The Need for More Scenario-Based Learning

Think back through all the courses you’ve taken.  It’s a lot – I know.  What ones stand out the most?  I’m willing to be they are the ones that were the most engaging.  Not only did you enjoy them, but you learned a lot from them and still remember quite a bit of it.

It’s no secret that training adults can be challenging.  Training professionals in emergency services is certainly no different.  The challenges are even greater as the number of required training courses continually increase, requiring more and more ass-in-chair time every year for responders and other professions.  A great deal of training programs we see out there still seem to be holding out for the sake of traditional delivery styles, much to the detriment of our learners.  Why?  Designing traditional lecture-based learning is easy to do!  Figure out what people need to learn, develop content, slap together some PowerPoint, and voila!  Hell, even I’m guilty.

The fact of the matter is that we all know this is wrong.  Yes, it’s easy to do on our end, but the value and impact of the learning is pretty low.  People don’t want to be lectured to for hours on end.  We know that learning is most effective when we mix things up and when we increase interaction.  One of the best ways of engaging learners effectively is through scenario-based learning.

Now I’m not just talking about using a scenario at the end of the course to see if people can apply what they’ve learned over the past two days.  Yes, scenarios can be used as a test of sorts, but they are most effective for actual learning.  So when should you use scenarios?  Why not start the course with one?  It immediately gets people thinking, which is a good thing especially with an 8 am start time to the course.   If you use a lot of scenarios in a course, can they all be related?  Sure.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It all depends on what the purpose of the scenario is.  In training responders, threading a common scenario through a course is usually helpful.  Scenarios can get complicated when we need to establish a common understanding of what is going on, where it is, what resources are available, etc.  As such, it helps to use the same foundational scenario throughout the course (or at least regularly revisit it), and continue to introduce new problems or a different focus based upon the path of the training.  Using a common foundational scenario saves time so you don’t have to start anew introducing all new information each time and it keeps learners comfortable.  That said, it may occasionally be valuable to change things up a bit.

Do you need to use HSEEP to develop course scenarios?  No.  While these aren’t exercises in the strictest sense, we can benefit considerably from many of the principles and concepts of HSEEP.  Develop what you need to give learners the information they need to participate and the information you and/or other instructors need to properly facilitate and evaluate.

Adult learners like to be challenged.  Lecturing them for hours on end will only challenge their ability to not fall asleep – which may only be accomplished by their challenge for a new high score on the new app they just put on their phone.  The best way to challenge adult learners is to give them problems to solve.  A well written scenario will help introduce these problems in a framework which is both familiar and challenging to them.  Depending on how the scenario is provided, such as a compelling background story or use of video, learners will establish an emotional connection to the scenario which prompts a visceral desire to solve these problems.  Even one scenario is powerful and can prompt a lot of interaction.  It can prompt individual responses to questions, group discussions, and group collaborations.

Finally, don’t forget to evaluate both your learners and the scenario itself.  At the conclusion of each scenario conduct a hotwash and feedback session with learners to discuss what they accomplished and possible areas for improvement.  Also be sure to gain feedback from them and other instructors on how well the scenario worked and what can be improved upon.

Just like any other aspect of instructional design, the integration of scenarios can be time consuming but it’s an investment that will pay off.  To capitalize on the value of your scenarios, make sure the activities and expected outcomes of each scenario are associated with the learning objectives of the course and engage learners to the proper degree (i.e. the proper level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).  Yes, scenarios also take a fair amount of class time to execute.  That time needs to be well accounted for in your instructional design and course planning.  However, if properly designed, learners can learn just as much content if not more through interactive scenarios as compared to lecture-based training.

What types of scenarios have you integrated into courses?  How did learners respond to them?  How can we do a better job of integrating more scenario-based learning into our courses?

Need help designing scenario-based learning?  Let EPS help!

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


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