When to branch and when to use a mini-scenario

The two most-used structures for elearning scenarios are

  • the mini-scenario, where each ‘wrong’ choice shows the consequences of the choice, then returns you to the dilemma to try again.  So you never move on until you’ve chosen the ‘best’ option
  • the branching scenario, where each ‘wrong’ choice shows the consequences of the choice then gives you a new choice based on the new situation. This goes on until either (a) you get to a point where you’re so deep in doodoo that there’s no purpose in continuing or (b) you are able to make a decision that gracefully recovers from the wrong decision and returns you to the path of righteousness.

The mini-scenario has the advantage of being easy to understand for everyone involved – you, the subject expert and the user – and the disadvantage of being a bit mechanical and simplistic.

The branching scenario has the advantage of being closer to real life, more immersive and engaging, an the disadvantage of risking massive complication and leaving you, the subject expert and the user wondering where you are in the whole thing.

There are of course ways round all the disadvantages but the core question for many designers is when to opt for the more complex, branching structure?

I believe the answer is quite simple: the only reason for using a branching structure, where the consequences lead to another choice, is if in real life there’s a possibility of recovery.

When you make a wrong choice, in a scenario or in real life, you are in one of two positions:

  1. up the unpleasant creek without a paddle – you can’t get out of this,
    OR
  2. you have options that will salvage the situation.

I built some scenarios for call handlers in a bank. (You can see one here.) One learning point was around withdrawals. Customers often misunderstood or forgot about notice periods for withdrawing cash from savings accounts.  The first learning point in the sequence was to get the account number and check on the system whether it was an instant access or notice account.  But rather than take the time to do that, some call handlers would ask the customer what type of account it was. Often the customer would have no idea. This wasn’t a disaster, and could still be recovered.

Call centre scenario screenshot

Choice (b) leads to this:
Customer: What type of account is it? What do you mean? It’s my savings account.

The customer isn’t aware of any ‘types of accounts’ – why should she be? In a mini-scenario, this would be the point at which you’d say ‘Try again’ and redirect to the original question. But a telephone conversation, by its nature, is an unpredictable context, and the learner needs to be able to recover from the unexpected. So we offered two choices:

  1. Sorry, I mean is it instant access or 60 day notice?
  2. Sorry, what’s the account number?

 

Choice (b) leads to this:

Customer: What type of account is it? What do you mean? It’s my savings account.

The customer isn’t aware of any ‘types of accounts’ – why should she be? In a mini-scenario, this would be the point at which you’d say ‘Try again’ and redirect to the original question. But a telephone conversation, by its nature, is an unpredictable context, and the learner needs to be able to recover from the unexpected. So we offered two choices:

  1. Sorry, I mean is it instant access or 60 day notice?
  2. Sorry, what’s the account number?

The second choice leads to the same screen as if you’d asked it at the beginning, the only difference being shown in the ‘credibility’ gauge.  The first, as you can imagine, reduces the credibility even further and you then have no option but to ask for the account number.

We had bad choices with the opportunity to recover. In the end the only opportunity to recover was to make the best choice from two screens ago.

So there are two ways to end one of these divergent branches:

  • Bring it back to the main flow
  • Abandon and restart – in a call centre scenario like this, you may have the customer hanging up

Here’s the flowchart version of this first couple of choices:

Flowchart for decision in bank call centre scenario.

Select to see full-size

 

And here’s the flowchart for the whole scenario. The best path is marked in green.  You can try the whole scenario here. :

Bank call centre scenario flowchart

Select to see full-size

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