Immersive Learning

Scenario-Based Learning: Preparing Learners for Real-World Situations Through Immersive Experiences

October 13, 2022
Written by:
Talespin Team
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Many people have heard of the 10,000 hour rule - the theory suggests that a person needs 10,000+ hours of training to master a particular skill. 

However, the time that needs to be invested in practicing a skill is not the only factor in achieving ‘mastery.’ In addition to deliberate practice, having a mechanism for receiving skills development feedback, taking the time to reflect on a skill’s development and application, and the type of context provided by the chosen training modality all impact the results those 10,000 hours would yield. 

For example, giving a speech in front of a mirror is different from presenting in front of thousands of people. Can 10,000 hours of public speaking practice standing in front of a mirror make you a master public speaker? Most likely not. The learner in this scenario has not exposed themselves to the situational elements that are involved with applying that skill in the real world: experiencing nervousness and other emotions, or the prospect of needing to endure unexpected distractions, for example.

This is where scenario-based learning comes in. Scenario-based learning presents learners with realistic situations in which they are challenged to apply a skill while experiencing the nuances of what it is like to do so in the real-world. 

Let’s take a deeper look at scenario-based learning: discussing what it is, why it’s important, how it can effectively be delivered, and practical examples. 

Blog contents:

  • What is Scenario-Based Learning?
  • Using Scenario-Based Learning to Prepare for High-Stakes Situations
  • Using Immersive Learning Technology for Scenario-Based Learning Simulations 
  • Scenario-Based Immersive Learning Use Cases

What is Scenario-Based Learning?

Let’s get into the crux of this blog post - what is scenario-based learning? Scenario-based learning simulates real-life situations. Learners take an active role in moving a storyline forward by selecting response options or interacting with elements in the learning environment, which in turn impacts the trajectory of the story. In this way, the learner's participation has visible consequences on the narrative, allowing them to witness firsthand the impact of their actions and decision making.

In scenario-based training activities, learning occurs through the process of making meaning of one’s experience while engaging in the scenario, and identifying cause-and-effect relationships between decisions and outcomes (Lewis & Williams, 1994). The goal of scenario-based learning is that learners hone their skills within the context of the training activity, and become more familiar with navigating high stakes circumstances. This experience and knowledge can then be more readily applied in the real world. 

Using Scenario-Based Learning to Prepare for High-Stakes Situations

Scenario-based learning is often used in the real-world to simulate high-stake situations.

In the workplace, employees can sometimes find themselves in precarious or challenging situations. Depending upon the job role, this can include physical danger, as well as the risk of experiencing, or causing others to experience emotional distress. For example, jobs where employees work with dangerous equipment and machinery, or spend time at job sites can present safety hazards. As for emotional distress on the job, one of the priorities of soft skills training is mitigating negative experiences that may occur when employees interact with one another, or engage with customers. 

To navigate these high-stakes workplace situations and reduce risks, it is critical for employees to develop situational awareness, decision-making skills, familiarity, automaticity, and confidence. Scenario-based learning supports these learning outcomes, facilitating knowledge and skill acquisition by immersing learners in situations that mirror the challenges they may encounter on the job. Scenario-based learning also makes it possible to realistically simulate these situations in a lower-risk environment, with fire fighters training using a controlled burn, and pilots practicing with flight simulators serving as well-known examples of scenario-based learning methods for high-stakes job roles. 

The result of deploying scenario-based learning for high-stakes situations? The opportunity for learners to effectively develop skills that transfer to the field, and the promotion of workplace safety and emotional well being.

Using Immersive Learning Technology for Scenario-Based Learning Simulations 

Immersive learning simulations can be used to engage learners in realistic scenario-based learning.

Learning delivery methods such as e-learning and instructor-led role play have long been utilizing scenario-based learning to prepare learners for real-world situations. However, these delivery methods fail to immerse the learner within the situation, or expose them to the environmental stressors and nuances they would experience during real-world skill application. In other words, our public speaker has not yet gone beyond the mirror. 

The advent of immersive learning technology has created new possibilities for scenario-based learning programs. Immersive learning experiences place learners in virtual environments where they can interact with digital twins of 3D objects and virtual human characters, resulting in realistic simulations for workplace situations. 

