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Do you remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books you may have read when you were little?  Each decision you made would correspond with a page number in the book which you were supposed to immediately turn to.  Different decisions elicited different results.  A few weeks ago I published a blog post on Virtual Patient eLearning Simulations.  These simulations mimic real life experiences and have been a hot eLearning technique used by medical education associations for professional development.  This prompted me to think about and share how this realistic simulation method applies to eLearning outside of the medical realm.

Essentially, two basic types of courses exist in the eLearning world.  The first is a linear progression in which the learner clicks the next button to go thru a course page by page.  The other option is a scenario-based course in which choices and consequences help teach the learner in a more realistic manner.  While different methods work for different cases, building scenarios where the learner can actually put into practice what they are learning from the course can be a great way to reiterate course material.  So, here is a list of the top five reasons why scenario-based eLearning questions can be beneficial in your eLearning course:

1.   Simulations help learners think as experts, not as students.  The point of many simulation based eLearning designs is to get the learner to think as an expert instead of as a student.  It is important that the student is immersed in a real-life situation of the expert—it is a matter of gaining experience that may not be available to them otherwise.  It is about learning the relationship between things, and then forming gut reactions about how to deal with those found relationships.

2.  Simulations keep learners interested.  Let’s be honest, even the best students have trouble keeping interested while partaking in an information dump/lecture.  Consistently reading through large clumps of text, and then clicking the next button to do it all over again is not always the best way to engage and appeal to your learners.  By forcing your learners to engage in the program, the students are separated from the text and content and placed directly into learning and doing.

3.  Simulations incorporate consequences.  It is important that scenario-based courses allow the learner to fail.  Because this system works on direct application of knowledge, students have to approach the challenge just as they would in a real-life situation where one will not always succeed.  This technique becomes a great way to actually encourage the learning of students by understanding the consequences of failing in particular ways.  Would the consequences be minor? Would they be large?  Questions are answered in a virtual environment, hopefully dismissing the need to learn by failure in a real-world instance in the future.

4.  Simulations help give detailed reports on student progression.  Unlike the traditional grade book that calculates student quiz scores and tests and averages them out at the end of the year, realistic simulations allow instructors to view students’ answers to each challenge that comes their way.  They can examine how the virtual consequences both positively and negatively affect the student, and furthermore, see the pace in which students learn how to be successful.  By using the records of mouse clicks, keystrokes, and time-elapsed while a learner is making a decision, the educators can infer when a student is feeling comfortable with a scenario or topic.

5.  Simulations connect information to real-world experience.  How often in your academia careers have you found yourself asking “When will I ever use this?”  Scenario based eLearning questions provide the answer.  eLearning simulations not only introduce learners to the content, but they are introduced to the real-world experiences in which the content may be helpful.  The scenarios place students into an atmosphere they will likely experience in the future.  The e-Learning simulation then places a problem into that atmosphere that can be solved using content the learner has come across earlier in the program.  It is a learning-by-doing technique in as close to a real-life environment as one can virtually achieve.  It gets students to the point in which they’re seeing connections between actual objects and content rather than theorizing the connections from an outside perspective.  These simulations require learners to be engaged with what’s happening on screen and as part of that engagement, think outside of the traditional in-class student perspective as they may be used to.  This type of learning furthers to force the student to make a choice about the success or failure of what they are doing—much like what people are compelled to do on a daily basis of their real-life careers.

Full Disclosure:  Web Courseworks has designed and developed a robust branching authoring tool within its CourseCreate product.  Narrative decision-making tools from its scenario building engine can accommodate simulations of any level of complexity.

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.

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