The 4 Cs to Designing Meaningful Scenarios, Part 2: Consequences

The experience of cause and effect is a very powerful teacher, one our brain is already pre-wired to learn from. Experiencing consequences for our actions gives rise to emotion, which not only catches our attention, but also increases our ability to retain the learning. Despite these advantages, allowing the learner to experience an actual ‘consequence’ for their choice in a scenario is often missing from scenario design. As designers, we are too quick to just say ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and either move on or have them try again. When we design that way, we miss out on a powerful teaching tool: the feeling behind success and failure. We talked about choice design in Part 1, so in Part 2 of our 4 Cs to Designing Meaningful Scenarios series, we’ll focus on crafting the consequences to those well-designed choices.

Map the Impact of Choices

We talked in Part 1 about doing your homework to understand common mistakes made by performers, choices that are good, and choices that are just okay. Let’s build on that now. As part of your analysis for a scenario-based learning experience you need to obtain enough information from the SME that you can map the impact of each of those choices. As you consider each choice, ask questions like:

  • How would this choice impact the customer (the immediate effect, their emotion, their long-term loyalty, etc.)?
  • How would this choice impact the business (morale, revenue, etc.)?
  • How would this choice impact the individual’s immediate team (peers, direct reports, or supervisor)?
  • Overall, how would this choice impact the individual themselves (personal life, success at work, meeting quotas, bonuses, etc.)?
  • What is the impact of making this choice once versus making it repeatedly over time? For example, some choices have an immediate and severe consequence (like a zero tolerance HR-related infraction) versus others that may need to add up over time before something happens (like interpersonal team dynamics). Understanding this helps you craft a realistic scenario.

The answers to these questions allow you to create a foundation for understanding and then illustrate the consequence of each choice in your scenario. It will also set you up to help the learner make better “connections” (which we’ll address in Part 3) later on.

Create Consequences as Experiences

Now that you know the consequences, you have to help the learner feel them. This helps you harness the way the brain is wired. What would each of the consequences actually be like if the learner experienced them? Here are some considerations for your design:

  • Where would the consequence take place? This becomes the visual setting/backdrop of your ‘consequence’ page in your course.
  • Who was impacted? Is it an upset customer, an elated boss, or a betrayed peer? This is the character whose reaction you need to write as a consequence, the character who will deliver the emotion. There could be multiple characters involved in the consequence, perhaps showing different impacts.
  • How can you, through more than setting and words, illustrate the consequence in a way that helps the learner feel it? Sound effects, meters, animation effects, and so forth should be considered.

Helping the learner “feel” what happened as a result of their choice allows them to more directly learn from their success or mistake and REMEMBER it when they encounter it in real life.

Keep it Realistic

Over the top reactions from characters or consequences for decisions will discredit your scenario because it won’t feel real to the learner. No one is going to get fired because a single, routine report was turned in late. If you’ve done your homework and truly mapped the impact of each choice, you should be able to craft something that’s realistic without going over the top.

Try to Show as Well as Tell

Just like a screenplay is different from a book, you’re going to have to think about how to adapt the black and white facts and text of your consequences into things the learner can see and feel, not just read or hear. For every consequence you’ve mapped, ask yourself how you can try to show some of the things that don’t need to be explicitly stated. By incorporating some of them into the visual, audio, or character tone elements, you can help to amp up the feeling of the consequence, thereby increasing its emotional impact for the learner.

Make Sure It’s in Good Taste

Sometimes consequences, when illustrated, can be controversial. In a course I once wrote about workplace safety, I had the consequence to a poor decision be met with a workplace shooter pointing a gun in the learner’s face. In retrospect, that was perhaps too over the top! (Some may argue that’s high-impact learning!) Keep these considerations in mind when you’re balancing “reality” with “good taste” in creating high-impact/emotional consequences for your learner:

  • Are you stereotyping?
  • Could the illustration you’ve chosen be a “trigger” to someone or just too intense to be in good taste?
  • Is the amount of realism you’re including unnecessarily real (foul language or insults that are more distracting or potentially offensive than helpful to creating a sense of realism)?
  • Are you crafting the scenario or outcomes in a way that too closely mirrors real events or people at the organization?

Remember It’s Okay for the Consequence to be Unclear

Especially in response to choices that are the “okay but not great” choice, the consequence might not strongly resonate as a right or wrong choice to the learner. For example, in a soft skills scenario where the learner is choosing how to correctly deliver constructive feedback to a direct report, they may choose an option that’s “okay but not great” and the employee may not have much of a reaction. Perhaps the employee responds with, “Oh, okay, thanks.” The learner may wonder if they succeeded or failed through making that choice. That’s good! They care about how they did and you have the opportunity to help them learn from it when you design connections. .

Connections will be explored in Part 3 of our series and are the designer’s way to help the learner make learning connections now that they’ve just experienced emotional success or failure.

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