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Why should you use scenario-based learning?

Bob works at a petrol station on what is a normally busy highway. But today, it’s an early winter morning, and the road is relatively empty aside from a few trucks. The sky is still dark, and he needs to hunch his coat against a bitter wind. As he approaches the door to the store, he notices marks on the handle. He thinks he might be able to hear movement inside. He knows he’s meant to be unlocking this morning—none of his co-workers should be here yet. Whoever is in there is not meant to be.

What should Bob do?

Asking questions to test people’s knowledge is simple and easy enough. In the above example, someone really could’ve just asked: What is the appropriate response if a worker suspects someone has broken into a store?

But how interesting would that have been? When it comes to learning—and eLearning in particular—it’s really important to be able to make the learning experience as interesting and engaging as possible, as well as making it applicable to real-life situations. This is where scenario-based learning comes in handy. 

What is Scenario-Based Learning?

Scenario-based learning (SBL) is, as the name suggests, a form of learning that uses realistic situations to test and build a learner’s understanding of concepts, as well as their understanding of how specific knowledge can be applied practically. 

You can probably already guess that there are plenty of reasons why you might use SBL, but let’s take a look at some of the biggest ones. 

Benefits of SBL

#1: Engagement

Again, compare the scenario at the beginning to the simple question: What is the appropriate response if a worker suspects someone has broken into a store?

Which one do you find more engaging?

That isn’t to say that direct questions don’t have their place, but by framing the question in the context of a realistic scenario, you engage the learner’s imagination and are thus far more likely to hold their attention. By giving the learner the story of Bob, setting a particular scene that they find relatable, and describing a situation they might encounter one day, you’ve given the learner a reason to be invested in the answer to the question of what Bob should do. 

A good example of where this comes in handy is in compliance training. Let’s be honest here—compliance training is not always the most interesting thing to learn. Even if it is about something important, like what to do when a fire has broken out in your workplace, it doesn’t stop it from being a relatively dull topic. 

This is why SBL can be especially useful for compliance training. When you present the learner with a realistic situation, they must actively engage with the importance of the subject they are learning. It also makes it more interesting to learn about. By making compliance relatable, you’ve given the learner a vested interest in the training and have increased their motivation to pay attention to what they’re learning. 

#2: Retention

Similarly, ask yourself which of those two forms of learning you would be more likely to remember? 

By engaging the learner and encouraging them to invest in Bob’s situation personally, you’ve turned them from being a passive recipient of information to being an active participant in the application of that information. This change from passive to active is key to improving how much of the information the learner will retain.

This is especially important when trying to instil problem-solving abilities in the learner. The faculties of critical thinking and problem-solving can only be meaningfully improved if they are given the chance to apply the knowledge they are given. 

If, for instance, you are trying to teach your learners how to manage a business, you will only get so far by telling them about the theory. The real learning comes into play when you give them the opportunity to solve problems themselves, and SBL is a great way to provide them with a safe space exercise their skills, make mistakes, and improve, so that they will be better equipped when they need to apply these skills in real life. 

#3: A Safe Space

Another key benefit of SBL is that it provides a safe environment for learners to apply knowledge and make mistakes with few and harmless consequences. 

Imagine you were a learner doing a course about how to handle potential intruders in your store (much like poor Bob)—wouldn’t you rather make most of your mistakes in a virtual environment than in real life? 

This doesn’t just apply to physically dangerous places—it can also be important for mentally challenging skills. Communication is a good example of this. It’s very difficult—perhaps impossible—to teach someone how to communicate appropriately in a situation without giving them an opportunity to practice, or at least see it in action. 

SBL is the ideal platform for a learner to practice, for example, how to respond to an angry customer or speak to a curious client. By branching the scenario based on their responses, you also show them their impact on the situation and receive feedback that will help them improve in real life. 

You might be thinking that this last point doesn’t always apply to all areas of eLearning. After all, if your module is about how to code a website, the learner won’t suffer greatly from making their mistakes in real life. SBL, as with most learning tools, will be more helpful in some cases than in others. But its ability to meaningfully engage learners while giving them a safe opportunity to practise the information they have learned in theory means that SBL can be an important teaching method in most learning environments. It is worth considering where it could be applied in your organisation. 

Other than that, the only question left now is…what happened to Bob?

Beth Kaldas
14 April 2021 3 Min Read

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