Steps to build better branching scenarios

Word Decision And Arrows

Branching scenarios are an effective way to practice decision making and demonstrate how to apply particular knowledge or skills. In saying that, there are still too many times when branching scenarios are done poorly when just a little more effort could make a huge difference.

Here are some steps to help build better branching scenarios:

1 Have clear learning objectives

An effective branching scenario has the learner practice a decision and then reinforces the behaviour that is required for success. Write clear learning objectives to make sure your branching scenarios have purpose and are reflective of the desired performance. Remember to ask your Subject Matter Expert (SME) to check if they are correct too.

2 Source content from your SME

Source the content from your SME – the questions you ask will effect whether your branching scenarios are targeted, authentic and going to make a difference. Find out the decision points, common mistakes, what the consequences of making a wrong choice could be, and what the benefits of making a right choice are.

3 Context

Typically the content of a branching scenario has at least three steps – challenge, choice and consequence. I suggest having another step – context – this is where the scene is set before jumping straight into the challenge. Context will help your learners identify with the situation and will make it easier for them to imagine making the choice in the real life situation.

branching scenario postits2

 4 Challenge

Now that your audience has the context, it’s time for a challenge. This should come from decision points sourced from your SME. It is important the challenge is both realistic to your target audience and has an appropriate level of challenge. If it is obvious what choice should be made then both your challenge and your choices will need reworking. It will be more memorable if your challenge connects and evokes an emotional response from your audience.

5 Choices that are grey and likely include common mistakes

Next is presenting the choices – how can your audience solve the challenge? Choices should be grey and not black and white – there should be the opportunity to make mistakes, with the ‘desired choice’ not being immediately obvious. In fact there could be more than one technically ‘right’ choice but the business  prefers one of the ‘right’ choices/behaviours over the other. You could present conflicts between two desired behaviours to find grey areas e.g. not giving out private information but at the same time maintaining customer service. After all life is full of grey and conflicting situations, and we want to simulate real life decisions as much as possible.

Do not design for the lowest common denominator, instead design to engage thinking.

6 Feedback that reflects reality and comes from the right source

Providing feedback is the most important part in a branching scenario yet it is often the part that’s done the worst. It can seem like it’s just tacked on at the end to placate the learner e.g. “Your answer is incorrect because you should have chosen the other option”.

The most powerful feedback is feedback that simulates the consequence of making the choice, rather than telling you about the consequence. Check in with your SME to ensure the feedback is realistic and believable and adapt as necessary.

Also think about the natural source of feedback. Would feedback come as an action, a sound, a work consequence? Does the feedback come from a person, a customer, colleague or manager?

7 Make it relatable and believable

Branching scenarios should involve imagery. Do not scrimp on this – it is relatively cheap to source quality graphics. Include images of a realistic environment (setting). Characters that look real with realistic emotions rather than stock image graphics. Use the characters and pictures to build a story within your branching scenario.

If you have text in your branching scenarios make sure the voice and tone of the text is appropriate for the scenario and your audience. Remember you can also use sounds and video to enhance your branching scenarios – the possibilities are endless.

Building better branching scenarios is not about the tool you are using to build them. Better branching scenarios are better because the design of them is better and the correct content is sourced from the SME.

I’d love to hear your techniques for building better branching scenarios, go ahead and add a comment below or follow me for more elearning tips and thoughts.