Build Knowledge, Not Fear

My youngest son was a daredevil. I lost count of all the times that he wanted to launch himself off the stairs into my arms when he was a toddler, or I caught him climbing something that he shouldn’t. Thankfully, we were able to avoid any significant injuries. Wondering where he got this from, my husband always said, “fear comes from knowledge.”

He had a point. Children want to touch something that’s hot and will keep trying, regardless of how many times we tell them not to. It doesn’t really click for them why they shouldn’t touch until they burn themselves or fall and hurt themselves. They need to experience the uncomfortable outcome to truly learn why they shouldn’t touch (or climb!).

The same approach, although not as drastic, applies to adult learning. College or university allows us to demonstrate a capacity for learning, but book smarts only take graduates so far. The best way to develop and hone our skills is by watching others and practicing new things on the job. However, this can lead to uncomfortable situations, or worse, impact client relationships. So, how can we build knowledge without invoking fear?

Enter Scenario-Based Learning.

Scenario-based learning is a powerful approach that provides a safe environment where employees can practice skills and make decisions that mirror real-world challenges. This method provides three key benefits to your learners:

  1. Real-world relevance: Placing learners in scenarios that parallel situations they may encounter in their daily life ignites engagement and personal investment in growth. Employees are naturally drawn to content that mirrors their reality, making the learning process more relatable and impactful.
  2. Enhanced critical thinking: Scenario-based learning encourages the development of critical thinking skills. Learners analyze relevant scenarios, identify underlying problems, and make decisions based on available information. This not only fosters deeper comprehension of the subject matter but also hones problem-solving abilities crucial to their success.
  3. Cultivation of soft skills: As important as technical skills are, soft skills are just crucial, if not more so, for success in many roles. Well-designed scenario-based learning activities will challenge employees to apply both technical skills to analyze, and provide opportunities to practice skills like communication, negotiation, or conflict resolution.

Building strong scenario-based learning is not without its challenges though. Contextual accuracy, for one. To be relevant, scenarios need to mirror your environment and the types of projects your employees are likely to encounter. Generic scenarios are unlikely to provide as much value as one that is aligned to your company’s philosophies and processes. Another challenge is managing complexity. In a desire to mirror reality, it’s easy for a scenario to become intricate and overwhelming. Striking the right balance of realism and complexity is important for the learning to be effective for the broadest group of learners possible.

A strong working relationship between your learning partner and subject matter experts is critical to ensuring scenarios are designed to maximize learning. At Smartfirm, we pride ourselves on being learning partners – not simply instructional designers. Working with your subject matter experts we can design scenarios that are uniquely relevant to your learners, while using our instructional design experience to recommend changes that ensure the best learning experience. If you think your learners could benefit from scenario-based learning, reach out to me ([email protected]) so we can discuss your needs.

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