I’ve done a lot of reading this semester about scenario-based design.  After getting comfortable with Captivate, it has been challenging this semester to balance my interest in the design of my learning experiences with my own Storyline learning.  It’s worth it, though.  I’ve really enjoyed working with Storyline.

Why Scenario-Based Design?

Although Carroll approaches this topic from a software design approach, his point is relevant to eLearning that a focus on “situations of and consequences for human work and activity promotes learning about the structure and dynamics of problem domains” (1999, p. 1).  Scenarios anchor a learning design in a work setting evoking reflection and emphasizing the importance of the task.

Math courses typically present similar problems, steps for a solution, and the ubiquitous right answer complete with a box around it.  While there is certainly validity in modeling similar problems, I chose to establish characters and scenarios to carry the learner out of the typical math learning context into their working environment.  Persson, Fyrenius, and Berfgdahl point out that the development of multimedia problem-based learning tends to motivate and stimulate learners (2010), an effect that I expect to repeat with scenario-based learning. I suspect problem-based learning would promote more significant retention of knowledge, but the client presented cases that were much more appropriate for scenario-based learning.

What constitutes a Scenario?

Scenarios are relevant learning situations with several identifiable characteristics.  First, they begin with a setting that aligns with the context of learning.  They also include agents or actors who have goals or objectives within the situations in their setting.  The plot of a scenario includes a sequence of actions that the agents perform or events that happen to them to which they must respond (Carroll, 1999).

Errington describes a scenario-based learning framework as one where learners are presented with a “scenario descriptor, or set of realistic circumstances…accompanied by one or more focus questions and/or dilemmas” designed to accomplish a specific learning intention (p. 84).  Scenarios add to the realism of an abstract problem with virtual actors reproducing “set procedures and facts” (p. 85). “The more real the patient appears to be, the more committed students will be in their response to this patient’s needs” (Henderson, 2010).

In my course, Dorothy is one actor working in a home health environment and Neil is a nurse in a hospice setting.  Their main objective is to perform the necessary calculations and conversions to doctors’ orders given the medication and materials they have on hand.  I have organized my scenarios into five different categories: unit conversions, dosage calculations, the use of labels, pediatric cases, and flow rate. Within these work settings my scenarios are the “work-oriented design objects” recommended by Carroll (1999, p. 9).

Using the Goal-Based Scenario Model

Dabbagh and Dass identify several problem-based models: situated learning (SL, problem-based learning (PBL), goal-based scenario (GBS), learning by design (LBD), and cognitive flexibility hypertext (CFH).  Several characteristics of the GBS model align with my course including high stakes, real situations, and resources provided.  However, the LBD model most closely matches the needs of my client for this course.  My problems are “complex but not very ill-defined, discipline-specific,” requiring prior knowledge and the application of skills (p. 166).

Like in the GBS case problems reported by Dabbagh and Dass, my scenarios include well-defined problems, roles, responsibilities, and procedures. The problems are prototypical and recurring and have specific goals of the accurate dispensing of medication following doctors’ orders and meeting patients’ needs (p. 169).  The problem task enacts a job role requiring individual effort resulting in the external product of a decision on the part of the learner (p. 170).  These scenarios are more tangible and concrete, designed as a role play situation posed by Dorothy or Neil to the learner (p. 171) designed to promote “more tacit and individually driven cognitive process and problem solving activities” (p. 172).

Crafting My Scenarios

For my course, the client and I felt it was important to develop specific, authentic scenarios presenting situations a home health or hospice nurse would likely encounter. We chose to use present tense and character narration in order to develop near positioning, lessening the distance between the learner and the context with the intent of helping learners achieve a sense of being in the situation, thus heightening their commitment to engage and find the correct decision (Errington, p. 89).


Carroll, J. M. (1999). Five Reasons for Scenario-Based Design.  IEEE proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Dabbagh, N., Dass, S. (2012). Case problems for problem-based pedagogical approaches: A comparative analysis.  Computers and Education 64, 161-174.

Errington, E. P. (2011). Mission possible:  Using near-world scenarios to prepare graduates for the professions. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23 (1), pp. 84-91.

Henderson, J. (2010). Problem-based scenarios for a professional future. In E.P. Errington (Ed.), Preparing graduates for the professions using scenario-based learning. Brisbane, AU: Post Pressed.

Persson, A. C., Fyrenius, A., & Bergdahl, B. (2010). Perspectives on using multimedia scenarios in a PBL medical curriculum. Med Teach 32 (9), pp. 766-772. doi: 10.3109/01421591003688381.