Storytelling in Simulation and Scenario-based Training

Chapter 5: Simulation and scenario-based Learning

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.

mirandaMiranda Verswijvelen is undertaking a PhD at Auckland University of Technology in how storytelling in games can make scenario-based eLearning better. She is an instructional designer who has specialized in story-based learning for a number of years, producing courses for health promotion, government programs, and medicine. Verswijvelen has based her model on that of American eLearning guru Cathy Moore, who developed a technique called action mapping. Action mapping doesn’t focus on what people need to know to learn, but what they need to actually do. It’s learning from the grassroots up.

“As Cathy says herself, she wants to save the world from boring learning.” Instructional design takes learning out of the hands of subject matter experts and into those of education professionals, who are able to break down a task into steps or a manageable progression. Subject matter experts are not necessarily the best teachers because they know their topic to a level that can be too granular. Instructional designers ask questions and make decisions on how a student should progress through levels, or what tools they need to help them understand, such as databases or machinery layouts and manuals.

“A really important part of that simulation scenario-based model is that people will learn from consequences; that is their feedback,” says Verswijvelen. “You don’t get there by saying, ‘That was wrong, try again.’ People learn from what happens, so you have to make it real.”




‘Real’ in simulation training could mean a scripted phone call, an eLearning suite with many choices leading to different outcomes, or live or simulated role-playing. Creative writing plays an important part in the process – building engaging storylines and plots that are true to life, which draw people in with the power of narrative.

Verswijvelen conducts extensive interviews with professionals, teasing out every aspect of what people need to know. For a recent project, teaching health professionals how to encourage patients to stop smoking, she spoke to midwives about the barriers they faced with expectant mothers.

“We looked at cultural aspects – for example, one scenario had a young woman who was quite scared to go against her family’s advice, which was not to stop smoking because the jitters would be too stressful for the baby,” she says.

Using the power of narrative, Verswijvelen designed a video with actors presenting different scenarios from which the health professionals could choose an appropriate response. They learned how to navigate patients’ beliefs and fears without practicing on a real family.

Another successful implementation of scenario-based learning was a training tool for a hospital-based fire safety program. Verswijvelen used advice from fire wardens about how people really behave in a fire, what they should do, and what they generally do wrong. Her story-based design resulted in a memorable and fun experience.

“We had a Nurse’s Worst Day in life – there was a fire in the kitchen area in the cafeteria, there was a fire in the ward, there was a fire outside in a bin, all of these things happened and all required different processes and different people to call as well as different rules, so it was fun for them to go through.”

It replaced the previous learning tool, a quiz about what to do when a fire broke out that included photographs of access points and wasn’t very effective.

“The importance of the story, really good scenarios and well-written plots are your key,” she says.

“People don’t do black-and-white stuff – and especially not in an eLearning module. In real life there is much more going on.”


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We live in an era of rapidly advancing technology, yet the way we learn remains essentially unchanged from our Stone Age past.


We learn best when new information is related to the context in which we live, work and think — through storytelling.

Well-designed simulation and scenario-based eLearning immerses us in a life-like story and allows us to learn by doing. It mimics the real world, and we learn through seeing the consequences of our actions play out. It is the bridge from theory to practice.

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