For these reasons, the Metaverse and its associated technologies, like virtual reality, are being deployed for use cases ranging from VR soft skills training to simulating complex tasks and processes across job roles. 

The realism of 3D virtual environments, and the interactions people can have within them, help them create real memories, while consuming scenario-based immersive learning content. Immersive learning simulations deliver greater learner buy-in, because the learner physically, cognitively, and emotionally plays the role of a person situated within a given story line (Macedonia, 2019).

Because of immersive learning’s ability to simulate realistic scenarios, it offers several benefits ranging from learning efficacy to higher learner confidence. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • A safe place to fail
  • The ability to easily replicate scenarios 
  • Repeatability: unlimited redos 

A safe place to fail

Earlier we discussed the risks associated with navigating certain real world situations, and the prospect of training for such scenarios. With scenario-based immersive learning simulations, learners are able to witness the cause and effect relationships between various decisions and actions without causing any harm, or suffering real-world consequences. Should something go wrong, the learner can simply restart the simulation, and begin practicing again with a deeper understanding of how their skills can be applied to achieve desired outcomes. 

Giving learners a virtual world where they are free to make mistakes and practice applying skills is powerful. In hard skills training situations, learners can practice potentially dangerous tasks safely, and test different approaches to completing technical tasks with no risk of repercussion, should a mistake be made. Simulating technical training using 3D worlds and digital twins of objects and processes can also be more cost effective than training programs that require employees to travel to training facilities, or complete all training using real-world equipment.

In soft skills training scenarios, learners can practice applying conversational skills in different ways while navigating the real stress and emotion they may face when encountering a scenario in the real world, and without the risk of negatively impacting a colleague or customer should a simulated conversation go awry.

Furthermore, immersive learning experiences completely strip away fear of judgment from others and provide a psychologically safe space to fail. No awkward or unrealistic role play scenarios with a peer or stranger, nor a group of people watching you handle old and broken equipment to make it work ‘like it should.’ Learners can approach the scenario as they organically would, and learn from their mistakes. The virtual world within an immersive learning module gives learners the freedom to fail. 

Donald Brady, Principal, Deloitte Unlimited Reality, highlighted the value of giving learners a safe place to fail in a recent blog post focused learning in the Metaverse:

"As an introvert, the thought of role playing a training scenario with colleagues is not something I relish. Doing so in Virtual Reality in a safe and consequence-free environment, however, allows one to drop one’s guard, making learning enjoyable. This is Immersive Learning, and there are many studies that show that it is highly effective, making learning faster and improving retention of knowledge. This results in increased confidence and better on-the-job performance for the employee. For executives considering adding this option to their learning offerings, experiencing immersive learning firsthand is a must.”

The ability to easily replicate training scenarios

One of the critical elements in designing an effective scenario-based learning program is creating realistic training scenarios for learners. To accurately replicate a scenario, the environment, objects and people that are typically a part of that scenario are important elements to include in learning simulations. For example, to train for challenging workplace conversations, you need an office space, and role play partners to represent colleagues. However, replicating these scenarios in the physical world presents challenges. 

Training logistics like providing access to equipment, transporting learners to training locations, and providing instructors and role play partners to help administer training are examples of logistics that can be time consuming and expensive. Simulated scenarios created this way may also lack emotional realism, limiting the believability of the scenario, and ultimately limiting the learning outcomes. 

Immersive technology negates training logistics by enabling learning designers to quickly author simulations that realistically encapsulate real-world scenarios. For example, virtual human characters can be used to deliver realistic speech and body language, unlocking the ability to create virtual role play scenarios for soft skills training that go beyond the emotional realism possible with in-person role play. 

These role-play scenarios are also easier to replicate in a virtual world, using virtual environments to place learners in a replica of any real-world environment. Learners can practice customer conversations in a virtual retail storefront, or our aforementioned public speaker can practice speaking to a crowd in a virtual amphitheater using VR. 

