Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Building eLearning Scenarios in Working Sessions with SMEs

By Shelley A. Gable

We know that scenarios benefit performance by immersing learners into workplace situations within training. The storytelling quality of scenarios helps make the lessons learned in training memorable. And there are many ways to incorporate stories and scenarios into eLearning.

But how do you write these scenarios in the first place?

After all, crafting a realistic scenario requires leveraging tacit knowledge that only a subject matter expert (SME) might possess. Knowledge that is often not documented, even in the most comprehensive knowledge management systems.

Solution: Schedule a working session to partner with a SME on scenario writing.

By a working session, I mean a meeting where you and a SME draft the text of the scenario together.

Since I work with clients virtually, for me this means sharing a document in a web-conferencing session and typing out the details of the scenario as we discuss it.

From your analysis efforts at the start of the project, you likely have a sense of how a particular scenario should be structured and what skills it should prompt learners to exercise. You might even know which situations to base the scenarios on.

You probably know enough to build a basic structure, but you need the help of a SME to fill in blanks with realistic details.

Here’s a quick example...

I recently designed training on negotiation. I knew that the scenarios needed to follow the basic formula below.

  • Learners start with minimal background information about the other party

  • Learners ask questions to learn about the other party’s needs

  • Learners position an offer

  • Learners resolve objections by asking additional questions to clarify concerns

  • Learners either reposition the benefits of the original offer or modify the offer

  • Learners confirm and set up the agreed-upon resolution

  • Learners must be able to do the above with people of varying levels of cooperation

Based on prior conversations with the client, I knew what types of scenarios to create. What I needed help with was writing realistic dialog.

Before meeting with the client, I created a storyboard of the eLearning lesson to lay out the intended structure of the scenario. I also depicted the steps of the scenario in a flowchart, so the client could easily understand and validate the scenario’s flow.

During the meeting, I simply asked the SME questions to create dialog for the scenario. I asked questions such as:

  • In this situation, what questions would your best performers ask the other party?

  • What questions do less experienced or struggling performers ask?

  • How does a typical person respond to each of those questions?

  • How does an uncooperative person tend to respond to each question?

  • How would your best performer position the offer?

  • How would your less experienced or struggling performers position the offer?

  • What objections do you typically hear in response to an offer like that?

  • And so on...

I typed the dialog into the storyboard while the SME answered my questions. Dialog for the best performers became the correct answer for each step in the scenario. Dialog for the struggling performers became the distracters (i.e., incorrect options) in the scenario. Typical responses from the other party become part of the feedback for each step in the scenario.

Is this how you write scenarios?

Some who read this may shrug their shoulders and think, “this seems basic – this is what I’ve always done.” If you’ve conducted a task analysis, the logic above is likely familiar.

But I never used to do this.

After conducting the analysis, acquiring access to relevant information, and gaining buy-in from the client for the training design, I would try to write the training materials as independently as possible. That included writing scenarios myself, perhaps just asking a SME a few clarifying questions when needed. And I know at least some of the other instructional designers I’ve worked with have taken this more independent approach.

Working independently on scenarios may work if the instructional designer is also a SME. However, when the instructional designer is not a SME, there’s a risk the scenarios will lack the level of detail needed to make it as realistic as possible. These types of details often emerge through conversation, but might not come up from an approver who is simply reviewing the training materials for accuracy.

So what do you do? Are you among those who try to write scenarios as independently as possible? Do you take a collaborative approach with SMEs? Or do you do something else? Please share!

1 comment:

  1. Writing scenarios must have the input of the SME. There is no way around it. The relevancy of the scenario in the training is provided by the SME.


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