Interactive scenario design – 10 steps to success

Diverse design team working in front of computer

Over the years we’ve helped several clients create interactive learning projects. As a result, we’ve perfected the interactive scenario design process and want to share our experience with you. We’ve condensed this process into 10 steps. Regardless of the size of the project, working to these 10 key steps will ensure you deliver impactful scenario learning every time.

1. Kick-off meeting

Unless you’re one of those rare creatures that happens to be the subject matter expert, learning designer, media and content creator, then every project should start with a kick-off meeting with the key stakeholders. At a minimum, those present should be the subject matter expert, the learning designer, the project manager (if this is a separate role), and the project sponsor or client.

The purpose of the kick-off meeting is to ensure that the key stakeholders understand the learning concept and objectives, and agree the project timelines. Knowing the required delivery date allows you to budget your time and resources, plus keeps ambitions realistic. If you only have three weeks to deliver a project, your project scope is going to be far more limited than a six or 12-month project. 

Diverse team sat around meeting table

Based on your budget and time frame, you should agree how you’re going to deliver the scenario.

Will it be animated, filmed or static media? Will it be a first or third person experience? 

A first person scenario involves the learner as an active participant, where the learner plays an actual role in the scenario. A third person experience will make the learner an observer, rather than a direct participant. We’ve found that the learning is more memorable when you design it as a first-person scenario and make the learner an active participant in the decision making.

2. Define the learning

Step two can be done as part of step one. At the kick-off meeting, the project team needs to identify the key learning points – what are the learning milestones a student must achieve in order to meet the learning objectives? Or, even better, how do we know that the learner has grasped the main learning objective? The subject matter expert might already have these ready, which is great!

Diverse creative team discuss key points for project

When designing interactive learning there is always a temptation to add interactivity where it isn’t really needed. Our advice? Never add interactivity for the sake of it. A click doesn’t teach anyone anything. Instead, make sure that all of the interactions you plan to introduce support the key learning points that you’ve identified. That’s why step two is so important. It’s a sense check for all the work that comes next.

3. Story Workshop

The story workshop allows the project team to develop a story arc that frames the learning objective and key learning points into a scenario or situation that is familiar to the learners. Using situations that are relevant to the learners will make the scenario more memorable.

Additionally, if you frame the story in the language that learners use, then the learning will be even more impactful. That is why, in addition to the project team, we recommend inviting representatives from the department or team that has direct experience of the training that you’ll be implementing. For example, if you are developing a health and safety training for shop floor teams, invite shop floor managers to the story workshop. Getting their perspective on what the most common health and safety issues they face and the interactions they have with their teams is invaluable. 

Ok, so let’s say that you’re working on a health and safety learning project because your company has noticed an increase in slips and falls for customers and employees on the shop floor. Your subject matter expert provides the regulatory knowledge and practical advice on how to reduce slips and falls, but the shop floor manager brings direct experience of the issues that teams face on the shop floor.  So while the practical advice might be to mop up spills as soon as they happen, the shop floor manager can offer insight on what sorts of situations might make this obvious solution difficult. 

As a team, agree on the general story arc and then tackle each learning point to see how it can be woven into the story. 

Woman wearing head scarf at whiteboard

This is how we do it…

For a branching scenario, we recommend offering three possible choices for each decision point and a default outcome. For simplicity, you should try to provide a correct, an OK and an incorrect choice, plus an automatic response for when the learner doesn’t make a decision. The default or automatic response is ideal if you are adding a time limit to the decision point. 

For each choice, outline what the outcome might look like.

For example, the correct choice outcome might give immediate feedback on having made the right choice: “well done…” The OK choice outcome could acknowledge that the learner is on the right track but reinforce what would’ve been a better choice: “I like how you’re thinking, but perhaps doing X first would be better.” The incorrect choice outcome could either tell the learner that they’re wrong and should try again or could SHOW the learner what happens when the wrong choice is made. 

Using our slips and falls example above, if the learner chose the wrong outcome, you could show the negative consequences of ignoring a trip hazard like someone falling and getting seriously hurt. 

In her “How to become a learning designer in 2022” webinar hosted by iSpring, Cara North talked about compliance training and why people hate it:

 “…it’s a content dump and they can’t relate it back to themselves. They need to see themselves in the learning experience… How does it impact coworkers or the company?”

If you can develop your story to SHOW how a decision impacts on the learner and wider organisation, then that’ll make your learning more sticky and that’s the aim of all learning design: to make it memorable so that it can be recalled when needed most.

You also need to agree on all the characters in the story. If you are filming the media, identifying the required characters helps with your production budget. If diversity is important to the organisation, make sure your characters reflect this.

4. The Story Document

At the end of the Story Workshop, the learning designer should have enough information to write up the Story Document that outlines the scenario story arc with decision points framed around the key learning points and a summary of the outcomes for each decision point. 