Consistency is another factor, with programmed VR training able to deliver training in a way that controls for variability - enabling learning designers to introduce variability in scenarios when they intend to, and preventing it when they do not. This enables learner performance to be more accurately measured, and skills development more accurately tracked over time, which can be tough to do in traditional role play. 

This same concept applies to technical skills training, with learning designers able to deliver realistic simulations for use cases like job site inspections, equipment assembly and repair, and safety hazard identification. Realistic digital twins of office environments, equipment, and other key objects give organizations the ability to replicate virtually any technical training scenario. 

The power of immersive technology is that it gives learning leaders and their organizations the ability to create scenario-based training with a level of ease and realism not possible with any other learning format.

Repeatability: unlimited redos

Because scenario-based immersive learning experiences are easily accessed through XR devices, laptops, or PC’s, learners are empowered to develop skills on their own time, wherever, whenever and however often they want. 

Unlike in-person role play, classroom learning, or scenario-based training simulations in the physical world, immersive learning simulations are available on demand, and can be replayed an infinite number of times. With classroom learning, it may be difficult to find time with an instructor to further discuss a concept that was unclear. Or, learners may be embarrassed to practice these conversations with peers or professional role play partners. With immersive learning, these are not concerns. Learners can redo scenario-based training as many times as they wish in the aforementioned safe place to fail. Enabling them to practice until they feel confident, and readily able to apply their skills in real-life scenarios.

In addition to giving learners the freedom to practice as much as they need to, organizations further benefit from immersive learning in that learners can retake learning simulations without an incremental increase in cost. This is different from in-person roleplay or classroom settings, where logistical costs are accumulated during every training session. 

Scenario-based immersive learning creates a win-win for organizations and their employees, delivering impactful training in a flexible and affordable learning format. 

Scenario-Based Immersive Learning Use Cases

Discussing scenario-based immersive learning in theory is one thing, but seeing the real training use cases being deployed by learning and development teams is powerful. Here are four examples of scenario-based learning use cases being delivered using immersive technology: 

VR Hard Skills Training Use Cases

Surgical Training

Osso VR is a surgical training and assessment platform that gives medical device companies and healthcare professionals radically better ways to share, practice and learn new skills and procedures. From rare to routine, simple to the most complex, surgeons can use their immersive training content to gain exposure to real-life scenarios in a low-risk and cost effective training modality. 

Insurance Claims Training

The insurance industry was an early adopter of immersive learning technology, with companies like Farmers Insurance using XR to help claims agents practice customer conversations through role play with virtual human characters, and simulating water damage investigation with VR. The latter use case involved an immersive learning module that placed claims agents in a digital twin of a customer’s home, and tasked them with investigating and processing a water damage claim. This type of scenario-based training typically requires employees to travel to physical training facilities where an equivalent simulation could be staged. 

VR Soft Skills Training Use Cases

Leading Through Uncertainty

In 2020, the Talespin team launched a series of immersive learning modules titled “Leading Through Uncertainty,” which help business leaders prepare for navigating difficult situations that an organization might face during times of crisis. The modules consist of a series of lessons focused on specific skills, and a subsequent scenario that challenges the learner to apply them during a simulated conversation with a virtual human character.

Youth Employability Skills

In the ‘Skill Immersion Lab’ program, young learners use immersive technology to practice communication skills. 

SAP and Jobs for the Future (JFF) launched an immersive learning program called the ‘Skill Immersion Lab,’ which provides young learners in underserved communities with access to immersive learning technologies. The goal of the program is to bring the proven benefits of the scenario-based immersive learning format to young learners in order to help them practice communication skills that will better prepare them to enter the workforce. 

Final Thoughts

Scenario-based learning offers learners the opportunity to learn as they do in the real-world, practicing skills with realistic context and experience building. Immersive learning technology is furthering these possibilities, giving organizations the power to create and deliver scenario-based learning programs with levels of realism, scale, and flexibility not possible with other learning modalities.

For a deeper dive on scenario-based immersive learning, Talespin’s very own Kristin Torrence discusses and compares the benefits of traditional scenario-based e-learning with scenario-based virtual reality training. Check it out here: 'Level-Up Your Scenario-Based Learning with VR'