What is Scenario-Based Learning

What is Scenario-Based Learning

“Scenario-based learning is a methodology which aims to promote deep learning and awareness by involving participants in realistic critical incidents where they are forced to consider a wide range of factors, make decisions and reflect on the outcomes and what they have learned from this”, (CLPD, University of Adelaide).

“A scenario can be a near-world situation, a descriptive set o circumstances, a critical incident, even a partial life/story narrative. Scenarios usually contain human actors, a storyline or plot (often incomplete), an invitation to solve a problem, demonstrate an acquired skill, explore an issue/concern, and/or to speculate on alternative outcomes. SBL is seen by some university teachers as a significant stratagem for getting students closer to the realities of their intended profession through the construction and deconstruction of authentic learning experiences. It is observed that scenario learning (based on theories of situated learning/contextual learning) usually incorporates the exploration of realistic tasks, encounters with true-to-life challenges, work-based role engagement – all transacted through communicational styles found in the workplace/profession, “ (Errington 2005).

The scenario or situation may be created by the teacher and/or students. Successful scenarios excite the interest of participants and contain a degree of uncertainty consistent with lived experiences. Scenarios are created to allow students to seek or demonstrate knowledge. Scenarios may take the form of:-

  • A verbal set of instructions or circumstances, given to students as complete or incomplete;
  • A written outline of circumstances with ‘gaps’ for students to complete themselves; and/or
  • A detailed brief about roles, role positions & attitudes, tasks, relationships and responsibilities.

Scenarios have much in common with film, theatre and television. For instance, they (usually) have credible roles; a motivator/twist; an authentic storyline; a challenge; an emotional dimension; high points; and, a resolution. As such, these components can be motivating when applied to theoretical-practical bridges of the discipline/professional area.

By Dr Ed Errington, Project Leader and Academic Development Adviser (TLD)


Errington, E. (2005) Creating Learning Scenarios, Palmerston North, New Zealand: Cool Books.

Herrington, J. and Oliver, R. (1995). Critical characteristics of Situated Learning: Implications for the Instructional Design of Multimedia. Ascilite Conference, Melbourne. Retrieved September 1st, 2009

Miller, W. (1980). Screenwriting for narrative film and television. London: Columbus Books.

Parkin, M. (1998). Tales for Trainers: Using stories and metaphors to facilitate training. London: Kogan Page.

Stewart, T. (2003), Essential Slices of Reality, in E.P. Errington (ed), Developing Scenario-based Learning, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.

Wilkie, K. (2000), The Nature of PBL, in S. Glen and K. Wilkie (eds), PBL in Nursing: a new model for a new context, London: Macmillan Press.