By Elena Bondarik
Let’s talk training in practical terms: it’s meant to be useful. Considering the goal of corporate training is to better prepare employees for their roles and the company’s reality, the optimum training will be the one that exposes them to such situations in a controlled environment. However, it’s not rare to find approaches that are no more than a thick cloud of theoretical viewpoints and business jargon that feel like a waste of the employees’ time and the company’s money. Why not focus on what they will encounter in reality instead?
That’s the premise of scenario-based learning. As the name indicates, it revolves around the idea of utilizing a realistic environment in training to make learners familiar with what awaits them in the real world. It’s real, life-like training for real-life work.
It’s Worth It
An experiment conducted by the U.S. Air Force and the University of Pittsburgh has shown that 25 hours of scenario-based training propelled two-year Air Force technicians to the same level as 10-year veterans – it also highlights how relevant scenarios are for medical training for the same reasons. That unprecedented level of progress can be understood when we consider that learning in realistic scenarios exposes learners to real-world experience during training, and that condensed experience they acquire will save them the time needed to develop that expertise by themselves.
Basing training on realistic scenarios is also an effective tool to combat the forgetting curve. Research by the University of Waterloo has shown that we tend to forget at least 50 percent of what we learned after 24 hours, and in some estimates, that number can be as high as 70 percent. After some weeks, the human brain is unable to reproduce the vast majority of what was taught during a training session. The worst that can happen is that employees will face a situation they have been trained for and think, “What am I supposed to do now?” Utilizing scenarios and demanding choices from learners keeps learning active, and that is a proven way to boost learning results.
Define Each Stage’s Objective First
We can’t build training without a clearly defined outcome any more than we can set out on a trip without knowing where to go. In fact, creating the most relevant training scenarios requires establishing the desired result first because you will start from that point and go back to find what path will take learners to that outcome.
If, for instance, the learning goal is to prepare employees to deal with conflicts, then it will be necessary to identify a specific conflict that reflects their environment. The next step will be identifying the crucial steps to solving the conflict; then, what the consequences of those choices will be. That way, learners will develop the exact skills and expertise they need to tackle similar situations.
That can not only make training more effective but also prevent resource wasting through learning and practicing unrelated content.
Focus on Scenarios That Add Value
In other words, make it relatable and challenging. The best approach for you to ensure training relevance and usefulness is to model the situational simulations after past or recurring scenarios in your particular context. It’s worth noting, however, that modeling differs from copying. Common events ought to be treated as a source of inspiration. Merely repeating procedural situations in training will not lead to skill development, but rather create an undue sense of accomplishment derived from the application of the knowledge they already have. It’s not a test; it’s training.
Instead, for the most favorable result, add challenging scenarios that will effectively force learners to fully analyze the context and employ critical thinking. That helps explain why storytelling is common in scenario-based learning: actual scenarios aren’t always black and white, but rather gray. When the learner is presented with a story similar to what they encounter in real life and knows that each choice of action in that story has consequences similar to real life, critical thinking becomes an indispensable tool.
Scenario-based learning will also help you carry out assessment more effectively and thus verify training’s impact on ROI. Because the use of scenarios makes learning more tangible, it is only natural that it would be easily demonstrable as well, which means learners’ performance in quizzes, for example, tends to improve. For it to be natural and profitable, a common application involves the use of possible stories and immediate feedback.
In anti-corruption compliance training, for instance, a story might be told about a potential situation involving morally questionable behavior between members, such as veiled bribery. Depending on the learner’s choice, their response will unfold realistic consequences and change the story’s path, which would not only hone their decision-making but also highlight the effects their choices create – exactly the way it really is.
Don’t Discard Your Existing Content Just Yet
If you already have a training program, chances are it contains useful scenarios that you could keep and expand. Or, at least, useful information about your business’s reality that can be of use for your particular case; they simply need to be moved to the better format. Whatever your case, migrating your content to the new platform is beneficial and can save you precious resources. This is where custom LMS development may come in handy, providing your refreshed training solution with all necessary features and convenient design.
Don’t Forget Feedback
It is relevance that sets scenario-based learning apart and ensuring that isn’t always obvious. In order to prevent an innovative approach to miss the mark and become unrealistic, or mere procedure following, asking for employees’ feedback is crucial, especially the most experienced ones. Those experienced in many different situations – and know the possible consequences of many patterns of action – can help you filter out inessential content.
Some skills are better learned through practice, not theory, and scenario-based learning can ensure they will be practiced in a controlled environment that simulates reality. Considering its benefits on expertise development and the improvement of soft skills, this strategy can surely add value to training if employed in the right circumstances. In the end, opting for this approach is more of a choice between having experts that can explain procedures or truly capable professionals that get the job done.
Information about the author
Elena Bondarik is an E-learning Observer at Iflexion. She has been working in education for more than 10 years exploring how to apply technology to everyday training sessions and teaching practice.