Story document sense check:

  • Does the story support the agreed learning objective and cover each key learning point?
  • Does the story fit in with my budget and timescale? Is it deliverable?
  • Is the story realistic? Does it reflect the organisation and the lived experience of my learners?
  • Does my preferred media format support the story? Is it deliverable? If you’ve outlined a scene that takes place at an airport and you want to provide a filmed scenario with actors, will you have access to an airport? Make sure your creative ambitions match your budget and access.

The Story Document should be circulated to the project team for additional edits and final sign off. If there is any specialist language used by the organisation, for example “The Super-duper Health & Safety Protocol 3000,” ensure that it is recorded in the story document. As the Story Document forms the basis of the game diagram and script, it’s crucial that all feedback and amendments from stakeholders are recorded and signed off at this stage.

5. The Game Diagram

The game diagram is the visual representation of the scenario interactions and outcomes. It is based on the agreed story document. 

Diverse team around desk discussing ideas

It can be a hand-drawn diagram, post-it notes on a wall, a spreadsheet, etc. Near-Life CREATOR users can build a game map directly in CREATOR. Which means you’ll be able to test all the interactions before any of the media is created. The game diagram will help you see any holes in the story document – did you capture outcomes for each decision point? – that will need addressing at script level.

6. The Script

Script development will depend on the type of media you’re producing. Whether it’s a filmed scenario with actors or a static scenario using images and text, you’ll need a script. 

The script should be written against the story document and the game diagram to ensure that all situations and outcomes are covered. If you’re outsourcing the script writing, be sure to provide the writer with a glossary of preferred terms (if they haven’t been included in the story document). To make the scenario as realistic as possible, you want the script to reflect the environment and organisation that it’s representing. A minor detail like using formal titles for management staff in your scenario, when the organisation culture is to call everyone by their first name irrespective of their position, will be distracting and could be counter productive.

Again, circulate the script for feedback and sign off. Once media production starts, it will be costly and inefficient to revisit the script and make edits.

7. Production

Production will depend on your budget and project timescale, but regardless of whether you create filmed media with actors, create animation clips or slides, the production should follow the agreed script and game map. 

If you are filming your media with actors, this will be the point of no return (unless you’ve got a limitless budget) so your script and game map need to be 100% signed off. The last thing you want is to be told that a filmed decision point and its outcomes are wrong and need rewriting; and re-filming. You will have more flexibility with animation and static slides.

TIP: When we build scenarios with filmed media, we build in a 10 second buffer at the end of each decision point scene to give learners at least 10 seconds to make a decision. 

If your budget doesn’t have room for scenarios with actors, there are a number of tools you can use to create effective media for your project. Want to try animation? Check out Vyond. Want a presenter style video but can’t stretch your budget for an actor (and no one in-house wants to be the face and voice of the project)? Then try text-to-video tools like Synthesia. Alternatively, you can use cloud design tools like Canva that have stock video and images for use. If you’re on a really tight budget, you can use be creative and export Powerpoint or Google Slides as images to make interactive slides in CREATOR.

8. Edit

Step eight is the edit process for media. For filmed media, the editor should work against the script and story document, plus any notes provided by the production team. If you want to build decision-making time into the media, make sure the editor knows. For media that you’re producing in-house, share your clips with the project team, get feedback and make the edits and get sign off. Ideally, you want to go into Step 9 with no media edits at all. 

At the end of the edit stage, send the media clips to the learning designer for uploading and building out in CREATOR.

9. Game build and test

Now, you’re ready to build out the interactive scenario using the media files. If you used CREATOR to build your game map, building your scenario will be pretty simple. Just upload your media and pop the media into the correct nodes. 

Use the preview function in CREATOR to test that the game works as expected. Overlays like hotspots might require a bit of position refinement and you can edit these in CREATOR. If you’re using the countdown timer, test that you’ve allowed enough time to make a decision. The freeze frame option in CREATOR will help overcome that challenge. 

Woman at laptop - building an interactive game is easy

If you’re using feedback or scoring, make sure it’s all in place and is working as expected. These will appear at the end of the game so you’ll be able to see whether anything needs refining before you publish your scenario.

Once you’ve tested your interactive scenario and are happy, share it with the project team. You’ll need to publish the scenario in CREATOR and send the share link. Sign-off should be a breeze because you’ve had input and approval throughout the entire process, and all your media is created against the approved story document and script.

10. Launch

Once you get the green light, share your scenario with your learners. You can embed the finished product on a web page like a video or add to your LMS via SCORM link, SCORM download zip or LTI integration. 

Visit Our Work page to see examples of projects we’ve been involved with and case studies of projects our clients have created.

Need to find out more? Get in touch with our team.

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