• Hayley Sayre

Spoiled For Choice: Letting Learners Explore with Branching Scenarios

Updated: Feb 8

We all have memories of stepping into the first days of a new job and being faced with unfamiliar choices. It's one thing to sit in a college classroom and read about theories and best practices, but knowing how to gracefully navigate a tricky situation takes practice!

"The complexity of 21st-century work is rooted in expertise. And as the word implies, expertise grows out of experience," - Ruth Clark [1]

I used to teach a biomedical high school class that was geared towards students who had a goal to work in the medical field. The class was highly immersive and was a blast to teach with a rich variety of labs, dissections, and projects. However, a surprisingly impactful part of the course were the branching scenario-based trainings the students participated in. They had the opportunity to work through several courses offered to college students and entry-level health care workers, with topics ranging from HIPAA compliance to assessing a sick patient. This gave students the opportunity to "step into the shoes" of an expert and see firsthand how their classroom learning could be realistically applied in the workplace. Seeing them process the outcomes of their choices and reflect on how to improve was a powerful experience as an educator!

What are Branching Scenarios?

A branching scenario presents learners with a realistic situation and then requires them to make choices. As they progress through the training, the story will unfold in response to their decisions [2]. Although it can be more time consuming to construct a branching scenario than a linear one which provides only one pathway through the course, the benefits of branching scenario-based training apply to learners of all ages:

  • Responding to a scenario is an engaging and relevant way to capture your learners' attention

  • It provides an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar situation and make choices in a low-risk setting

  • Branching decisions facilitate problem-solving skills that can be used on the job

  • Individualized feedback can be provided organically throughout the scenario [3]

Deciding on Devices

If you're intrigued by the idea of "branching out" with this type of scenario-based training, you'll also be glad to know that you won't be limited in your delivery options. Mobile learning is offered by virtually all major LMS companies now, which is a great response to the statistic that 72% of people will only access the internet via smartphones by 2025 [4]. This makes sense to me from the learner's perspective! When I've been required to complete trainings, I've often found myself appreciative for the opportunity to work through them in manageable, bite-sized amounts, perhaps even during lunch over a burrito (which can make anything more enjoyable!). While the mobile option has enormous benefits, there are also a few limitations to keep in mind that we'll explore below.

Take a Look!

Let's explore an example of a branching scenario-based training with "Conversations that Work!", a course where the learner can practice using the STATE Strategy from the book Crucial Conversations.

The training opens up with a trigger event, which is a realistic situation that requires the learner to respond [1]. You won't see this in all training courses, but the trigger is a key component to branching scenarios! In this situation, one of your employees, Gina, arrives late to work in front of your bosses and you need to figure out an appropriate way to confront her.

Here's where the branching scenario comes in! You can see in the picture below how the learner is presented with several response options. Before this we were also provided with a handout of the STATE conversation strategies, so the goal here is to try and put these into action.

Unlike linear training with one pathway through the story, playing through this scenario multiple times with different choices leads to different consequences and endings. For example, privately discussing Gina's lateness and showing empathy in your discussions results in her feeling safe, opening up, and the team successfully landing a project.

However... you are also free to make the wrong decisions! Publicly talking with Gina about her lateness and making her feel ashamed and vulnerable leads to her quitting the firm, and ultimately results in disapproval from your boss and the loss of a work opportunity for your team. Consequences unfold before you as you make a series of decisions, ultimately leading to a realistic representation of success or failure.

No matter how the story evolves, this particular course functions on both a desktop computer and a phone. On a mobile device, I found that the visuals and navigation were clear and functional in both profile and landscape mode, and the sound effects worked correctly. The most significant obstacle was the font size. While I was able to easily use gestures to zoom in and see the font, the need for this indicates that this course is more appropriate for desktop delivery, while mobile access is manageable if not optimal.

One reason to improve smartphone accessibility for this course is that it is short, only taking about ten minutes to complete, so is a great candidate for mobile 'micro learning'. However, even if the font size were improved, older employees or those without data coverage may still be more comfortable accessing this on a larger computer screen. Having both options is a win for this course!


[1] Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2012). Scenario-based e-learning: Evidence-based guidelines for online workforce learning (1st ed.). Pfeiffer.

[2] Snegirev, S. (2021, May 12). Branching Scenarios: What You Need To Know. eLearning Industry. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

[3] Pandey, A. (2021, May 12). A 5-Step Plan To Create A Captivating Scenario-Based Corporate Training. eLearning Industry. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

[4] Zides, M. (2021, July 19). Leveraging Mobile Learning To Increase Engagement. eLearning Industry. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

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