Designing Predicaments steps 8 – 11: the distractors


The previous posts have been about the best choice.  Now we have to work through the same stages for the less good choices, the distractors.

I’ve used the term distractors deliberately; it’s the used in the design of multiple choice exams and it points to the fact that the other choices aren’t simply there to pad out the question, and give you three choices where you might only have two. They’re there to distract – to tempt the wavering learner who isn’t sure.  You want the learner who knows the best answer just to choose it and get on with it. But the distractors should be actively trying to bring out any uncertainty she has so that only the one who is both right and confident in being right gets through.

To do that, they have to be believable, realistic, and based on real mistakes people make at work. And that makes this stage the most difficult in any scenario design.

You have to thrash these out with a subject expert and if possible recent learners. If you just make them up they’re unlikely to be seductive. The learner has to feel torn, conflicted, agonised! OK I won’t get carried away.

The key is to look beyond the choices to the reasons people would make these choices. That’s Step 9. People at work rarely sabotage things for their colleagues. More often they do what they think is right. They’re just wrong.

How do you use these reasons? One way is to put them into the mouths of characters. So for a scenario about whistleblowing, you might have a character conflicted about whether to report a colleague’s misbehaviour or not. A good reason not to is that it could backfire and cost you your own job. So you can have the main character’s partner putting forward that argument in a plausible way :
“Look, the management probably know about it and turn a blind eye. You’ll just cause bad feeling and not achieve anything. Best to wait and see if it happens consistently.”

When you’ve chosen your distractors, you need to show the consequences. These could be immediate, or you could use the ‘fast forward’ metaphor to show how things pan out in 6 months or a year. There could be consequences for the individual and the organisation, but it should be clear that consequences for the organisation will come back and bite the individual. There has to be some kind of personal deterrent even if it’s just embarrassment or guilt.

“You knew about this and you didn’t say anything.?”
(thinks) “If only this was a scenario, I could go back and try again!”

In State 11 we capture from the subject expert why the distractors are wrong but we don’t present that in the scenario consequences, we save that for the debrief stage.

We’ll look at that next.

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