Scenario-based learning guides students through a series of scenarios to teach them practical and analytical skills. Based on situated learning theory (Lave & Wenger, 1991), SBL is most successful when learning is done in the context in which it is going to be used, and is best acquired and understood when situated within its context (Kindley, 2002). This approach also supports David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model (2015), where knowledge is created across the perception (“thinking”) and processing continuums (“watching”). The SBL curriculum attempts to touch on each learning quadrant - converging, associating, diverging and assimilating - proposed by Kolb and Owen.
Scenario-based learning curriculum leads in with a real-world set-up (scenario or story description), provides hands-on experience (such as a lab experiment) and discussion, and gives next steps or expands learning experience (i.e. homework assignment synthesizing learning and justify choices).
What is Scenario-based Learning (SBL)?
Scenario-based learning (SBL) uses interactive scenarios to support active learning strategies, which involves working through an ill-structured or complex problem that requires a solution. During the process, students use acquired knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving skills to determine a solution in a safe, real-world context. SBL can provide various feedback opportunities that are based on the decisions made throughout the process. Scenario-based learning may be nonlinear and self-contained. Or SBL can be part of a larger assignment that requires scenario completion, a written or oral reflection, and self-assessment.
How to incorporate Scenario-based Learning?
Identify the learning outcomes you want the students to achieve upon completion of the scenario, and then create the situation that will lead to this learning.
Decide on your format: Will the scenario be delivered face-to-face or online? What media and resources will you need? If you are using an online scenario, will you provide other supporting activities, such as wikis, discussion forums, etc.? Also, will it be interactive (e.g. Adobe Captivate or Storyline), and if so, who will build it?
Choosing a topic: Non-routine tasks, such as critical incidents or challenging situations, lend themselves to scenario-based learning. For example, provide a real-world situation that forces a decision to be made and justified, and then provide feedback.
Identify the starting point or situation: As you create the scenario, identify decision points and key areas for feedback and student reflection. Creating a storyboard is an effective way to do this.
Provide feedback: Whether face-to-face or online, the learner needs feedback in order to adapt his or her learning. Keep in mind that “showing” feedback is better than “telling” feedback. Telling feedback breaks the story and simply tells the learner the answer instead of showing the learner how their choice affects the whole situation.
Peer review your scenario to ensure that it flows, contains accurate information, and achieves the intended learning outcomes.
Scenario-based Learning Checklist (Clark, 2009):
- Are the outcomes based on skills development or problem-solving?
- Is the real-world experience difficult to provide because it is unsafe, unpredictable, or scarce? For example, a pipeline burst on an ocean oil rig.
- Do your students already have some relevant knowledge to aid decision-making?
- Do you have time and resources to design, develop, and test an SBL approach?
- Will the content and skills remain relevant for long enough to justify the development of SBL?
Scenario-based Learning Examples
A Real Decision: Present the learner with a real-world situation and decisions.
Public Health Simple Example
Instructions: Divide students into groups and provide them with the following scenario.
A large cruise ship arrives in the port of a European capital. On board there are 1200 tourists from USA and Canada and a crew of 400. The captain informs you that there is an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis on board. During the last couple of days, some 200 people have had vomiting and diarrhoea. Many of them have already recovered. Five elderly ladies are in the infirmary on board.
Each group member picks a role, such as cruise director, infirmary nurse, restaurant manager, and chef, and investigates where the outbreak started, ways it spread throughout the ship, and how the outbreak can be contained.
Public Health Complex Example
Teaching Instructions: Create a branched, decision-based scenario using software, such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline, for students to take online. However, this could be done as an in-class group activity or a homework assignment. For more in-depth learning, students can be tasked to justify their decisions.
The Story: A large cruise ship arrives in the port of a European capital. On board there are 1200 tourists from USA and Canada and a crew of 400. The captain informs you that there is an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis on board. During the last couple of days, some 200 people have had vomiting and diarrhoea. Many of them have already recovered. Five elderly ladies are in the infirmary on board. You have been tasked by the captain and the cruise director to figure out where the outbreak started, how it spread so quickly, and how to contain the outbreak.
The Branched Scenario: The student is given the option of different sections of the cruise ship to start their investigation, such as the dining hall, the pool, and the main lobby restrooms. Next, the students interview several crew members and vacationers to gather information. Once all interviews and information is evaluated, the student is presented with several options to suggest as the solution.
8 Effective Scenario Ideas for Instructional Designers (eLearning Brothers, 2013)
Experiential Learning: Experience As the Source of Learning and Development (David Kolb, 2015)