Narrow Your Focus for Branching Scenarios

One of the biggest challenges of creating branching scenarios is managing the complexity and keeping it from growing out of control. If you narrow your focus for branching scenarios, you can alleviate that issue. A narrow focus lets you create something that is useful for your audience without being too big to develop and manage. Part of the planning and analysis process for branching scenarios must include refining and narrowing the topic and skill to something very focused.

Narrow Your Focus for Branching Scenarios
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Examples of too-broad topics

When I teach people to how to build branching scenarios, one common mistake I see is starting with a really broad topic.

  • Customer service
  • Communicating with teenagers
  • DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)
  • Consultative sales
  • New manager training

Refining broad topics to a narrow focus

Those broad topics might be what stakeholders or clients request in a branching, but your job is to narrow the focus. That means identifying the specific behaviors you want to address and practice, as well as the gaps, mistakes and obstacles.

One important question to ask during your analysis is what Julie Dirksen calls the “photo test”: If you took a photo (or a video) of this behavior, what would it look like? The more specific and concrete you can get with your analysis and identification of the desired behavior, the easier it is to create a branching scenario.

“Customer service” could mean way too many different things in different organizations. One example is that cashiers ask customers if they found everything while checking out, and then calling for an associate to get additional items if requested.

“Communicating with teenagers” is too broad, but “Reflect back to the teen what you’re hearing for their confirmation or reflection” is something concrete you can use in a scenario.

Microlearning needs a micro focus

Branching scenarios are generally microlearning: they’re typically a 5-15 minute learning activity. Because they are short activities, you really need to think about what you can realistically accomplish in that short time.

Approach your topic or skill as if you were using a microscope: narrow the focus to a small area and dig deeply into that one skill.

If you need a broad but shallow overview of a large topic, a branching scenario probably isn’t the best strategy. An explainer video, explicit presentation, or Rise module with content to read might work better.

With branching scenarios, you’re looking for that laser focus on a specific performance problem, behavior to change, or skill to practice.

Combine small skills

When you have a large skill, especially one that needs to be learned deeply or fluently, the approach for branching scenarios can be more like how we approach other skills. You break it up into small skills, then put those skills together with multiple practice activities.

Think about how you learn to play basketball. You have to practice a bunch of separate, specific skills like dribbling, passing, and shooting. For playing piano, it’s practicing scales and arpeggios, reading music notes, playing rhythms, adding dynamics, and so on. For crochet, you learn how to hold the yarn and hook, single crochet, chain, slip stitch, magic circle, and more.

You can use branching scenarios the same way. One approach is to create a collection of small branching scenarios that either work independently or build on each other. Another option is to combine branching scenarios with other training approaches. In several of my past client projects, I have used a combination of multiple mini-scenarios interspersed throughout a more traditional linear presentation, followed by an interactive video scenario for a final practice.

Focused branching scenarios are more manageable

Branching scenarios with a narrow focus are easier to manage. It’s not that it’s impossible to create larger and more complex scenarios on broader topics; instead, it’s that it’s much more practical to work with a clearly defined, narrow goal. Sometimes the reason scenarios grow out of control is a failure to narrow the focus at the beginning of the analysis process. If you want to keep your scenarios easier to plan, develop, and revise, it’s worth time at the beginning of the design process to refine and narrow the scope.

More on small scenarios

Check out these other posts on keeping scenarios small and narrowly focused.


Upcoming events

Gathering SME Stories to Craft Relevant and Engaging Scenarios. Tuesday, October 22, 3:00 PM ET.

This webinar will focus on a common sticking point in creating scenario-based learning: working with SMEs. In it, you’ll learn how to ask focused questions and techniques to probe SMEs for additional details such as mistakes and consequences. You’ll learn ways for getting “unstuck” while working with SMEs, and why it’s better to interview SMEs rather than have them write scenarios themselves. You’ll leave this session with tactics to help you get the concrete examples and stories you need from SMEs. Register for this free webinar through Training Mag Network.

BYOD: Mini Is More: Create One-Question Scenarios for Better Assessment. Thursday, November 7, 3:00 PM PST. In this hands-on session, you’ll learn how to create mini-scenarios with just one question. These mini scenarios can be used for more effective, higher-level assessment than traditional multiple-choice questions. One-question mini-scenarios can provide relevant context and measure decision-making rather than simply recall. Plus, they don’t require much additional time, effort, or resources once you learn how to write them. DevLearn, November 6-8, MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas.

BYOD: Mini Is More: Create One-Question Scenarios for Better Assessment Thursday, November 7 Register Now DevLearn 20th Anniversary Christy Tucker Learning Experience Design Consultant Syniad Learning, LLC

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