Scenario Writing: A Brainstorming Map Technique

Instructional design is big business in the United States and Abroad.  Organizations looking to hire an Instructional Design Consultant are looking for more than someone who creates ‘pretty’ PowerPoints or ‘singing’ Simulations.  Designers should have skills that are easily transferred in multiple work environments.  A truly talented instructional designer has the knowledge and ability to create scenarios that help employees practice good decision making and problem solving skills.  I have used this type of design strategy for many years.  In this article, I will discuss how to use scenario writing & brainstorming to design better courses.

What is Scenario Writing?

Scenario writing is the process of describing a situation, behavior, organization, or event in the real-world.  It provides the learner with information that may be used to practice decision making or problem solving skills in the learning environment.  For example, let’s say your organization wants you to develop an accountability course for training employees in its manufacturing & supply chain department.  Now, we know you would go through all the preliminary needs assessment and analysis prior to writing the course or scenario, but after that is completed, start gathering information for your activity.

The scenario may be developed as an individual or group discussion activity for an instructor-led course or as a branching simulation for a self-paced eLearning course.  The example I am describing in this article is for a self-paced eLearning simulation, but may be modified for an in-class experience. 

When developing the scenario, you should provide the learners with three or more answer choices and the potential impact of the selected answer on the given situation. 

Let’s look at a sample scenario in the section that follows.

Scenario: A Foreman’s Dilemma

An instructional designer would develop scenarios like this one, providing learners with potential answer choices and consequences for the choices selected.  (Note:  Consequences are not shown in this article).

The previous scenario gives the learner an opportunity to learn from mistakes and problem solve.  When designing similar scenarios in your own eLearning courses, allow the learners to re-do the activity to choose a different or alternative answer then previously selected. 

To create an activity like this one, I started brainstorming with a typical mind map.  This process is not unlike the process we used in our high school and college research classes.  I will show you the mind mapping process I used in the above scenario.

Brainstorming:  A Mind Map

Before you start mind mapping for your development activity or scenario, start with the end in mind.  What is the goal or concept for which you want to train your learners?  In this case, it was accountability.  Start with that by placing it in a circle in the center of the map.

After you have entered the goal of the exercise in the center, start plotting other tasks for the foreman’s job as provided to you in the initial needs meeting with your client.  You will plot every task needed for your activity on the map (see the sample below).  After your brainstorm is completed, you will develop the simulation for the course. 

Mind Map - HR-OD Analytics 

Mind Map - HR-OD Analytics 

Attempt to try brainstorming and scenario writing in your next course design.

Adrienne Captain, CEO & Founder, HR-OD Analytics. Real Talk from a Real Consultant:  ID, OD, and Change Management.  Visit her company page: and sign-up for one of her courses.