Praescient Analytics’ training team embraces scenario-based instruction for our suite of advanced analytic platforms. Our approach stands in stark contrast to button-based training, also know as “buttonology.” A curriculum based around buttonology might introduce students to a network mapping application, for example, by walking through each of the buttons and functions in a long laundry list. Conversely, scenario-based training involves a story with a clear plot, a clear problem to solve, or question to answer. Students are introduced to the network mapping application as something that helps move the plot forward. Everything the students learn helps tell the story, infusing meaning into each aspect of the curriculum. Compared to buttonology, where everything the students learn is abstracted away from any particular context, scenario-based training is more compelling, more practical, and ultimately more effective.
Telling a compelling story with scenario-based training engages students so they want to find out what happens next. Have you ever gone to bed later than you meant to because you were reading a story that you were unable to put down? Good stories naturally do this because they involve tension that readers want to see resolved. Scenario-based training introduces students to problems or questions which will only find resolution once training is complete. The tension and anticipation of a resolution compels the students’ interest and makes them eager to learn.
Buttonology is abstracted away from any story. Students might be looking at terrorist organizations, cyber attacks, or whatever other notional object might be in the training instance, but no plot and no story is being told. Students that walk away from such training may have memorized a list of buttons and their functions, but they will not know why they should use them.
Students universally want to know how any training is relevant to their jobs. Students who do not see any relevance to the work they do will simply tune out. In buttonology, the students have no way to connect what they learn to the tasks they perform on a daily basis. They are left on their own to figure out how best to apply the training to their work. In scenario-based training, students are submerged in a story similar to their day-to-day jobs. This approach shows them a bright and appealing future, persuading them of the relevance of the training to their day-to-day lives.
Scenario-based training not only tells students how what they are learning is relevant to them, but shows how it is relevant to their actual work. They are immersed in its relevance and will actually experience it for themselves. Scenario-based training presents students with an all-encompassing vision of relevance which motivates them, not only to learn, but also to remember the training they receive. They are therefore far more likely to use what they have learned when they return to their jobs.
John Savery and Thomas Duffy of the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at Indiana University state, in their study Problem Based Learning: An Instructional Model and its Constructivist Framework:
“Cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning and determines the organization and nature of what is learned…the learner has a purpose for being there. That goal…is the primary factor in determining what the learner attends to, what prior experience the learner brings to bear in constructing an understanding, and, basically, what understanding is eventually constructed.”
In other words, students need to be given a goal of resolving some tension, conflict or problem. This goal will shape how they approach the training, how they discern relevance, how they anchor the new knowledge in terms of what is already familiar to them, and what they retain from the training. In buttonology, the students have no such goal or resolution – except perhaps the route task of memorizing all the buttons and their functions.
Scenario-based training is far more labor intensive than buttonology, not only to produce, but also to teach and to learn. This approach takes an enormous amount of time to produce high-quality, scenario-based coursework. It also takes more class time, demanding more engagement from the students and instructors. More can go wrong with these moving parts However, all that extra effort pays tremendous dividends. Since scenario-based training puts the training in the context of a compelling story, students hardly notice that they’re working or learning at all – they’re simply enjoying a good puzzle. With engaged students, instructors also feel a greater sense of pride and accomplishment.
Scenario-based training is works because students want to know what happens next in the story. It is practical because they can its application to their day-to-day jobs. Ultimately, scenario-based training is more effective than buttonology because it presents students with a vision of the training’s relevance, motivating them to learn, remember, and use the training they received.
This post was written by Michael Gregga, one of Praescient’s top software trainers.
 John R. Savery and Thomas M. Duffy, Problem Based Learning: An Instructional Model and its Constructivist Framework, Center For Research on Learning and Technology, Bloomington, IN, 2001.