pattern #6 - Branching Scenario

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Definition

Place your learners in an authentic, real-life scenario, where they can experience the results of their choices as they navigate a series of situations and decision points.

  • VALUE Skill Improvement
  • COMPLEXITY High
  • Design Effort High
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Overview

Branching scenarios are a great way to allow your learners to experiment and apply new knowledge and skills in a safe environment.
One of the best recipes for building a branching scenario is the 3C Model defined by Tom Kuhlmann, which states for Challenge, Choice and Consequences. Basically, each branching scenario should present learners with a challenge, a set of choices for that challenge and a consequence for each available choice.

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Building engaging branching scenarios is quite a challenge. They work best in complex situations, where a number of decision points can have a major impact on the outcome. Examples include a negotiation, managing a difficult staff member or an emergency situation.
There are two types of branching scenarios:
      • Image-based, when each sequence brings a new image; this is the most popular version, as it is much cheaper to produce;
      • Video-based, when each sequence brings a new video; this format is especially useful when the information presented within the video has instructional value (e.g. how to replace a battery, how to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre);

Key Characteristics

Most branching scenarios available on the internet are quite dry and less meaningful. A sound branching scenario will follow these key characteristics:
      • Authentic. The scenario needs to be authentic, one that learners can relate to and one that they will face sooner rather than later;
      • Meaningful. The scenario needs to be meaningful for the learner (e.g. getting a promotion, saving a wild animal);
      • Challenging. The decision learners need to take through the scenario need to be really challenging and really make the learners think about which the best choice is;
      • Attractive. It may sound superficial, but just using stock photos and placing text buttons next to them won’t really engage learners; you need to have audios and authentic images or videos that really express the showcased situations;
A first step in building a branching scenario is building a text-based script. This should be a simple and linear story of how a task should be performed. When the text is drafted, highlight in red the key challenges in performing that task. This is where you need to branch the scenario.

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Context and Mission

Always start a branching scenario by providing a context for the action, as well as a mission for the learner.

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Voice-Over

When the branching scenario is image-based and your audience is not using English as a first language, opposite to what the redundancy principle is suggesting, it is useful to provide the text transcript as well. In this example, you can see the progress bar attached to each "speech buble". Learners can click on these to restart the audio, if needed.

Badges and Rewards
Badges and Rewards

As one of the key reasons for using a branching scenario is to shape behaviour, there is no cheaper way to enhance that than with a basic gamification implementation, such as badges or rewards.
This can also provide a great opportunity to explain some of the theoretical components in more detail.

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Summary

When the branching scenario is over, make sure you provide an overview that explains key insights and take-aways for the given activity.

Common Mistakes

The most common mistakes in creating branching scenarios are:
      • Poor distractors. There is always a very clear correct answer;
      • Lack of authenticity. The entire action feels artificially built, with a very straightforward course of action;
      • Stock Characters. Typical implementations include dummy stock photos with predefined [and exaggerated] facial expressions;

Examples

There are not that many great examples of branching scenarios, but two of them do stand out.
Lifesaver, an interactive film on first aid.
Connect with Haji Kamal, a branching scenario for army on how to approach locals with a very different cultural background.


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