Storytelling and Scenario-based Training

Chapter 4: Success through failure


Productive failure helps us solve complex, novel problems



Scenario-based learning is built on the principles of situated learning theory, which argues that learning takes place best in the context in which it will be used; and situated cognition, the idea that knowledge is best acquired and more fully understood when situated within its context. It holds that learning by immersion is a very powerful learning technique, and combining it with a story (context, situation, or social framework) is even better.


Simulation also offers many chances for people to practice and fail in a safe environment before reaching the real world, building confidence and allowing the brain to start automating some tasks as it becomes familiar with them.


manu‘Productive failure’ is a term developed by instructional designer Manu Kapur, a professor of learning sciences and higher education at the world-leading STEM university ETH Zurich. It’s a highly effective way of motivating learners, particularly with complex, novel problems. Learning to drive a car with a stick shift, for example, might first be practiced over and over in an empty parking lot where there are no consequences to stalling the car. A learner needs to fail over and over until the gear change becomes automatic. Only then is it time to focus on a more complex set of driving factors – such as speed, weather, road markings, or other traffic.

In the context of learning tasks where the stakes are even higher – surgery or operating dangerous machinery – a simulation learning tool similarly gives the learner permission to make mistakes, which eventually leads to better learning. Productive failure means learners might fail in the short term, but that will lead to long-term success as they work through their problems in a safe space. They will develop better productivity, be more highly skilled, and together they will create a safer work environment.

For an organization using simulation-based learning, the benefits are multiple: employees gain deeper understanding, while money and time are saved on education resources. For example, medical students often learn how to deal with patients by role-playing using actors, but this can be a time-consuming, expensive, and lengthy process. Actors need to be hired, trained and paid – and each student needs to see several of them to advance their proficiency.

While teaching skills using human actors is a valuable process, medical students can get more out of it by first practicing in several rounds of simulation. They can train themselves on the essentials, go wrong and make virtual people angry or disappointed by failing over and over again before moving on to a real human. When they do come to the expensive part of the training process – using human actors or robotic devices – they can reach a higher level of learning.

That’s not something that can be taught with a pen and paper quiz. Employees enjoy the process of learning when they experience good instructional design, which helps develop a high level of engagement in the task. That can only be good for business.



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Chapter 5

Simulation and scenario-based training

The ultimate education


Technology can help us learn better when it uses techniques such as simulation, which mimics real-world immersion; and story, one of the oldest ways we learn.

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