7 ways to close an elearning scenario (and a few more)

A scenario can be an engaging, lifelike learning experience. The best ones add the tension of real life decision-making and help you to learn from seeing the consequences of your decisions.

But what if the learning points aren’t obvious? What if you could guess the right decisions but had no more idea why they were right than you had when you started? What if you’re able to say ‘ all very well and good but it’s not how things go where I work ‘?

The debrief – where we close down a scenario and draw conclusions – is a vital part of the authoring process; if my experience is anything to go by, it’s tempting when you’ve matched up all the branching, all the routes, all the variables and tested and retested it, to sit back and go ‘phew, I’m glad that’s finished’. But the debrief has to be good or the effort you’ve invested in the branching is wasted.

Here are eight possible ways to include a debrief within the scenario itself. I’ll also mention later ways to debrief outside the scenario in what we still like to call the ‘real world’. It goes without saying of course these are only eight of the many creative ways you might do it, and I look forward to new ideas in the comments.

Vintage photo of man pointing aggressively.
I’m giving you positive feedback so shaddup and listen!

Imagine we’ve written a scenario on the theme of giving positive feedback – the ‘you’ character has had to give an team member praise for something they’ve done in a way that doesn’t embarrass them, a way that makes it clear what they’ve done right, and helps their motivation to keep up their good performance. Let’s say there were five main decisions in the scenario, and that most poor decisions let you continue to a less-than-optimal conclusion while a small minority might be bad enough to return you to the beginning. So let’s say there are five learning points and you could have reached the end with anything from 1 to 5 reflected in your choices.

DEBRIEF 1: ‘WE WERE LOOKING FOR…’

‘Choosing to give the feedback in private, not in front of Bill’s colleagues.’

A screen that says ‘ we were looking for …’; a bald statement of the learning points. It has the virtue of being brief, at a point where the learner may feel they’ve completed it and not be up for much reiteration. They could have the chance to retry, but why would they? Will they even remember the choices they made?

DEBRIEF 2: CHECKBOXES

‘Choosing to give the feedback in private, not in front of Bill’s colleagues.’ <tick>

A screen with the five learning points and a tick or cross as to whether you achieved them. That at least gives you something to go on, and maybe the motivation to try again and get a better score. But maybe not. And is anything really explained? Could you take principles from this and apply them at work?

DEBRIEF 3: CHECKBOXES AND ‘WHY IT MATTERS’

‘Choosing to give the feedback in private, not in front of Bill’s colleagues.’ <tick> You don’t know how he’ll feel about being praised in front of everyone else, or what effect singling him out will have on everyone else’s morale.

As above with a little bit of text, possibly a ‘reveal’, to say why each point was important. This takes a step towards principles and transfer. But by spelling everything out, it may make it less likely the learner will try the scenario again.

DEBRIEF 4: CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR SCORE?

‘Choosing to give the feedback in private, not in front of Bill’s colleagues.’ <tick> You don’t know how he’ll feel about being praised in front of everyone else, or what effect singling him out will have on everyone else’s morale.
Try again and see if you can get all five points.

As above but listing only the ones you achieved. ‘We were looking for five good decisions. You made these three well, but there are two you didn’t make. Why not try again and see if you can make all five?’ This has the benefit of encouraging a retry, especially for those more ‘gamey’ learners. Some will not want to, especially if their second or third try is no better, so it will need to offer a link to another ‘explain it all’ section, such as …

DEBRIEF 5: THE WALKTHROUGH

Here you had to choose whether to speak to Bill at his desk, at yours, or casually at the coffee machine. The best choice was at your desk.

Give a walkthrough with screenshots of the key decisions. With each one is a rationale – why the best choice was best. This will depend a bit on screen real estate and more on whether the learner has the patience to go through the story again when they may feel they’ve finished. And will they remember what they chose?

DEBRIEF 6: THE WALKTHROUGH WITH YOUR DECISIONS VS AN ‘EXPERT’

Here you had to choose whether to speak to Bill at his desk, at yours, or casually at the coffee machine. The best choice was at your desk. You chose to do it at his, and as you saw, he was very uncomfortable. The best choice was to do it in the privacy of your area.

Give a walkthrough with screenshots of the key decisions. With each one is a statement of what a skilled person would have chosen and what you chose, with a rationale of why that choice was best. More personalised and thus more memorable.

DEBRIEF 7: THE WALKTHROUGH WITH MORE QUESTIONS

Here you had to choose whether to speak to Bill at his desk, at yours, or casually at the coffee machine. The best choice was at your desk. Why was this the best choice? (followed by two or three choices)

Give a walkthrough with screenshots of the key decisions. At each ask the question as to why this was right. So they have to think actively about the principles behind the decision, increasing the chance of it being understood in real life.

OFFLINE DEBRIEFS

There are lots of ways to conduct this away from the module itself, and probably the more you do these, the more likely the principles will transfer:

* forum post or online session to go over the learning points; maybe you only cover the learning points here, not in the module itself
* give an outline action plan at the end of the module and ask the learner to ‘commit and submit’ offline
* wider discussion: what choices weren’t offered? Why weren’t they included? and lots more (Thanks Cathy Moore for these)

I’m experimenting with different debrief methods in the scenarios I’ve built. I started with #2 but am now leaning towards #6 and #7. It’s more work but it’s no less important than the choices and routing.

Now there’s a thing. I’ve managed to get through a whole article on ‘debrief’ without mentioning pants. Almost.

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