Vintage photo of affluent-looking woman.

Branching scenario design out loud #4: the situation and characters

In the last post in this series walking through the design of a branching scenario, we decided on the decisions our central character would have to make. Now it’s time to put a bit more flesh on the bones of these characters.

The business

We decided to situate the scenario in a marketing agency, all based in the same office – the difficulties of remote working are very real but could be a distraction. Probably the largest part of our potential audience would work in an office based team.

Vintage photo of affluent-looking woman.
Why of course, darling, I’d be delighted to be part of your, what is it? elearning scenario? Speak to Alfred and make an appointment.

The context

Making it a marketing agency would enable us to introduce a little anxiety, as the manager would have client accounts to handle, and losing one would be a big deal, both for the manager and the agency. So our situation would be that

  • the manager has had a close call, almost losing a client
  • the fact that the client stayed is something to do with the actions of the team member
  • the manager isn’t out of the woods – another client is planning to defect
  • can the manager separate the need to praise the team member from the need to enlist his/her help with the second client?
  • the team member isn’t perfect and has been under-performing in other areas. Perhaps due to giving his time and attention to saving the manager’s skin?

(This corresponds to step 1 of the Designing Predicaments workbook – the outline.)

So we had the basic plot and the all-important principles.

Now we had to do more storytelling. We needed characters.

The protagonist

We started with the manager. We decided the manager would be ‘Chris’: a gender-neutral name. In the module itself we’d avoid rendering Chris as ‘he’ or ‘she’ (which actually proved quite difficult) – in most cases Chris would be ‘you’. But in this post, for ease of reference, we’ll make Chris a ‘he’.

We named the staff member Alex, for no particular reason. All we know about him at the moment is that he’s quite shy and that he has a performance review meeting coming up.

So Chris had nearly lost an important customer for the agency. How had it been saved? Perhaps Chris had asked Alex for a presentation or case study of some kind, something that had persuaded the client of the benefit they got from the agency and helped them decide to stay.

We wanted Chris to be under pressure so we gave him a manager, Liz, who is anxious, perhaps threateningly so, that Chris retain this other client. The pressure means that we can tempt Chris to bring too much of his needs into the conversation. We can also have Liz pressuring him to improve Alex’s performance where it isn’t so strong.

Reasons to choose ‘wrong’ actions

This brings us to an important point about multiple choice questions. The aim of ‘distractors’ in multiple choice questions is to distract. In other words, to catch the waverers. If someone confidently knows the right answer, they’ll pick it and that’s great. If someone has absolutely no idea, they’ll guess and it’s down to probability whether they’re right or not. But that’s fairly rare. Most of the time people will have an idea what the right answer is but they may not be confident about it. If they’re not sure, we don’t want them to select the right answer by guessing it – we want them to pick something that corresponds to whatever mistaken idea they have in real life about the issue. Only in that way can we give corrective feedback – directly in a conventional email course, or by showing consequences in a scenario. So it’s vital for distractors to be both realistic – based on a knowledge of the target audience – and also tempting and seductive so they uncover mistaken ideas and allow us to make them explicit and address them. That’s why jokey distractors are stupid, and why we try to keep the length and complexity of choices similar.

In this project, then, we want to recognise that people choose ‘wrong’ actions because they believe them to be right, for some reason. We can do that by having other characters, especially Liz, give reasons to do the wrong things – for example it could be pressure from Liz that’s behind the option to discuss the good work done and the performance issues at the same meeting.

We decided that the performance issues could be that Alex was asked to help coach a new member of staff, Jess, but the emergency work he’s done for Chris has taken up all his time and attention. We can use Liz and Jess herself to put pressure on.

In the next post we’ll start to build a prototype.

Here’s the whole working-out-loud-branching-scenario  series so far:

  1. Analysing the needs
  2. The learning approach
  3. The scenario decisions
  4. The situation and characters (this post)

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