How to create branching scenarios

A person's feet with three arrows

A branching scenario is a type of training technique that involves presenting a realistic scenario with decision points, and allowing the learner to make choices that determine the path the scenario takes and the outcome of the scenario.

In effect, the scenario “branches” after each of the learner's decisions, and each branch leads to a different consequence and experience.

Branching scenarios basically help the learner with the question, “what actually happens if I do X instead of Y or Z?”

What are some of the benefits of using branching scenarios in training?

There are many benefits:

  1. Promotes active learning: Branching scenarios require learners to actively engage with the content, analyzing the available options, making decisions and assessing the results of each decision. Applying the learned information to realistic scenarios supports a deeper understanding and retention of the material.
  2. Realistic practice: Branching scenarios provide learners with a safe and flexible environment to practice situations they are likely to encounter in real life, helping them to develop skills that they can use in their jobs or daily lives.
  3. Encourages learner agency: People learn better when they feel some control over their learning, known as "agency". Branching scenarios are one technique to achieve that. Rather than simply leading learners down a straight path of correct steps and choices, a branching scenario allows them to use their current knowledge to make decisions and experience the consequences of each one.
  4. Personalization: Branching scenarios allow for personalized learning experiences. Learners can take different paths through the scenario based on their choices and prior knowledge, making the experience more relevant and meaningful.
  5. Immediate feedback: Branching scenarios provide immediate feedback to learners, showing them the consequences of their decisions. This feedback can help learners identify their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their decision-making processes accordingly.
  6. Cost-effective: Branching scenarios in online simulations are a cost-effective way to provide immersive, interactive training experiences that are scalable and can reach a large number of learners. Learners can also benefit from deep learning without encountering risk or incurring costs when they make mistakes.

Overall, branching scenarios can be an effective way to engage learners, promote active learning, and provide personalized, realistic practice that can lead to improved learning outcomes.

How do you create branching scenarios?

Here are some steps to create branching scenarios:

  1. Identify the learning objectives: Before creating a branching scenario, it's important to understand the learning objectives you want to achieve from this new module. This will help you determine the content and structure of the scenario. Aim to be quite focused, and keep the scenario tight.
  2. Design a realistic scenario: Develop a scenario that reflects a real-life situation and helps to achieve the learning objectives. The scenario should be engaging and relevant to the learner.
  3. Write the ideal path first: It’s easiest to start with the “correct” flow of steps and decisions, then add branches as the next step.
  4. Create decision points: Decide on the key points in the scenario where learners need to make choices that impact the scenario’s flow and outcome. Each decision point should have two or more options that lead to different paths. It’s recommended not to have too many decision points since that can quickly become unwieldy to manage, so aim to focus on the few that are really important for the learners to understand.
  5. Plan the branching paths: Plan the different paths that learners can take based on their choices. Each path should provide a unique learning experience and lead to a different outcome, so learners can really understand what happens if they do “X” rather than “Y”. For instance, for each decision point, you might have a good/correct choice, an okay-but-not-optimal choice, and a bad choice, which each have different results in the scenario.
  6. Create feedback: If possible, let the learner “experience” the result of the choices they make. So provide realistic feedback after each decision point to illustrate the consequences of the choice they just made. This feedback should be informative, memorable, and constructive. For instance, if the choice they made could create a serious fire hazard, you could show a stock video of a fire starting, rather than just describe in words what might happen.
  7. Decide on "recovery after failure": Plan out how you will allow the learner to recover after they've made an incorrect decision in the scenario. For instance, you could direct the learner to completely restart the scenario, which works well for short training modules. Another option is to give the learner the option to go back to the relevant decision point and make a different choice. This works well for scenarios that have several decision points, so you're not forcing the learner to restart each time. 
  8. Build it: Build your scenario and include multimedia such as videos, images, and audio, to make the training feel as true to life as possible.
  9. Test and refine: Test the branching scenario with a small group of learners and refine it based on their feedback. Make sure the language and terminology is appropriate for the audience, and check that nothing is getting in the way of them proceeding through the scenario. This type of iterative process will almost always help to improve the effectiveness of your training.


Creating branching scenarios requires planning and design to ensure that the scenario is engaging, relevant, and effective in achieving learning objectives. This effort is always worthwhile because the results can be hugely powerful. This type of training is also much more engaging and enjoyable for learners, which helps to reinforce the lessons and supports retention of the information.

Recommendation: SimTutor Author is an authoring tool that makes it easy to create branching scenarios that are visually engaging. The Planning View lets you map out all the steps and branches in the simulation, like a tree structure, and the Editing View provides you with a range of features to flesh out each step with media and different types of interactivity. Everything is tracked through the comprehensive reporting system.

Contact us to arrange a call to discuss your needs and assess whether SimTutor Author would be a good fit for you.