Is Scenario-Based Learning the Future?

Stories shape our lives, and by extension, our personal and professional development. From the moment humans developed language capability, narratives have been our primary means of learning, socialising, and transmitting knowledge to one another. In fact, our brains are better wired to understand, remember, and tell stories than data, facts, and abstractions. In every culture across the globe, human beings tell stories to understand, share, and recall information. Below Heide Abelli, SVP Content Product Management at Skillsoft, delves into the intricacies of scenario based learning.

Storytelling and scenario-based approaches have as strong place in video-based corporate learning content. Here’s why…

The power of non-threatening instruction

People respond more readily to the ‘benign’ power of a story than to more didactic types of instruction or probing questioning, which very often can breed resistance in a learner. Learning from stories can also be helpful in bypassing our natural resistance to change. If a student perceives that he or she is being told what to do, given advice, or talked down to, there is always a risk that protective, internal barriers will surface. Being offered possible solutions through the medium of a story, however, is more acceptable. There is less “perceived pressure” to accept the advice being offered. Stories can therefore help to convey what might be a potentially complex subject in a way that is non-threatening, but at the same time thought-provoking.

Stories Build critical thinking

Scenario-based narratives allow learners to relate to a situation from a non-personal perspective. They can decide what a character should do, or how they should behave, without a sense of direct, personal responsibility. This detachment lets learners view problems and their solutions in a more objective, non-biased mindset. They are able to apply their prior experience, subject knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills in a risk-free environment that still evokes their “real-world” context to help them hone the necessary skills and apply them to their own situations in the workplace.

Scenarios enable faster learning

Virtual scenarios let learners assemble expertise and experience in a much shorter duration than they would from other forms of instruction. What is more, scenario-based learning lets them learn through a trial-and-error process that is as effective as getting on-the-job training but without having to face the consequences or bearing the costs of a wrong decision.

A Few Best practices for designing and developing scenario-based content:

Intriguing storylines

A narrative needs to be intriguing in order to grab attention. There needs to be a reason for the learner to become engaged. That requires the narrative to be provocative, interesting, entertaining, and informative. The story must also be ‘involving.’ The learner needs to be drawn into the story so that a cognitive, emotional, and behavioural response can be generated. Emotionally, a story can precipitate feelings about the characters or events contained in the story. Behaviourally, the story will trigger the learner to evaluate and alter their own behaviour and pass along their new knowledge to others.

Suitable language

Scenarios should offer familiar language that learners are accustomed to hearing in a similar context. Establishing links through context will help to engage learners and make them feel comfortable, thereby facilitating the process of moving learning from short to long-term memory. Speech should sound natural not stilted. A character’s vocabulary and rhythm of speech often reflect their personality. It’s important to think about the choice of words and the level of formality. Overly formal language can make learners less receptive to the content. And not everything needs to be directly stated. When characters are in each other’s presence, body language and props can help let the learner know what they’re feeling.


Brain science research suggests that micro-learning is highly aligned to how the brain processes and recalls information. For instance, we can only hold seven objects in our working memory at any given time and less than 10 minutes of video-based learning. Well-designed micro-learning experiences respect these cognitive limits, giving learners small doses of know-how that are easy to understand right away and memorable enough to be retrieved later. Micro-learning content supports learning needs before distraction sets in.

Organisations take on the time and expense of training their people because there are skills, knowledge and competencies which they need them to learn, remember, practice and master in the workplace. Therefore, the training they provide must be designed to deliver against that need. Taking advantage of the proven value of storytelling and scenario-based learning ensures that organisations’ time and money is well spent, and that their learners are equipped with the right skills, competencies and behaviours.

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