Pleeease! Not a scenario!

Vintage photo of 50s woman despairing at desk.If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ll know I like scenarios. I think they can be an engaging and, more important, an effective form of elearning. That doesn’t mean I advocate them for everything, all the time. Years ago, a Tom Kuhlmann post, lost now, stuck in my mind. It pictured a learner groaning “Please don’t give me a scenario – just tell me what I need to know and let me get back to work!”

I feel his pain. I felt it when I was asked to create scenarios for managers to ‘teach’ them not to book first-class rail tickets. I felt it when I was asked to create full simulations of a system, complete with ‘watch it’ and ‘try it’ screens showing the cursor making its leisurely way through every menu, as the only available training and support for a new system launch.

So let’s get this straight:

  • scenarios are for practice, not teaching
  • scenarios are specifically for decision-making practice


Action Mapping five stagesWe can see this in Action Mapping. When we’ve identified the tasks people do at work (stage 2) and been satisfied that skills need improving for some of them (stage 3), we ask ‘how can they practise these skills and learn from mistakes in a safe way?’

Joe the manager doesn’t need to practise not buying a first class ticket. Liz in Accounts doesn’t need to practice moving her cursor to the Options menu. They just need to know what to do.



Gottfredson and Mosher performance support pyramidLet’s look at Gottfredson and Mosher’s performance support pyramid (click for full size). Although it’s promoted as how you would organise material in a performance support system, it’s much more than that. It actually shows how you support performance at work, whether in a system or not. At the top of the pyramid, the first thing to provide to people is a simple breakdown of steps. This could be a fixed procedure or a principle / rule of thumb. For situations where that’s not enough, you offer progressively more detail. Where do learning materials come in? Way down. That’s where scenarios fit in.

So when someone is learning about Gooboo Insurance’s five step customer service model, what they need first of all is the five steps. (as in Action Mapping when you asked ‘why don’t they do it well?’ and you get told ‘they don’t know it exists’). If they have to apply the five step model where a customer is angry and threatening to leave, and you have to try to retain the customer without losing your cool, that’s when a scenario is needed. (‘Why don’t they do it well?’ ‘They’re afraid to make commitments on behalf of the organisation to keep the customer.’)

Aren’t we dropping Action Mapping here and saying we have to create content first? No, the amount of content you need to create is still dictated by the last stage of Action Mapping – the minimum content.

This accounts for both the push model – you’ve identified a skill gap so you push scenario training to those people, with links to the simple resources as scaffolding – and the pull model – I realise I have a knowledge or skill need and I drill down as far as I have to in order to satisfy it. The difference between the two is that pull resources are for life. If they’re the right resources they’ll be useful far beyond the lifespan of ‘learning’ material.
Have I got it right about the role of scenarios? Would you position them in a different way? Add a comment below and let us know.

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