Benefits of Scenario-Based Learning

What are the benefits of scenario-based learning? Accelerated expertise, increased motivation, realistic decision-making and more. Here’s a selection of quotes on why scenarios are effective.

Benefits of Scenario-Based Learning (photo of a road heading to distant mountains)

Accelerated expertise

Ruth Clark’s book Scenario-Based e-Learning: Evidence Based Guidelines for Online Workforce Learning explains how scenario-based elearning helps people learn new skills faster. She explains that scenarios can “accelerate expertise.”

There is no substitute for experience as the basis for job competence, and scenario-based e-learning offers opportunities to gain experience in a safe and controlled manner…

Second, the world of work does not usually present learning opportunities in the best sequence for learning. But in scenario-based e-learning a series of simulated work challenges can be organized from simple to complex, thus assuring a smoother learning curve.

Ruth Clark in Scenario-Based e-Learning, pp. 12-13

Increased motivation

Chapter 10 of Clark’s book asks, “Does scenario-based elearning work?” Clark notes scenario-based elearning can be more motivating.

Because of relevance and multiple opportunities for overt-engagement it is possible that scenario-based e-learning will prove more motivational to your workforce learners as well. If your scenario-based lessons result in higher student ratings and greater course completions, the investment might pay off.

Ruth Clark in Scenario-Based e-Learning, p. 149

More benefits of scenario-based learning

In addition to accelerating expertise and increasing motivation, Clark lists these reasons to consider scenario-based elearning.

  • Scenario-based elearning can offer return on investment.
  • Learners like scenario-based elearning.
  • It has better transfer potential.
  • Learners can build critical thinking skills.
  • Technology can facilitate scenario-based elearning development (authoring tools can make it easier than in the past).

Real-life decision making

Scenario-based training better reflects real-life decision making

There is no linear path into what they are subjected. The situations are complex. They often fail and they learn by reflection, becoming much better at the judgements they make next time, even though next time the environment and the scenarios presented are different.

After completing a few exercises, they build their own view of the patterns that are evident and are able to move into a new scenario with confidence even if the environment and scenario is radically different.

Learning on reflection before plunging into the next scenario helps to build the patterns in the participants’ minds that are the evidence that they have learnt.

Quizzes based on scenarios with a, “What would you do next?”, question builds quick and fun repetition into the training programme, helping transfer from short term memory to long term memory.

Kevin Dwyer, The Benefits of Scenario Based Training

Situated learning

This document from Massey University in New Zealand explains some theory behind why scenario-based learning works and how to decide if scenario-based learning (SBL) is the right strategy.

Scenario-based learning is based on the principles of situated learning theory (Lave & Wenger, 1991), which argues that learning best takes place in the context in which it is going to be used, and situated cognition, the idea that knowledge is best acquired and more fully understood when situated within its context (Kindley, 2002).

SBL usually works best when applied to tasks requiring decision-making and critical thinking in complex situations. Tasks that are routine to the students will require little critical thinking or decision-making, and may be better assessed using other methods.

Terry Stewart, Scenario-Based Learning

Read more

Check out my collection of 50+ posts on scenarios and storytelling.

Originally published 9/14/2016. Updated 12/10/2020.

4 thoughts on “Benefits of Scenario-Based Learning”

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  3. Christy Tucker,
    Your piece on scenario-based learning is excellent! I am a retired military officer and training was my specialty. I have worked with real-world exercises, battle simulations, board games, role playing, and computer-based scenarios. Without a doubt, the scenario-based learning environment is more engaging for the learners but expensive. The military decision to conduct a real-world exercise is often substituted with artificial training that cost less money. Of course, there is no substitute for the face to face engagement but the various other scenario based training options reduce the train up before fighting a war.
    In any training scenario it is hard to determine the actual return on investment, but certainly, companies can provide online scenario-based training to employees before allowing employees provide services, produce products, or operate equipment. The challenge besides cost is the skills required to generate and update scenarios to keep employee training current. I am not sure if this is a function of an instructional designer but it must be considered. Please read the abstract for the attached article on automating scenario generation (Zook et al., n.d.). In my opinion, some elements are useful in for-profit organizations.
    Zook, A., Lee-Urban, S., Riedl, M. O., Holden, H. K., Sottilare, R. A., & Brawner, K. B. (n.d.). Automated scenario generation: Toward tailored and optimized military training in virtual environments. Retrieved from (

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