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Scenario-Based Training

Kevin Dwyer

Training developed in a linear fashion, in my experience, does not deliver the depth of learning required by adults to actually change behavior. In corporate life the objective of training is usually not to be drilled on say, technical knowledge, but to change behavior.

Lessons can be learned from the defense forces and the aviation industry when it comes to adult learning.

Repetition is used to drill into the minds of learners those things which are not to be forgotten. However, to train people to make judgements when many pieces of information are arriving at once, they use flight simulators and war games to make the training as life-like as possible.

Military recruits are put into situations without great fanfare and preparation, other than perhaps an overview of their situation and their objective.

There is no linear path into what they are subjected. The situations are complex. They often fail and they learn by reflection, becoming much better at the judgments they make next time, even though next time the environment and the scenarios presented are different.

After completing a few exercises, they build their own view of the patterns that are evident and are able to move into a new scenario with confidence even if the environment and scenario is radically different.

The scenario based training of the military is much more reflective of how we learn in life. We make mistake after mistake and find our own patterns of action and reaction and make better judgements as we gain more experience. We become wise and can anticipate reactions to stimuli and act with that in mind.

Scenario based training has much to recommend it to corporate training.

The most obvious opportunity for scenario based training in corporate life is structured on-the-job training.

A combination of classroom drilling on skills and structured long term projects utilizing cross functional teams over, say twelve months, to practice the skills, delivers benefits to the organization and reinforces the skills learned in the classroom.

Smaller projects, combined with classroom training, will still significantly improve learning retention and application.

E-learning and board games where participants are thrust into life-like scenarios using video and audio that require them to make real life decisions and take real life risks without much preparation is a great way to cheaply get the benefits of scenario-based training.

Learning on reflection before plunging into the next scenario helps to build the patterns in the participants’ minds that are the evidence that they have actually learned.

Quizzes based on scenarios with a “What would you do next?”-question builds quick and fun repetition into the training program, helping transfer from short term memory to long term memory.

Building scenario based training into learning programs benefits a wide range of topics, including, for example:

  • Customer service
  • Negotiating
  • Business to business marketing and sales
  • Consumer credit management
  • Leadership
  • Coaching

Scenario based training allows learning and development professionals to fill in the gaps left by linear models of teaching. Moreover, developing the scenarios by discussing what real life is like with the participants locks in commitment.

Lastly, scenario based training is more fun. People learn more when they are having fun, and it teaches them to learn from their mistakes, which can be no bad thing in its own right.