Instructional design

Can elearning save your life?



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Can elearning save your life?

One of the key areas looked at in Omniplex’s Articulate certified training courses, is the building of branched scenarios. Branched scenarios are designed to allow learners to make decisions they might also make in real world situations. This lets them practice for that moment when they are called upon to make those real life choices. Branched scenarios move your elearning course away from the traditional linear style of “Here’s some information, now let’s ask you some questions to see if you’ve remembered what you read 5 minutes ago”.

As an instructional designer, I believe branched scenarios give a valuable real life element to elearning. They help embed behaviour in learners that comes to the fore when needed, and as such can help save time, money, resources, reputation or even in some cases health or life. In terms of a professional athlete, they practice and in return build muscle memory so when it matters most it flows out naturally. In terms of learning, the brain is a muscle and practice makes perfect.

What is a branched scenario?

A branched scenario is made up of three basic components, these are:

  1. The Challenge
  2. The Choices
  3. The Consequences

The Challenge is the decision the learner has to make, which may consist of a whole load of information and a question such as “What do you do/say?”. The Choices are the things you could actually do or say if you found yourself in that situation. Finally, each Choice must have a Consequence – which is what happens if you make a particular choice. Try to avoid feedback such as “Well done that’s right” or “Incorrect, that’s not the best thing to do”, as the real world doesn’t have pop up boxes telling you if you were right or wrong. Your learners will only know if they made the right choice by what happens next.

Tip: I find that the more realistic and plausible the Choices are, the more effective they are at engaging the learners.

So, where’s the theory to back this up? To steal a phrase from a well-known cosmetics brand: “Here comes the science”. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification system for the different types of objectives you can set for learners and within the Taxonomy the Cognitive Domain focuses on knowledge and the development of intellectual skills.

The Cognitive Domain is categorised into 6 levels:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

Traditionally elearning sits firmly in the lower reaches – it’s all about ‘Knowledge’ with maybe a little ‘Comprehension’ thrown in. Objectives are set using verbs such as “Learn”, “Know”, “State” or “Describe”, but by providing a place to practice the upper reaches of Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation all play a part. First you learn a process, then you perform the process over and over in different circumstances allowing you to use all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. You can now achieve objectives that use verbs such as “Discover”, “Create”, “Select”, or “Choose” etc.

One of the things I like best about branched scenarios is that you can ‘Fail Forward’. This means that you can see what happens if you make a choice you are unsure of. See what happens, experience the consequences, don’t actually hurt anyone or anything and if it all goes horribly wrong you can click Replay and try again.

Lots of terms float around the industry that can be associated with this type of learning: performance simulations, experiential learning, scenario-based learning and so on, but one thing they all have in common is that although life isn’t a rehearsal, elearning branched scenarios can be, and one day someone having worked through a branched scenario may just save your life.


Ref: Bloom, B. S.; Engelhart, M. D.; Furst, E. J.; Hill, W. H.; Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain.