Why use SBL

Why use SBL

Why Use SBL?

There is an abundance of literature to indicate why educators opt to use SBL in preparing graduates for the professions.SBL is used to introduce students to the:

  • notion of a professional identity

  • professional culture of the workplace in respect of norms, collective beliefs, ethics, values, behaviours, and attitudes

  • language of the profession including, dialogue, vocabulary and in-house technical terms

  • roles and responsibilities of the profession

  • communication styles employed within the profession

  • histories of the profession (how things came to be as they are, and possibly why)

  • aspirations of the profession (what might be/change)

  • collegiality of the profession

A number of broader teaching benefits are claimed by those who engage students in processes of scenario-based learning, here are some:

Scenarios help integrate subject theory with professional practice.

Scenario-based learning is often used as a teaching strategy to deliver and then assess the practical application and integration of students’ acquired knowledge (Harden & Cairncross, 1980).For example, would-be nurses are given medical details of a fictitious patient and are required to act on this information in a professional manner, and solve one or more dilemmas, demonstrate ‘appropriate’ (professional/vocational) skills, and/or explore issues that have an impact on their work (Gammer 2003; Van Wissen 2003).

Scenarios can be cognitively motivating.

Scenarios contain similar ingredients to ‘good’ stories (Miller, 1980; Parkin, 1998). However, unlike stories, scenarios are usually offered incomplete. The pursuit of ‘missing knowledge’ can prove motivating, provided there is an appropriate degree of ambiguity to render the task interesting.

Scenarios can be socially motivating, making learning a team event.

Students have an opportunity to work in pairs or groups to explore an issue, practice a skill, or speculate on knowledge. Teaching for group learning and team spirit, is more likely to be successful within the quasi professional settings of chosen work roles, e.g. working as part of a project team (Errington 1997).

Scenarios provide a vehicle for deep level learning tasks.

Adult learning is made relevant through real-world, deep level learning tasks, designed to promote skills specific to their chosen profession. These require more than the regurgitation of information and facts (Marton 1984).

Scenarios can facilitate reflective learning

Reflective opportunities are built into the scenario-based learning process – before, during and after scenario engagement (Errington 2003; 2010). Scenarios can facilitate these opportunities.

Scenarios may encompass an emotional dimension to learning.

Students naturally experience thoughts and feelings within scenarios – helping make scenario-based learning a holistic experience. Scenarios are often designed to focus on particular feelings, held beliefs, attitudes and values.

Scenarios replicate professional workplaces and complex relationships.

Scenarios can be used to replicate, as faithfully as possible, the kinds of professional contexts, descriptive circumstances and (often) complex tasks present in the workplace, (Harden & Cairncross, 1980).The focus of the scenario is highly selective, and unlike real-life situations, can be explored and understood step-by-step.

It is clear in the literature that practitioners need to know why they are using simulation and communicate these purposes to students so the latter might gain most from the experience. However, there appears to be a lack of clarity/ understanding between the use of simulation and the formation of students’ professional identity – what it might contribute, how and why. What is the relationship between students’ simulated experiences and the growth of their professional identity? What kinds of processes and outcomes might indicate a genuine progression in understanding/professional knowledge?


Errington, E. (2010) (ed), Preparing graduates for the professions using scenario-based learning, Brisbane, Australia: Post Pressed.

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

Errington, E. (2003) (ed), Developing Scenario-based Learning, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.

Errington, E. (1997) Role-Play, HERDSA Green Guide No 21, Melbourne, Australia: Higher Education Research & Development Society of Australasia.

Gammer, S. (2003), Demonstrating professional skills through scenario-based learning, in E.P. Errington (ed), Developing Scenario-based Learning, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.

Harden, R.M. & Cairncross, R.G. (1980), Assessment of Practical Skills: The objective structural practical examination (OSPE).Studies in Higher Education, 5, pps.187-196.

Marton, F. (1984). The Experience of Learning. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press

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.

Van Wissen, K. (2003), Developing reflective practice through scenario-based learning, in E.P. Errington (ed), Developing Scenario-based Learning, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.