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What is Scenario-Based Learning? Here's the Definition, and 5 Benefits

Isidora Markovic
Isidora Markovic

Scenario-Based Learning is on the rise - the virtual training and simulation market is projected to reach $601.85 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 13.7% from 2020 to 2027.

And given its propensity to drive better learning outcomes such as higher engagement, quicker skill adoption, knowledge retention, plus, its comparative low cost to training methods that drive similar outcomes, the fact that the number of companies using Scenario-Based Training in their LMS or training platform is growing is unsurprising.   

But before we get into why it's so effective - what exactly constitutes scenario-based learning? 

What is Scenario-Based Learning?

Scenario-based learning definition

Scenario-based learning, also known as scenario-based training, immersive training, or simulation-based learning, is where a learner is given the opportunity to develop a skill by practicing in a true-to-life simulated environment that “replicates job conditions”

Learners are given the autonomy to control outcomes based on choices they make, and are able to do so in an immersive learning environment that importantly, is free from real-world consequences. This allows them to participate in ‘experiential learning’ (aka learning by doing), in a risk-free setting.  

To navigate through the scenario successfully and bring about a favorable outcome, the learner must exercise problem solving and critical thinking, and call on technical, communication and interpersonal skills. 

It may be thought of as a virtual type of role-playing training, and has varied applications - from safety on the job to customer service. Scenario-based learning is a form of active, rather than passive learning. 

Active vs. passive learning

“What is the difference between passive and active learning?"  I hear you ask.

In a study of 193 participants presented with a dart throwing video, the group that watched the video 20 times were no more capable of throwing darts skilfully and scored no better than the group that watched it just once. Why were the group who rewatched the video as likely to fail as the group who watched it once? It’s because, despite repetition, the learning experience was passive.

The difference between the two lies in how information is transferred between the instructor, or source, and the learner. Passive learning is largely observational, doesn’t utilize feedback and learner involvement or knowledge application is not required. Information is heard, seen, or read, but there are no formal follow-up mechanisms in place to reinforce its absorption. 

Examples of passive learning in a corporate context include: watching a video demonstration, powerpoint presentation or being given a handbook to read. 

Active learning asks more of a learner - it requires them to focus, in order for them to input. For example, prompting them to watch a video, then surfacing a quiz on the video’s contents that they need to interact with, and must recall the knowledge from in order to proceed. 

With active learning, a learner engages with, applies and reflects on information given in a single moment. 


Why is Scenario-Based Training Better?

5 Advantages of Using Scenario-Based Learning

Why might you favor using reality based training scenarios over other methods of workforce training? First off:

It provides a safe space to fail

Foremostly, scenario-based learning is advantageous because it allows workers to learn in a low stakes environment that minimizes the risk of real-life error that could be hazardous to them, or costly for you.

It’s no coincidence that the earliest applications of simulation-based training emerged from the aviation, military and medical industries - fields in which the cost of human error is high. But corporate mistakes can be high risk and costly too - the total cost of workplace injuries in the U.S. in 2020 was $163.9 billion

By extending this type of training to workers, you give them the privilege of practice in a ‘sandbox’ environment ahead of time, lessening - or eliminating - the likelihood of error on the job.

It minimizes the learning curve (gets people to the ‘point of skill’ quicker)

If you explained to someone how to deal with a difficult customer or you let them live the encounter in a mock setting, which situation do you think would get the individual to the point of skill quicker?

In the former, the learner is passive and receives instruction without participation. Even if the instructor were to repeat themselves, or clarification was sought, the likelihood the learner would then be sufficiently upskilled to succeed in the desired behavior is low. 

The latter enables the learner to embody an interaction in a way most proximal to reality - they gain firsthand experience (and with it, quicker skill mastery), in a manner second to only a real-life scenario. 


Source:  Cognition and Instruction/Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Argumentation

For this reason - providing real life context and allowing knowledge application - scenario-based learning makes concepts easier to grasp and leads to faster knowledge consolidation.

It builds soft skills

"Hard Skills are soft (they change all the time, are constantly being obsoleted, and are relatively easy to learn), and Soft Skills are hard (they are difficult to build, critical, and take extreme effort to obtain). We can build these if we design [training] around ‘experiences’ and ‘activities’... Not just content." - Josh Bersin

It’s said that 75% of an employee's success comes from soft skills. To navigate through scenario-based learning, workers must exercise critical thinking and problem solving skills.

For example - you receive an email from your ‘CEO’ asking you for your log-in details to install a new security software. Do you click the link, attempt to contact the CEO, or forward the email to the IT department? 

Being subject to this situation - even in practice - sets multiple cognitive processes into action. Sound in-the-moment judgment must be applied, and doing so requires consideration of the problem through multiple perspectives, solution-brainstorming (which in itself requires reflection, analysis, examination and critique of internal information and your own knowledge base, assessment of whether your opinion on how to proceed is well supported), and finally evaluation of the result.

