Action map to elearning scenario prototype

Blurred photo of flipchart with elearning scenario sketchedThis is a simple post in the spirit of ‘working out loud’. I’ll describe how a client meeting went in a day from initial analysis, using Action Mapping, to one prototype elearning scenario.

Last week I attended a session with a client in London. There were the sponsor, an SME (from a different organisation) and me. The sponsor, a public body, was creating elearning for people in the SME’s organisation, another public body who needed more awareness of the issues the sponsor dealt with and the expertise they could provide.

The People  Map

We started by filling a flipchart page with an outline of the process at the SME’s organisation – who was involved, who they contacted, what the inputs and outputs of each stage were. Lots of matchstick people with arrows and balloons everywhere. It didn’t look elegant but it helped us all establish exactly who and what we were dealing with. That took about 30 minutes and uncovered some areas where the two parties hadn’t quite grasped each other’s priorities or processes.

Action Mapping

We then went to Action Mapping.  I had xMind, a free mindmapping tool, on my laptop and started with the success measures of the SME’s organisation with regard to these types of cases. We discovered that there were no quantified measures in place, and unlikely to be any, but there were regular national meetings at which anecdotal evidence could be collected, and in a small organisation there were other informal ways to know if change was taking place.  That Stage 1 of Action Mapping, which can sometimes get bogged down, probably took about 10-15 minutes.

Looking now at the target audience in the SME’s organisation, we identified five key tasks which we listed with a ‘what’ and a ‘how’.  This took around an hour, maybe a little less. Again assumptions were aired and cleared, and both parties had a better understanding of what exactly takes place.

We then looked, for each of these, at why each task wasn’t done in such a way as to meet the success measures. We were looking for gaps in knowledge, skill, motivation and the working environment.  We found that in most cases performance was compromised by lack of knowledge – knowledge that the information was available in the sponsor’s organisation, knowledge of the types of evidence they should ask for, and the questions to ask.  Only one of the tasks was really a skills issue, which involved handling an initial phone call or email in the best way, with an understanding of the consequences of not doing so.

This process was quite exhaustive and took the better part of a morning.

We then looked at possible solutions and thought fairly simple checklists, and a short awareness campaign, would meet most of the needs. Only the skills-based task seemed to cry out for some practice.

Scenario sketching

My client had already created a scenario for a different audience based on an incident in a fictional village. Since the end of that story was the beginning of the story for the SME’s organisation, we thought it was a good opportunity to avoid starting from scratch. Although the audiences of the two courses would never see each other’s courses – meaning we didn’t need strict continuity – we could use the original story and characters as the raw material for the next stage in the process.

We resolved to do that in the afternoon. The SME was intrigued and decided to stay on and take part.  We mapped out the scenario on various messily drawn flowcharts on the flipboard until we had the outline of the scenario beginning to end. We started with the ‘good’ path, took it to its conclusion and went back to look at other, less good, choices at each stage. We had a clear idea from the previous scenario of the characters involved and their motivations, so progress was probably faster than it would normally have been.

One scenario-writing principle I became aware of was ‘one truth’.  At one point a character submitted certain evidence and the learner’s character had to decide what to do with it. We identified the best thing he could do. Returning to look at the ‘less good’ choices, the SME said ‘Could the alternative be that the evidence isn’t available?’  I knew that wasn’t right but had to articulate why I wouldn’t use that idea. It’s that there should only be one version of reality – the evidence IS provided – and you have different ways to respond to that reality. If there’s another reality in which the evidence isn’t available, that can’t be part of this story, it has to be another story.

The prototype

twine flowchart for elearning scenarioThe flipchart version must have taken us only about an hour – less than I expected. There weren’t a huge number of branches but all were realistic. We then had the choice of whether to type up the flowcharts into some text format, or create a working prototype. Thankfully we chose the latter. I used Twine to start building the working scenario. The SME stayed a little longer and I was able to show the first decision working with all the choices and consequences, within ten minutes. He then left and I carried on putting the scenario into Twine. By the end of the afternoon we had a working text-based elearning scenario of 27 screens, consisting of five main decisions, two to three choices and consequences for each, and a number of ‘further info’ and ‘advisor’ screens.  I didn’t get the debrief for the end written at this stage, but I was at least able to hand the client and SME a single HTML file which they could use to test and try out with the target audience. I gave each screen a reference number so they could refer to it for text changes. Eventually when signed off it’ll be rebuilt in Storyline, my client’s tool of choice. We both agreed that Twine enabled the prototype to be put together much more quickly even than doing a text-only Storyline file and was also easier for the SME to use at his organisation.


We all felt it had been a successful day and we’d achieved more than we thought we would. It wasn’t texbook Action Mapping – for example we didn’t brainstorm many alternative scenarios (we did talk about one) and we didn’t decide on the exact minimal content for the checklists and other job aids, just that we would have them. But all in all it gave us confidence in the process, in scenario-based learning and in prototyping for development.

More on Action Mapping • More on scenarios • More on Twine

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