Utilizing the power of Storytelling to create engaging Simulations: A 4 Prong Strategy

Posted on : August 26th, 2014
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elearning storytellingLeading learning theorist David Kolb describes learning as a four-step process consisting of Concrete Experiences, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. Experiences form the core of learning, followed by thinking or reflecting about experiences. The learners then form abstract concepts in their minds and then follows that up with actually ‘doing’ or applying the concepts in reality. In actual corporate life, the ‘experimentation’ stage is difficult to create within the constraints of restrictive timelines and the pressure of performance.

With simulations, we can provide a learner the virtual platform for experimentation, thus opening up a vast expanse of ‘doing and learning’.   Simulations are re-creations of real-life experiences and situations that warrant a response from the learner. For many years now, they have been a tool of instruction in various industries including aviation and military services.

There are many ways to create an effective simulation – but at the heart of it is a  relevant story. It is the story that takes the learner through the virtual environment and makes it come alive for them. A good story helps the learners to relate to the simulations making them feel comfortable with the virtual environment. You can use the Four-prong strategy for transforming a story into a simulation. This approach would serve a dual purpose of creating experiences that are engaging and educational. This approach has the  following steps:

Creating characters

  • Characters in a story are the first element that most learners connect with. So it is important that they should be credible – inspired from real characters in the learners’ work environment. For instance, when developing an induction course, the simulation would be effective if the main protagonist or at least one of the protagonists is a new recruit. Once the learner connects with the fictional character in the story and relates to the role, the experience of the character becomes real to the learner.
  • A variety of characters in the story can be introduced to represent different people the learner comes across in the work environment. An expert can be the ‘mentor’ who takes the new learner through the course imparting advice to perform well. An antagonist can also be introduced to show the learner what NOT to do. For instance, when creating a business simulation for the sales team of a leading FMCG company, we created multiple profiles of prospective partners and asked the learner to choose from the lot. By weeding out the inappropriate profiles the learner understood how to identify and engage profitable business partners.

Creating the Plot

  • You can build the plot with a distinctive beginning, middle and end. The characters and scenario are introduced in the beginning. It is important to build this stage with elements that are familiar to the learner, in order to forge a connection with the virtual environment. The middle stage is where the conflicts are presented and the learner is asked to ponder over them. This stage is ‘reflective’ and multiple experiences can be built here to provide ample food for thought. Finally, the end of the story should assess the learner by providing exciting opportunities to experiment with different options and outcomes.
  • Alternatively, you can use branching scenarios in the story with multiple endings for the same story. This makes sure that the simulation provides real-life experiences, which do not have an obvious ‘right way’ or a ‘wrong way’. There are often many paths – leading up to the same conclusion as well as different ends. Providing the learner the opportunity to travel all possible paths increases the depth of experience.

Balancing between obstacles and rewards

  • Obstacles within the story provide the opportunity to the learner to apply the learning attained along the course of the simulation.  The break also provides relief from the monotony and pushes the learner from a ‘passive’ position to a more ‘active’ one.
  • To provide a further push for an effective learning, rewards or collectibles can be associated on overcoming each obstacle successfully. The collectibles can be in the form of points, stars or even actual receivables that the learners can exchange for gift vouchers or discount coupons.
  • But while the obstacles are important, it is also crucial that they are built at par with the knowledge that the learner gains through the experience. Too many obstacles can deter the learner from actual learning. Similarly, too many reward points or easy collectables will make the learner stop craving them and loose the energy to excel. The obstacles and rewards should be in perfect balance with each other.

Ending it well

  • Although the learner imbibes learning throughout the simulation, it is the ending that is retained by the learner’s memory. So to end it with the preverbal ‘big bang’ is a good strategy!
  • There are many routes that the story can take to lead the learner to the conclusion. The most preferred one is when the final scenario is revealed – built with the decisions that the learner has taken along the course of the simulation. This scenario might not be the perfect one – its imperfections can be clearly explained to the learner. This makes sure that the learner is made responsible for the decisions, just as in real life. Multiple tries can be introduced here to make sure the learner has the chance to learn from mistakes and does not feel frustrated.
  • Another popular way to end the story in style is to culminate it into a ‘graduation’ ceremony for the learners – where they can be given a certificate or a degree, to commemorate their experiences within the simulation.

Storytelling and simulations are a well-matched combination that can be utilized in many different ways. The four-prong strategy can give you a good start – but feel free to include elements that can enhance learners’ experiences and deliver courses with impact. Do you want to know more about our experiences with stories and simulations? Write to [email protected] or fill the form below and we will be happy to help!


Arunima Majumdar

Arunima is the Marketing Head at G-Cube. She loves exploring and blogging about innovations in training & learning for the new-age corporate sector.

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