Source:  Cognition and Instruction/Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Argumentation

The impact? 88% of Managing Directors who underwent such training reported improved decision making skills and 90% reported an increased ability to collaborate with others. 

It improves knowledge retention 

“Scenario-Based Learning promotes real life critical thinking and problem solving skills. Opportunities to apply learning through active learning pedagogies improves knowledge retention, satisfaction, and ultimately learning outcomes.” - Kelsey Botne, Director of Learning, eduMe

Experiential learning sees knowledge retention rates as high as 90%

Why’s this? Firstly it simply engages the learner better. It demands their attention and immerses them in the story at hand - not only are they directly involved, they’re in the driver’s seat. As mentioned, it stimulates multiple senses and brings them in as active participants, but it’s also novel, visceral and engages emotion. 

Emotion plays a powerful part in memory formation. Depending on the scenario learners are confronted with, it can solidify knowledge by eliciting emotional response, an aspect central to retention of knowledge: 

“Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behavior. This attentional and executive control is intimately linked to learning processes. Emotion also facilitates encoding and helps retrieval of information efficiently”

In other words, the degree of emotional engagement determines the level of attention we give an activity, allows us to bring information we already have stored to mind more easily, and spurs us into action. 

It cuts cost

Scenario-based learning smoothes the path to knowledge for learners. But what about its implications - beyond improved workforce performance - for businesses? 

It’s known that technology-based training is more cost effective than instructor-led training - it's estimated that by switching from classroom-based learning to eLearning, a business can save between 50-70% on training costs. 

When training is delivered remotely and digitally, workers need not be removed from work to complete it - they can complete it at their convenience, wherever they are. There is no venue or labor hire, travel, catering or lodging costs. It can also be repeated, meaning it has longevity beyond the point of delivery. 

Aside from the cost of the training technology in question, and the time involved in the creation of content, there are no ongoing costs involved in employing Scenario-based learning. 

Scenario-Based Learning Examples

By now you might be thinking employing Scenario-Based Learning sounds like a good idea, but are wondering which situations it’s best used in. 

The answer is - multiple. Part of the appeal of Scenario-Based Learning is its flexible and wide ranging use cases. As long as there is a consequence of an action to show, or an interaction to navigate, scenario-based learning can benefit corporations across the board, regardless of whether you operate in warehousing, transportation logistics, food delivery, retail, or hospitality.

Here are just 4 scenario-based eLearning examples for you to draw inspiration from, straight from eduMe’s Senior Learning Consultant, Sasha Howard: 

Security & Compliance training

“Security training teaches learners how to avoid situations that could potentially put the company at risk legally. Scenario-Based Learning serve as an effective method to help people retain important compliance policies. Bringing specific stories or scenarios to life in video helps make these often difficult trainings more relevant and meaningful to employees.”

Sales Training

“Scenario-Based Learning can be an effective way to bring sales techniques to life, demonstrating the do’s and don’t’s. Videos should immerse learners in live-action situations that show examples of what to do/what not to do in order to win over prospective customers and close deals.”

Safety Training

“When it comes to safety training, the result of getting it wrong could potentially be catastrophic. Scenario-Based Learning videos are a safe way to gauge the level of understanding teams have, prior to letting them do the work in real life. From emergencies in healthcare to safety procedures, recording examples that challenge learners to make their own judgments on the next steps can help to minimize the occurrence of dangerous events taking place.

Due to the complex nature of safety training, visualization is everything. You can describe safe and unsafe behaviors in the text but most people won’t be able to digest it until they see it. Plus people generally believe they usually behave safely already.”

Bonus: see sample scenario-based training on this topic below 👇


Conflict De-Escalation

"Issues of conflict in the workplace aren’t black or white. It can be hard to describe exactly what is the right course of action in some difficult social situations. Scenario-Based Learning works well to highlight what inappropriate behavior might look like, helping people to both avoid it and be able to identify it. They can also be a way to generate empathy and understanding of why some people may react the way they do.”

The takeaway

By immersing learners in active, contextual learning that requires reflection, input, and provides immediate, consequence-based feedback based on their choice, cognitive response enhances. This promotes better retention of new concepts by facilitating deeper understanding, and bridging the gap between theory and practice (while still being practice).

For this reason we built Scenario Videos, a type of Scenario-Based Learning, in eduMe.

"Scenario Videos have improved our ability to connect with our learners. They can watch “real-life” scenarios they encounter daily, which helps them relate to the training lessons. We have only scratched the surface by implementing this in our training." - Adam Zipko, Training Manager, Flagger Force

By employing Scenario Videos in their de-escalation training, customers like Uber have seen training completion rates of 65% (31% higher than the industry average for optional training), with 97% of their workforce reporting they found this type of training useful.  

Interested in learning more? Get in touch with our team for a demonstration of what eduMe can offer.

Not ready to chat with us? Check out what customers like Vodafone, Marriott and Grubhub have achieved with eduMe, or learn more about our platform