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The 4 Cs to Designing Meaningful Scenarios, Part 3-Connections Header

One of the biggest mistakes made in scenario-writing is not providing the learner the opportunity to reflect on the choice that they made. Reflection is what makes learning stick.

If you read Part 1 and Part 2 to this series, here’s what you’ve done so far: (1) you have engineered meaningful choices that reflect the real decisions and temptations of the performance environment, and (2) you have helped the learner to feel the consequence of the choice they selected through playing out a realistic result in your course. What we’re talking about in this article is designing a way for them to truly understand why that consequence happened without letting them just immediately try again.


Some best practices to consider as you design your learner’s “connection” time:

If they were right, tell them WHY.

In our rush to finish a scenario, we sometimes take for granted that if someone selected the right answer they must understand the concept. Not always. That right choice could have been a lucky guess or a product of hemming and hawing between two options. It’s also possible that the learner chose the right option, but for the wrong reason.

In any case, it is always a best practice to tell the learner why their selection was correct to ensure that at the same time they are being reinforced for making a right choice, they know why that choice is right. This more deeply embeds the learning and enables them to consciously repeat that right choice in the future. When the learner is unsure as to why they were right, the chances of them making that choice again in the future go down because they don’t truly feel they understood it.

  • Poor Example: “Correct! Great work!”
  • Better Example: “Good choice. You could see that Tom didn’t have a lot to say in reaction to that tough performance review he just received. By choosing to set a follow-up meeting, you gave him time to process his emotion and generate questions that allowed for productive discussion. You can see that Tom’s demeanor today after your follow-up is more open and understanding, less guarded and closed off. You’ve taken care of his concerns before they festered and affected his performance, or even caused him to leave the company.”

If they were wrong, tell them WHY.

We all know this is critical, but sometimes we don’t go far enough to explain why the answer was wrong. Things to consider:

  • You may want to tell the learner why it’s wrong without leading them to the correct answer depending on the design of your scenario. Here is an example of just coaching to the choice they made (and the result they just saw) without hinting or giving away the right answer:
    • Example: “Not quite. As you can see, Tom seemed quite overwhelmed and flustered. That’s because you pressed him into trying to think critically during a time when he was likely highly emotional and defensive, perhaps even hurt. Highly emotional situations bring out the flight or fight response in people, and we can’t have our best conversations with them at that time.“
  • You may want to tell them why it’s wrong and then provide a hint or something to think about. Here is an example of a connection with a follow-up hint:
    • Example: “Not quite. As you can see, Tom seemed quite overwhelmed and flustered. That’s because you pressed him into trying to think critically during a time when he was likely highly emotional and defensive, perhaps even hurt. Highly emotional situations bring out the flight or fight response in people, and we can’t have our best conversations with them at that time. What could you do to provide Tom the opportunity to let this process, but still have a meaningful conversation about his feelings and needs?”
  • If the scenario calls for only one try (perhaps because it’s a testing or mastery situation), you would need to coach the learner about their choice and then provide the correct answer.
    • Example: “As you can see, pressing Tom to ask his questions right now overwhelmed him and shut him down. He just received a lot of very critical, perhaps surprising, feedback during this review and needs time to process. As a best practice in situations where you’ve delivered an especially tough or surprising performance review, you should set a follow-up appointment with the employee for a few days in the future. This gives them time to process what’s been discussed and formulate their own questions and agenda items for discussion and resolution.”

If they were wrong, tell them why they were RIGHT.

This is the one that’s going to shock you, right? Let me tell you how we got here. If you have designed distractors that are realistic and meaningful (not dead giveaways) by following the guidelines in set forth in the ‘Choices’ step, then the learner could have a good reason for any of the distractors they pick. Usually those reasons are good intentions or the attempt to apply a correct principle in the wrong way. It is critical to acknowledge what that intention or principle is, to reinforce that it is good, and then provide coaching about what should have been done differently.

