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Interactive Branching Scenarios 101

Interactive Branching Scenarios 101

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When it comes to experiential learning, one of the most effective methods to engage learners is to use branching scenarios. Branching scenarios are a type of scenario-based learning, an instructional strategy that uses real-life situations to actively engage learners.
Branching scenarios are interactive and choice based. Each new screen presents a different situation and asks the learner to make a decision. Learners are then able to see the consequences of their choices, whether good or bad, and the scenario then progresses to the next situation. This makes each instance of training unique and engaging. Real-life scenarios can help learners immerse themselves in the context and create a deeper connection between the online experience and the situations they will face while performing their jobs.
Branching scenarios put the power of choice in your learners’ hands and allows learners to choose their own path throughout their learning journey.
Unlike quizzes or other knowledge checks, branching scenarios are non-linear – they change according to learners’ input. It’s a more interactive form of learning. Learners are challenged as they are required to make a decision, and then are presented with the consequences. Each consequence produces new challenges and more choices. Branching scenarios typically cover topics that are more complex with multiple decision points, where the outcome changes depending on the decisions the learner makes.
Writing such scenarios allows the learner to picture themselves in these situations and react accordingly.
Advantages of branching scenarios include:
Higher engagement: Rather than being confronted with walls of text, learners have the opportunity to make choices that lead to consequences. They become more than just passive observers, they become active participants in the developing narrative. This triggers parts of the brain that make learners feel more emotionally and intellectually involved.
Better retention: By using branching scenarios, learners can learn from their mistakes. When learners can see the consequences of their actions, they are more likely to absorb the information and store it in their long-term memory.
Risk-free environment: Branching scenarios allow learners to practice a variety of situations in a safe environment. If the training, for example, involves the operation of heavy machinery, learners are free to explore and experiment in a risk-free space. Branching scenarios will let them see how their choices will impact their job performance and help them avoid mistakes in real life.
It can be tough to write a branching narrative, but you don’t need to be a best-selling author to succeed. Here are some tips for writing a branching narrative.
1. Plan it out: Mapping out a branching narrative takes careful planning and forethought. You need to map out the framework of your e-learning script in advance. Decide whether you’re going to include characters and real-world examples. Decide on the key takeaways you need to include. Talk to your subject matter expert to get the must-haves of your branching scenario. Working on paper or using a wireframe tool to plot out ideas will help you make decisions about where to branch and guarantee there are no outcomes excluded. Keep the conclusion in mind so that you will be guided throughout the process.


Example of a Branching Scenario Structure


2. Know your audience: You should learn as much as you can about your audience – their needs, preferences, and expectations. You must also be familiar with their backgrounds and levels of experience so that you don’t cover ideas or concepts that are irrelevant to them, which will undermine the value of your branching scenario. Conduct audience research through assessments, surveys, and interviews to develop accurate learner personas. The benefit of this method is that only relevant content will be used, making best use of your learners’ time, and making sure they only engage with the content that applies to them.
3. Stick to the topic: Your branching scenario script should stick to one topic or concept such as a work-related task or a necessary skill. If you have lots of topics to cover, develop separate scenarios for each one via micro-learning. This enables learners to access the relevant information at their moment of need. It also allows learners to refresh their knowledge on the go. Make sure you don’t throw too many choices or irrelevant details at your learners.
4. Use emotion: Branching scenarios are designed to imitate real-life challenges, so they should also reflect the emotion inherent in those situations. It is therefore important to establish emotion through your e-learning script. Make learners sympathise with your characters or relate to the stress of difficult decisions. Put learners in the right emotional mindset so that they fully engage with the branching scenario.
5. Make it a challenge: Decisions in real life don’t always have obvious right or wrong answers, and branching scenarios are great ways to allow learners to explore these grey areas in a risk-free environment. Don’t make the correct answers too obvious. Branching scenarios are at their best when they allow learners to experiment with complex situations and outcomes.
6. Identify common mistakes: You need to know which wrong behaviours need to be changed – it’s not enough to just know what correct behaviour looks like. Ask questions such as “what are the mistakes people most commonly make?” and “where in the process do people get stuck most often?” The mistakes and places people get stuck will help you figure out where to place your decision points.
7. Focus on real world repercussions: The biggest benefit of branching scenarios is that they link back to real world situations and allow learners to see the consequences of their actions, behaviours, and choices, including both positive and negative results. Your script should highlight the very real repercussions of every decision path. For example, a narrative about safety in the workplace shouldn’t shy away from showing the harmful consequences of poor decisions. Ask the question “what are the consequences if someone makes this mistake?” The consequences of these mistakes become the feedback in your scenario.
8. Sequence decision points: After you’ve listed all the possible mistakes in your branching scenario, it’s time to list all your decision points. Outline the process and take note where you’ll insert decision points that give learners a chance to make the mistakes you identified. Think about the logical flow of events. Sometimes a mistake happens at the beginning or end of a process. Look for the set points of the process and allow the rest of the steps to flow around that.
9. Probe for specific behaviours: Specificity beats broad answers when it comes to branching scenarios. When speaking to your subject matter expert or other sources, keep digging for specific examples and behaviours. You may have to ask several questions in several ways to get the answers you need. Probing questions such as “What do you think is going through people’s heads when they do that?” or “Where do people get confused?” should yield the results you require.
10. Recognise good performance: A crucial aspect of branching scenarios is that learners understand the impact of their decisions. Make sure your learners receive feedback as they navigate a scenario. Features such as scoring or badges can be introduced to highlight both positive performance and areas where there is room for improvement.
11. Test it out: What you write for your scenario might not always sound natural when put into practice. Dialogue might look great when written out but come across as stilted when read aloud. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to do a test run in front of an audience. This is also a chance for a final quality assurance check to catch any mistakes that might have slipped through the cracks.
12. Put it all together: Now that you’ve mapped out your scenario and injected it with emotion and consequences, you should have the full picture in front of you. Tie it all together by following the throughline of your narrative through the choices to the conclusion. See below for an example of a simple completed branching scenario involving a company fire drill.



Branching scenarios offer learners real world experience without the real-world consequences. However, it all hinges on an effective e-learning narration script that is believable and with an emotional centre. Learners must feel like they are active participants, instead of passive observers. That’s what it takes to create a memorable and interactive branching scenario experience.
Reach out to us if you would like to collaborate and build effective interactive branching scenarios that align with your organisation making it real for your learners.


Written by Rob Ewart


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