Don’t Restart Scenario-Based Learning, Go Back

When learners make mistakes in a branching scenario, do you restart the scenario from the beginning, or just go back partway?

In previous posts, I shared tips for managing the complexity of branching scenarios and some thoughts on how long to let learners go down the wrong path. At some point in that wrong path, you have to redirect learners.

The question is: do you restart a branching scenario from the beginning, or do you go back partway–maybe even just one single step?

Restart scenarios or go back?


Many scenarios I write have at least one short path of wrong decisions. This path usually starts with a poor choice. I give learners the option to correct their mistake and get onto a better path. However, if they make multiple wrong choices without ever making a good one, I force them to restart.

If the whole scenario is short (3-4 decisions in a single path), I usually just force a restart after each ending.

My client screening scenario uses restarts for most of the less-than-ideal endings.

Back one step

Most of the time, especially in longer scenarios, you can allow people to back up in the scenario rather than restarting from the very beginning. If learners make 4 correct decisions in a row but have a mistake in step 5, do they really need to go back to the beginning? Maybe they just need to jump back one step to where they made a mistake.

Cathy Moore uses this approach in many of her scenarios. For example, in this Ethics Training example, you can jump back to the previous decision. She shows this with a “Go Back” link. Sometimes you can only go back after reading feedback (“What happened?”).

Back to a checkpoint

If your scenario allows people to make multiple wrong choices, you might have “checkpoints” where you return to. Let’s say that Joanna makes 3 correct choices, followed by 3 incorrect ones. If there’s a checkpoint after 3 choices, she can jump back to that point.

Think about video games. If your character dies in level 8, you don’t have to go back and play through levels 1 through 7 again. You either start at level 8 (a checkpoint) or right before you died (back one step).

This approach might work best in an especially long or complicated scenario. A branch and bottleneck structure would provide some natural checkpoints to return to.

Mix it up

You can use these techniques together in the same scenario. Some paths might lead to a restart, while minor errors might just return to one step earlier. It’s not an all or nothing question.

My client screening scenario, as I mentioned earlier, mostly offers the option to restart. However, at the very end of the scenario, I offer users the option to either go back one decision or restart from the beginning. At that point, users have made multiple correct decisions before making a mistake at the end. In that case, it felt like too much of a penalty to force learners go through the entire scenario again.

Poor ending in a branching scenario with two buttons: "Go back one decision" and "Restart the scenario"

More reading

Looking for more? Check out my collection of 70+ posts on storytelling and scenarios for learning.

Originally published 8/29/2017. Updated 7/19/2021.

9 thoughts on “Don’t Restart Scenario-Based Learning, Go Back

  1. Some choices would also be dependent on the tool used to execute the option. More robust simulation development tools may also have additional logic to allow for a required outcome to occur if the player chose A for question 1, C for question 6 AND selected X at start.

    1. Good point. In tools like Captivate or Storyline, those kinds of complex decisions would be possible, but usually that’s not what people build. It’s more branching scenario than full-blown simulation.
      Nicole, what tools have you used to build simulations?

  2. Good morning, This is very interesting and I want to be able to create scenarios for my middle school students (grades 6 to 8). Can you help me with this? Thank you very much. Abdou
    On Aug 30, 2017 10:09 AM, “Experiencing E-Learning” wrote:
    Christy Tucker posted: “In my previous posts, I shared tips for managing the complexity of branching scenarios and some ideas on how long to let learners go down the wrong path. At some point in that wrong path, you have to redirect learners. The question is: do you restart t”

    1. What subject do you teach? Are you teaching in a physical classroom or are you looking for online/blended activities?
      You might be interested in Oppia. It’s an open source tool for creating interactive lessons, plus a library of existing lessons on many topics like math. While many of these examples aren’t scenario-based learning the way I usually create it (with characters and at least minimal plot), they are all interactive. You can use this tool to create scenario-based learning.

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