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Instructional Design and Custom eLearning Topics: Scenario-Based Learning

Instructional design experts will tell you: there are just some things that people can’t learn through text or lecture. This rings particularly true with a skill set that relies heavily on hands-on immersion. To develop this type of curriculum, instructional design teams know Scenario-Based Learning (SBL) is proven to be extremely useful. 

SBL incorporates the “active-learning approach,” a “doing” rather than “observing” method, that instructional designers use to present learners with problems that need to be solved. Perhaps more importantly, it focuses more on developing complex decision-making skills, not on applying a task with multiple steps. 

Why Instructional Designers Recommend SBL in Custom eLearning

Here are five reasons to include scenario-based learning, with examples of use strategies.

  1. It’s immersive. Immersion allows learners to systematically walk through complex scenarios. This is especially helpful in fields where fluidity is critical, such as in medicine, law enforcement, and commercial pilot training programs.  

2. It provides contextualization. Contextualization instructs learners via scenarios and projects, giving them more hands-on experience with desired skillsets. For example:  RTY Brokerage sets up a real world scenario project where stockbroker trainees research then recommend investments for a mock client. 

3. ‘Trial and Error’ is used to catalyze learning. Learning via mistakes is extremely useful for fields where, conversely, there is not a lot of room for error. Here’s an example of how that might work: ABC Credit Union adds gamification methods to learning to help analyst trainees walk through difficult fraud cases. The game pieces either lead to a desired outcome (case not returned) or a less desire outcome (case returned for more review). 

4. It encourages creativity. Providing interactive scenarios not only helps learners develop critical thinking skills aligned with their field of work, but gives them the opportunity to think creatively. This is an important skill set to encourage learners to solve problems and imagine potential outcomes. 

5. It’s engaging. SBL breaks up the monotony of lecture or text-based learning, which keeps the learner’s attention. Because learners are called on to participate, they are less likely to be distracted. More engagement with learning leads to better retention after training ends. 

Designing the Right SBL for Custom eLearning

Not all experience based learning can or should be instructor led. Often, custom eLearning is useful to allow for practice. But before you even begin worrying about content or layout, there are three important steps to take in the design process. You must identify the learning objectives of the course, apply Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, and choose relevant scenario types.


The first thing to think about when designing your curriculum is to identify its learning objectives, such as:

  • What behaviors do you want your learners to adopt?
  • What skillsets do you want your learners to come out with? 
  • What other objectives or results do you have in mind? 

If you can answer those questions, you’re on the right path to designing an effective training course.


Once your objectives are identified, it’s time to bring them to life via a content blueprint. An excellent tool assist you is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Introduced in the 1950’s, Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning encourages six steps in the learning process:

The first two steps, Remember and Understand, lay the content foundation. At this point, it’s not about changing behaviors; it’s about introducing fundamentals. The subsequent steps, Apply and Analyze, give learners the opportunity to take the knowledge they’ve learned and employ it. The last steps, Evaluate and Create, tie the learned content so that learners can make effective decisions and plans. 


Your objectives are defined, your outline is complete, and now it’s time to determine the types of scenario(s) to include in your custom eLearning course. The primary scenario types include: 

  • Knowledge checks: scenario-based quizzes and polls
  • Collaborative activities: brainstorming sessions 
  • Simulation: case studies
  • Branching simulation: role-playing games

All of these are fairly self-explanatory, but it’s worth running through the uses of each.

Knowledge checks are simple ways to see if your learners have retained the information you are aiming at them retaining, and might be accomplished by creating a scenario followed by a few closed-ended questions. Collaborative activities, including brainstorming, pulls in the creativity component of SBLs. Simulations are both immersive and give learners that trial and error learning aspect of SBL. One way to do this is to use gamification that walks a learner through a scenario and allows them to make decisions at each juncture. Additionally, role-playing games not only allow learners to apply what they’ve learned in a “real setting,” but it gives them a chance to recognize and then correct mistakes before applying knowledge in the field.

You can choose between these options based on the needs of your learners and the skills they will need.


If you find that your training is heavy on lecture-based or text required learning, instructional designers would recommend that you add interactive elements and scenario-based learning modules. Use of scenario-based learning is an effective method to increase engagement and promotes learning and confidence by developing the skills needed for decision-making and problem solving in a context-based environment. The practice of scenario-based learning makes it more likely that learners will retain acquired knowledge, as well.

Did you know that the instructional design team at AllenComm can help you develop engaging, interactive learning with scenario-based learning and custom eLearning solutions? Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.