Best practices in scenario design address how learning will occur and learning requirements from the perspective of the learner by accounting for the following specifications:
Duration: Long, drawn out scenarios target task behaviors and processes more than thinking skills. Therefore, construct scenarios around specific incidents that have a relatively short duration. Several incidents can be aggregated within an event with each resulting in a discrete, observable, and measurable outcome.
Authenticity: Create a learning environment consisting of conditions, cues, and factors that are typical of the decision context. Natural decision contexts are “messy and noisy” to increase exposure to ill-structured problems, information overload, time pressure, and uncertainty like that found in the operational setting. This exposure creates greater resilience and more adaptive learners.
Scaffolding: When mental models are incomplete, outdated, or misconstrued due to negative training, learners are unable to produce options that fit the problem frame. Effective scenarios enable learners to encode new information so that they have a usable model to solve similar, but more importantly novel problems.
Perception: In effective scenario-based learning, learners are situated in a complex, adaptive system that changes dynamically. This system requires the learner to continually scan the environment for information and use it to build situational awareness. Once situational awareness is established, the learner knows what cues/factors to look for, recognizes them when they occur, and links or aggregates them to form patterns. Recognizable patterns yield decision points; new, incomplete, or unrecognizable patterns generate requirements for information.
Communications: Information sharing is a vital component of high powered scenarios. As events unfold, learners use available capabilities to interrogate the environment, process information about situations, and exchange information to create shared awareness and understanding for anticipating change.
In summary, not all scenarios are created equal nor are they appropriate for all stages of learning. Think about scenarios from the perspective of the learner i.e., 1) the stage of development, 2) the learning requirements, and 3) the expected learning outcome. For case-based or scenario-based training, designers must leverage their expertise in capturing lived-experience to produce the conditions for learning (i.e., duration, authenticity, scaffolding, perception and communications). In subsequent postings, we will describe a scenario development process for achieving modularity, scalability, affordability, transferability, and measurement.