To understand why this is so critical, think about how you feel when someone tells you that you’re wrong. Your first reaction is often, “But!” followed by your reasoning for your choice. Your learner is having that same experience internally when they make a choice in your scenario and are met with a surprising consequence and find out that, according to the scenario, they are “wrong.” You have to address their “but!” before they’ll listen to your coaching about a better way.

Take a look at some of these examples as a point of illustration.

  • Good Example of Incorrect Feedback: “Actually, that’s not quite right. You’ve just had an emotional meeting with Tom. He’s going to need some time to process what you’ve said and have a chance to respond. Try again.”
  • Better Example of Incorrect Feedback: “Actually, that’s not quite right. Your choice demonstrates that you want to get Tom’s concerns addressed right away, and that you’re very willing to answer his questions—which is spot on for your role as his manager. However, Tom just received a lot of tough feedback and, as you can see, is feeling emotional and overwhelmed. The best practice in this case is to convey your desire to answer his questions and address his concerns, but give him time to process by setting a follow-up meeting.”

In the example above you can see that the training is acknowledging the learner’s potential reasoning and/or motivation for that answer. By doing so, the learner feels understood. Then, new information is presented as to why that answer, although well-reasoned and understood, isn’t actually a best practice. This is where the connection can happen because you acknowledged the learner’s good attempt (specifically) and then provided correction.

Let’s look at another example where a learner is partially right, partially wrong.

  • Good Example of Incorrect Feedback: “Actually, that wasn’t quite right. Your response came across as aloof and cold. A better way to respond would be to stay professional while acknowledging the emotional impact to the customer. Try again.” (Notice there is no acknowledgement of the learner’s effort or reasoning in choosing this response.)
  • Better Example of Incorrect Feedback: “Actually, that’s not quite right. Your response indicates that you’re making an effort to stay professional by not getting emotionally involved in some of the inflammatory statements Miranda is making—and that’s good. You should be professional and stay “above board” even when a customer is fanning the flames of the conversation. A better way to respond, though, would be to stay professional while also acknowledging the emotional impact to the customer. Try again to fine tune your response.”

You can see the different feeling the second example has because it acknowledges what the learner is doing right. The learner chose this response because you carefully engineered it to appeal to those segments of the customer service population who think that by remaining professional at all times, they are doing a good job. The lesson for these learners is that there’s nothing wrong with being professional, but customer service is human and to succeed in our efforts we have to acknowledge the human side of the issue. That’s the “connection” you want them to make. So, you have to have provide that connection – both the positively reinforcing and the corrective coaching parts – before the learner tries again. If you fail to provide the positive coaching, the learner is unlikely to change the opinion or practice that led them to that option in the first place. Sure, they may go back and choose the “right” answer, but inside themselves and back on the job they’re still likely to actually make the incorrect choice because you missed your opportunity to teach the lesson.

Make Sure to Talk About Meaning and Impact

During the “Consequences” phase of your design, you illustrated impact. During the “Connections” part of your design, though, it’s important to explicitly state it. Examples may include:

  • “Did you notice how upset Martin seemed by your statement?”
  • “By choosing to put the project off, rather than hit the deadline, two other members of your team were impacted. Alicia had to work the weekend and miss her daughter’s soccer game, while Angelo had to stay late that night and cancel a date with his wife. Both are likely feeling resentful towards you right now.”
  • “Your choice to rework your priorities and get some help to achieve the deadline not only helped to strengthen the trust your manager has in you, but also made a big impact on the client. Their last vendor was constantly missing deadlines, and this example showed them that they can count on your company. They’re already thinking about the next project they can send.”

When illustrating meaning and impact, consider talking about the impact the learner’s choice may have had on or the meaning it created for:

  • Them personally
  • Their career
  • Their perception in the workplace
  • Their manager
  • Their direct reports
  • Their peers
  • The organization
  • Clients and customers

Don’t miss the upcoming fourth and final part of our series, “Corrections”—the 4th C to designing meaningful scenarios.

And if you just can’t wait until the next blog, contact our Custom Solutions team to see how we can help incorporate more meaningful scenarios into your projects. We offer full-service instructional design services, consulting, and more.


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