Use Concrete Actions for Branching Scenario Options

When I review branching scenarios, sometimes I see people focus on questions about tasks rather than on practicing the tasks. You should use concrete actions for branching scenario options, not just statements about the situation.

Use Concrete Actions for Branching Scenario Options.
AI-generated image of an older Latina woman and a young white man having an intense conversation in an office break room. They are both frustrated and upset.
Image generated with Playground AI

Compare these two scenario question examples. Both examples start with the same introduction, but diverge at the first decision. Pay attention to the options provided and think about whether or not they show concrete actions.

Scenario intro

This introduction is the same for both examples.

Two of the employees you manage, Oliver and Rita, have been at odds on a recent project. Oliver is a new employee with ideas on streamlining the process through investments in new technology. Rita is experienced, with a proven track record of success and a reputation for attention to detail.

Today, Oliver and Rita got into a heated argument. They both stormed off in opposite directions, leaving the conflict unresolved.

Example question 1

What kind of conflict does this scenario represent?

  • Leadership conflict due to conflicting goals by different leaders
  • Task conflict due to differing approaches to using resources
  • Relationship conflict due to unequal power and status

Example question 2

As Rita and Oliver’s manager, what do you do next?

  • Give them space to resolve the conflict on their own.
  • Talk to Rita and Oliver separately and privately.
  • Schedule a meeting to mediate with both employees.

Comparing the questions and options

Do you see the difference between these two questions and the options given? Even starting from the same introduction in the scenario, the questions are very different.

Example 1 is a categorization question. It’s the kind of question you might see in a traditional multiple choice assessment. It’s focused on abstract principles rather than actions.

Example 2 is a decision about actions within the scenario. It’s very clearly tied to the concrete details of the scenario, and the options all reflect next steps.

Example 1 isn’t necessarily a useless question. I do use questions like this sometimes as practice or assessment questions. However, these types of statements don’t easily lead to the next step in a branching scenario. In example 2, it’s easy to imagine what will happen next for each choice because these are actions with consequences. In example 1, what’s the consequence of a choice? It’s probably a feedback message with instructional feedback rather than an interaction between the characters.

Unless there’s a follow-up question about an action to take based on the category selected, Example 1 creates a dead end in the branching scenario. It doesn’t push the story forward. Therefore, this style of question should generally be avoided in branching scenarios.

Clark Quinn summarized it well:

Make sure you’re having learners make choices that do things, not just think things.

Abstract or concrete options

Sometimes, the difference isn’t as obvious as it was between the examples above. It can be more subtle, where the choices do reflect actions, but without all of the concrete details.

Example question 3

What is the most effective way to start resolving the conflict between employees?

  • Allow your employees to resolve the conflict on their own.
  • Hold separate private meetings with each employee to listen to their perspectives.
  • Mediate a conversation between all employees involved in the conflict.

Apply principles, don’t just identify them

In example question 3, the choices reflect actions, but they’re abstracted from the scenario. The question is more about identifying steps in a process than about applying them to a specific scenario. Example 2 mentions the characters by name; Example 3 talks about “all employees involved in the conflict” in an abstract sense.

One of the biggest benefits of branching scenarios is that it shifts the practice from comprehending abstract principles to applying them in specific situations. That means the decisions and options should keep the focus on the concrete details of the scenario, like Example 2, rather than abstracting to the general process, like Example 3.

In the feedback at the end of a branching scenario, or in a reflection activity after the branching scenario, you might connect those specific actions to general principles. That information can help users connect what they learned with the choices they made. This can be helpful, especially if the branching scenario is part of a larger training program that teaches an overall process or general principles.

Questions about writing branching scenarios?

Do you have questions about writing branching scenarios, including writing questions and options like these? Many of my blog posts are based on questions I get from readers. If you have a question, let me know in the comments (or replying to this message if you’re reading this in email). I may answer it in a future blog post.


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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