Scenario-Based Learning in a Virtual Classroom

decision making conceptScenario-based learning, also known as problem-based learning, seeks to elevate the learner’s training outcomes from merely comprehension to analysis, synthesis, and application. Obtaining a real skill truly happens once the learner is able to use information to make decisions and correctly perform an objective.

It is important that instructional designers keep their scenarios as realistic as possible. The most well-written scenario will fall flat for learners if it involves walking through a situation that he or she will never encounter in the real world. Talking with subject matter experts to obtain examples of true situations in the workplace is one way to determine appropriate scenarios. Even more helpful is to interview the employees who are in the same job as learners, and discuss the problems they encounter on the job. Basing scenarios on real issues will help learners engage in training and, as a result, retain more information.


Scenario-based learning can be used in both eLearning and instructor-led training. There are benefits and pitfalls to both. Scenarios in eLearning can be highly controlled – no one can go off-script. There is a set number of “paths” the learner can potentially explore. Additionally, an avatar can give specific feedback based on each choice. Learners can feel free to explore every possible avenue, even if they choose an incorrect step on purpose just to explore it. While scenario-based learning is a great way to make eLearning more engaging and useful to the learner in general, it may feel simplistic within the parameters of an eLearning course. For example, potential responses may seem obvious, and they may not actually capture the choice a learner would make given the freedom to say or do anything. To ensure that eLearning scenarios are truly valuable, instructional designers should create the most realistic scenario possible, and capture all potential paths that learners could take.  Working closely with the SMEs is one of the most critical steps in designing these interactions.

Instructor-Led Learning

Scenario-based learning in an instructor-led setting can be a great way to really see where participants go wrong, and correct them along the way. Live and timely feedback is invaluable to learners as they practice their new skills. However, constraints of the live classroom may hinder employees from acting as they actually would in their workplace. Oftentimes, participants are shy in front of a group, or do not want to lose face by making a wrong choice, or only observe and never participate at all. Learners may hesitate to learn through trial and error, and are uncomfortable to make mistakes and learn how to self-correct. Creating a “safe” and comfortable environment is crucial to the success of scenario-based learning. Therefore, in many instances, instructional designers should consider a blended learning approach, and translate their classroom scenarios to the virtual environment.

Scenario-Based Learning in CourseArc

CourseArc has several blocks that support scenario-based learning. One new block, hotspots, allows you to use a decision flowchart or other diagram in order to provide feedback based on the leaner’s choices. We also have quizzes which allow you to give custom feedback tailored to each question/answer.

Adding the emotional component to scenarios will engage learners and make training more impactful. Putting skin in the game and making mistakes will help learners make  sound decisions, and apply their new knowledge and skills to their job.  Ultimately, the goal of any scenario-based learning is to encourage participants to use their background knowledge and theoretical information gleaned from the training course to improve on the job performance, and make independent, educated, and result-oriented decisions.


One thought on “Scenario-Based Learning in a Virtual Classroom

  • Very nice and concise explanation of what scenario-based learning is and what it requires from course designer. I agree that a situation when a good employee proves him or herself more creative than a palette of scenarios provided by the course is very bad and needs to be avoided.

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