Sink or swim  (in the shallow end)


As we’ve developed ShowHow and seen what has (and hasn’t) worked in scenario-based course design, a common theme has become apparent in engaging learners and creating more efficient experiences.   Challenging learners early and often in the learning experience leads to better engagement and course completion rates. 

Cathay Moores excellent blog on a similar vein prompted us to think about how the concept relates to our world - where ‘productive failure’ can lead to greater learning impact.  

Experienced learners tend to like to demonstrate that they are competent.  Challenging their knowledge and skills in the context of a potential situation is an ideal way for them to show they know what they are doing. But also, can show them they might not know everything they think they do.  

No grandmother likes to be taught how to suck eggs, and no one wants to waste time being taught things they already know - for many, it’s a little offensive.  However, the typical eLearning ‘catch-all’ methodology designed with compliance in mind is often guilty of both of these things.  Respect for the learner’s time and competence is often disregarded when there is an opportunity to showcase new design skills or add just a bit more information they may or may not need.  We’ve all spent too much time plowing through ‘just-in-case’ learning material that obfuscates the details we should be focused on. 

A common hack for mandated eLearning is clicking next, next, next on the slides then trying to game the quiz at the end. Then if you can’t do that - go back and read the things you absolutely need to read to complete the quiz and then job done - the box is ticked and we can all go back to work. 


Put the quiz at the start


With that in mind, wouldn’t it be better to do the quiz first (without being able to game it)? then if there is a knowledge/skill gap - just do the learning you need to fill that gap  - rather than all 20 slides that may or may not be relevant? 

If you can demonstrate in 2 minutes that you are able to deal with this situation - then that’s fine - go about your day and here is a badge. If however, you need some additional knowledge to stay safe, work effectively, or be prepared then a 10+ minute learning experience is appropriate.  We’re also measuring what learners already know rather than what we’ve just told them. 

We want learners to be engaged and respect the content we’re putting in front of them and the time it took to develop. To achieve that, it helps to make sure they know why they’re doing the learning and they feel you are respecting their time and attention by only showing them the information they actually need and is valuable to them. 


Need to know basis


In scenario-based learning, gaps in knowledge or skills are evident when you are put on the spot in the context of a situation. We want learners to confidently be able to deal with situations they face and able to do their work effectively. We also need them to know what they don’t know - and enable them to fill those gaps themselves.  

Confidence can often come from experience - and scenarios are great for that. From a study with some junior doctors at an Auckland hospital that used ShowHow - “Once the scenario started, you realize, "Oh, actually, I kind of do know some of this.".. like I felt more confident than I did at the start”.  For some, being aware of what you don’t know is very important - l “I didn't even consider that I could get a question wrong.” - in a medical setting, doing the wrong thing can be even worse than doing nothing. 

Challenging learners early and giving them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge is a really easy way to get them engaged. If they’re unable to complete the scenario because they’ve got to a part where they’re not sure of how to proceed - then it’s a good time to branch off into some learning that will help them understand that part better. Returning to the main scenario timeline later. 


Designing efficient scenarios


With any scenarios - it’s good to get back to basics, work with potential situations that may or have not happened, and turn those into actionable scenarios.  Identify your learning objective and the scenario phases that meet that objective.   In the example below, we have a simple scenario where the learner is in a situation and must make decisions to continue through the path. 


Learning Objective: The learner needs to be able to handle this situation

The learner needs to be able to handle this situation

Then design supporting material that helps the learner if they get a decision wrong, this can include more detail and branching to explore the decision and mitigation.


Learning the hard way - the easy way

Often the real learning comes from exploring the consequences of getting things wrong. We call it ‘learning the hard way - the easy way’.  Where real-world consequences are the hardest way to learn.  Use scenarios to give context and put people in the situation,  use the detail to pad out the learning, and give learner's the information need to know to solve that problem.   



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