Using Scenario-Based Questions to Tell Them a Story

Using scenario-based questions (SBQs) to draw learners in and deepen their learning.

Monday morning, 9:00 am

You have been through all your emails and responded to the ones that needed immediate action. You need to get started on your current project ASAP! You know it is going to be a long week because you have to be ready for the pilot next Tuesday and there is still a lot to do.

You hear footsteps that you know belong to your boss . . . as he approaches you can clearly see the worried look on his face.

He says, “Stop whatever you are working on. We have a huge problem! Jake has just been assigned to another team!”

What is your inner voice telling you to do?

How did you respond to this story?

  • I was immediately drawn in
  • I wanted to read on
  • I actually started to feel slightly anxious
  • I could feel my brain kick into action

Research tells us that appropriate stories can do all the above and help make later recall of the message much easier. Adding that emotional layer to your message pays great dividends in maximizing learning.

Instructional designers have always known the power of case studies and scenarios. Above is an example of a scenario-based question. It could be used at the start of a lesson on team work to grab the learners’ attention. It could be used to during the lesson to demonstrate that people respond differently to the same situation. The scenario could also be used at the end of the lesson with a different question, such as, “Describe how you would work with your boss to come up with the best plan of action to meet your deadline with one less team member. Defend your plan.” This would cause learners to: (1) analyze the situation, (2) apply their new team-work skills to a plausible situation, and (3) create an action plan that they then need to (4) evaluate and justify.

Scenario-Based Questions have many advantages. They:

  • Immediately draw learners in, clearly showing need and relevance
  • Deepen understanding by presenting content in a relevant context, situation or social framework
  • Increase learning transfer by preparing learners to reflect on what they will do back on the job
  • Can assess learning at all levels of Bloom’s Hierarchy of Cognitive Processing

Writing effective Scenario-Based Questions takes practice just like writing any type of questions for a learning program. Use the checklist below to help guide you create effective SBQs.

Scenario-Based Questions Checklist

Scenario-Based Questions Checklist

Want more information about developing effective questions? Check out the details on our next online program, Developing Effective Assessments, starting October 16, 2017.

FKA President
Michael Nolan