios are accompanied by timely feedback. Once a learner chooses the incorrect option, they should be presented with the consequences of those actions, plus information to reinforce what the correct action would be.  

Follow the “Five Cs of Scenario-Based Learning”

Effective scenario-based learning experiences typically follow five basic principles. These principles include:  

  • Context: The scenario should set the scene in a way that is relevant and meaningful to the learner. 
  • Challenge: The scenario should be challenging enough so the learner can utilize their existing critical thinking and problem-solving skills successfully. One way to make scenarios challenging, for example, is by adding time constraints. 
  • Choices: The scenario should provide options, allowing learners to make decisions that lead to different outcomes.  
  • Consequences: The scenario should include consequences for the choices made by the learner. The consequences can be positive or negative. They must allow the learner to see the impact of their actions, and if applicable, allow them to learn from their mistakes. 
  • Contemplate: The scenarios should provide feedback and allow learners to review and reflect. 

When these principles are followed, scenario-based learning can be instrumental in meeting the learning needs of any organization.  

Final thoughts

Scenario-based learning isn’t just a valuable tool for learners; it is for L&D professionals as well. It allows them to gain insight into learners’ thought processes, patterns, and abilities. This, in turn, enables learning leaders to tailor their offerings to more effectively meet learners’ needs. 

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