Once you can articulate the performance and the steps involved, it's time to build layer two, which is an authentic situation where the desired performance is needed. Now, you may be tempted to simply rewrite a scenario that a SME gave you, replace “Managers have to…” with “Sally has to…” and call it a scenario. But all you've done is put a dress on layer one. This approach may feel artificial to the learner. Scenarios become just something to make the training "interesting." Characters become props. Learners lose the connection between the desired performance and their real work lives. Meanwhile, poor one-dimensional Sally is shoved into coaching scenario and the learner wonders, "Why is this happening?"
There needs to be a strong, relevant, and realistic connection among the core and its two layers. Layer one focuses on the how, but it's layer two that explains the why. The scenario doesn't come to life until all three elements effectively support one another.
Building a solid second layer requires that you answer three questions that together address the larger question of "why?"
Question 1: Why is this person?
I don’t need Sally’s life story, but only providing Sally's name and title doesn't cut it because the learner doesn't actually care who she is. They want to know why she is, which essentially means who she is in relationship to themselves. In the learner's search for relevance, he wants to know how similar Sally is to him. It's just like real life. You meet someone at a party and you immediately begin fishing for a connection. Be intentional about how, where, and when the learners find that connection. Communicating how Sally reflects back at the learner will tell them why they should invest in her. What is it about Sally or what's happening to her that led her to this point? The learner wants to know, "Could that be me? Could this happen to me?"
Question 2: Why now?
Why does Sally have to complete this task now? Why is it important that Sally do this well? Answering these questions for Sally communicates the stakes for both Sally and the learner. I encourage you to focus on gain and loss, explicitly calling them out. "Sally has a new employee who she needs to coach. Help Sally identify the best strategy, blah, blah, blah." Stop it! Be real! What's Sally going to lose if she bombs this? What will she gain if she nails it? Let's say that Sally has a new employee because the last one quit after she ignored him for six months ("I thought he was fine. He didn't complain."). The busy season is coming up and now she needs to ramp up a new employee quickly. The former employee was vocal about why he left and Sally's team blames her for his departure. They're also angry that they need to ramp up an employee during the busiest time of the year. Now we're getting somewhere. The learner may actually care about Sally and her plight. They may consider, "What would I do if that happened to me?" or "I remember when this happened to me."
Look, I'm not suggesting that you write a novel about Sally's situation. I promise that you can do this in only a few sentences. Also, do not try to include all the information in the initial scenario. Let the narrative unfold throughout the experience, perhaps in answer feedback, conversations with other characters, or other optional pop-ups.
Question 3: Why are you telling me this?
Sally is a manager like the learner and she's in the type of high-stakes situation that the learner could find themselves in. They empathize with Sally and can feel her sense of urgency. You're not finished yet. You still need to find a role for the learner in this scenario. Who is the learner? Why is he here? Is the learner Sally's coach or just some creepy voyeur with a penchant for dragging and dropping? Learners may understand the real-life stakes, but what's at stake for them in this scenario? Essentially, why are the learners here and why are you telling them this?
The graphic below shows how I visualize the core and its two layers. Consider using this model as the framework for your own scenarios.
Hadiya Nuriddin is the CEO of Focus Learning Solutions and the founder of Fresh Eye Reviews.
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