A useful starting point for SBL may be Elaine’s comment that “scenarios have been used successfully in many realms of education for hundreds of years” (“Scenario-Based Learning: A Commonly Accepted Way to Learn,” 2.3.11). In other words, we all use it in our personal lives as well as professionally as a means to generate critical thinking and effective decisions. It’s what we commonly refer to as a hypothetical situation, an example. When used in a group, we can quickly determine the pool of knowledge, skills, or information “in a given context” (“What Is SBL?“, 2012), and the whole is usually greater than each part or the sum of the parts.
In a classroom setting, the pool may include required and optional resources such as readings, videos, etc. In SBL, the learner:
- Is exposed to a specific situation (the scenario)
- Is presented with possible responses (choices)
- Applies relevant knowledge and skills to choose a course of action (decision)
- Receives some form of feedback on their selection (delayed, immediate, or consequential) (ibid.)
Some of the key operational critical thinking and learning skills are listed in the Experiential Learning Center’s “scope” phase:
- Observe and critique
- Act/react to events
- Investigate and decide
- Analyze and predict
- Analyze and repair
- Identify alternatives and advise
- Design, implement and test (“Create a Scenario,” 1.21.09)
These terms provide a useful way to frame SLOs.
The ELC’s other key phases, with excerpts, provide instructional guidance:
- Design: Your students will learn best by working on a project that they might really encounter on the job. Divide the scenario up into discreet tasks that the students will have to complete.
- Develop: Provide enough information to students so that they will be able to work relatively independent of you.
- Overview: Usually a memo from their supervisor explaining the task, and assigning the work.
- Resources: Web pages, reference materials, etc., that aid the students in completing their task.
- Debrief: Questions that will help you guide a discussion after the task, and help solidify learning – an opportunity for reflection!
- Assess: This … is “evidence-centered design.” Every step of the way, you are focused on ensuring you can make the most important aspects of student learning visible to everyone involved. [Includes] just-in-time feedback — or formative feedback. You can also engage students in the metacognitive practice of tracking their own learning by making all assessment rubrics available to them, and providing experiences for them to rate each other’s performances using those rubrics. (ibid.)
I like this inductive definition (from “Application of Case-Based Learning in Class“) of what students do in SBL:
Students work collaboratively in small groups to analyze the case. As they do this they consider what they already know and what they need to know. They generate hypotheses and develop a set of learning goals for each part of the case. Between class meetings, students look up information as they work to understand the case. The instructor’s learning objectives are revealed to the student toward the end of the case. These kinds of cases are highly student directed, so they are not usually accompanied by a set of questions to be answered.
Here’s a similar definition with an emphasis on process instead of outcomes:
Scenario based learning (SBL) exposes the learner to a given situation …. SBL asks the learner to apply knowledge relevant to that situation by making choices and attempting to follow a desirable path that demonstrates their[sic] ability to achieve a successful outcome. Instead of right and wrong answers there are success and failure paths. (“Lesson 13“)
In this definition, the focus is on authenticity:
A pedagogical approach where learning is based in an authentic scenario, reflecting real-life situations and enshrining all the complex elements needed to approach a certain issue where specific skills and knowledge will be covered. Through authentic scenarios participants learn by doing …, which is in accordance with the idea that knowledge is not independent of the context the learner is involved in. The best learning condition occurs when scenarios are close to the real-life, as they are likely to be enough complex[sic] to make participants develop all the skills and knowledge they need to acquire. (“Scenario-Based Learning,” 2.7.12)
The teacher-student roles in SBL/PBL are flipped:
The students assume increasing responsibility for their learning, giving them more motivation and more feelings of accomplishment, setting the pattern for them to become successful life-long learners. The faculty in turn become resources, tutors, and evaluators, guiding the students in their problem solving efforts. (Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction)
Put another way, “In e-learning, it is the description of a task or a job situation from the learner’s perspective” (“Scenario Based Learning,” 10.27.06), or, “In scenario-based learning, the student is in a role where the skill she’s learning will be used effectively in the real world” (ELC, 9.10.08).
SBL is often used to simulate corporate, legal, or medical contexts, but it can be applied in nearly all learning situations (Edward Errington, “As Close As It Gets,” 2011, p. 2). It “refers to any educational approach that involves the intentional use, or dependence upon scenarios to bring about desired learning intentions. Scenarios may comprise a given set of circumstances, a description of human behaviour, an outline of events, a partial story of human endeavour, an incident within a professional setting, or a human dilemma” (ibid.).
In all this procedural information, we may need to remind ourselves that the goal for SBL is the same as for all learning, and that is transferability, or skills and knowledge that students can use in the world beyond the classroom. Thus, authenticity or the use of “real-world problems to help learners relate to and transfer knowledge and skills to actual situations” (Andrea Stone and Bucky Dodd, “Using Scenarios to Enhance Online Learning and Instruction,” TALONtis 7.5.11) is critical.