Authoring Branching Scenarios in Virtual Reality

Introduction to branching scenarios in virtual reality

Branching scenarios are an interactive, challenging, and immersive type of training design. It is a popular approach that allows a user to face real-world challenges, make decisions, and then face the consequences. From a developer’s perspective, this type of training is an effective way to validate learning, encourage behavioural change, and practice critical decision making. It is also a time-consuming process to plan, design, and develop for branching scenario-based learning. From a learner’s perspective, scenario-based learning experiences provide a repeatable, lifelike situation that offers real-time feedback – the hallmarks of effective soft skills training. 

Scenario-based training is created with different modalities. Video, e-learning, and instructor-led sessions all provide scenario-based training. Video can offer a realistic situation, similar to how an e-learning scenario would be developed. Each begins with the scenario, usually in the context of a story, and then provides the learner opportunities to work through them. The interaction may include conversations with multiple choices to select from in response to what is said on the screen. Instructor-led scenario-based training typically consists of role-playing with your peers or facilitator. All three modalities get the learner closer to how it would play out in a real-world situation. 

While all three of these modalities have benefits and challenges, there is another effective and engaging option to deliver scenario-based training – through virtual reality.

Branching scenarios for virtual reality

Virtual reality takes scenario-based training to a whole new level. Consider a scenario-based learning experience in a fully immersive and simulated environment. Elements would include scale replicas of rooms, objects, and people. It would have engaging interactions augmented with conversational AI that can drive realistic situations and interactions. Composing this reality is closer and more accessible than you think using Motive’s Storyflow authoring tool. There are a few things to keep in mind when planning a VR-driven branching scenario. 

Choose a quality scenario

First, select a good scenario for full immersion. Consider what the situation will involve and how important the environment and objects are within it. Branching scenarios can be created using many different modalities. One of the most iconic branching scenarios I experienced was the text-based RPG “Zork,” which was released in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There were no images – only imagination. You could choose your own path that led to different outcomes. Today, the tools available are much more robust. However, it’s important to remember that the development tool doesn’t drive the scenario; the scenario’s quality does. Whether text, images, or full simulation, a quality impacts the experience’s success or failure more than any other factor. 

What makes an excellent scenario-based experience in VR? Consider how the scenario will play out. Think about the value of having a fully immersive space. Would this help meet the objectives of the experience? Is it a conversation between an individual or a group? Does walking around the room, touching things, or picking items up add value for the learner? Does it allow the user to travel to another location they would not usually get to travel to? If the answer is yes to any of these, then VR could be an ideal candidate.

Identify the learner paths

Next, map out your branches. Where does the situation take your learner? What are the possible outcomes of the interactions? How much or how little should be “alive” or available to interact within your scenario? Mapping out the possible interactions, dialogue, and movement is usually a complex web of boxes and lines to show the flow of branching scenarios. When adding VR to the mix, the possibilities and directions a learner can go will multiply. Identify what they can interact with and why it adds value to the scene. Create a final scene that reinforces the learning objectives, goals, or behaviours that need to be changed dynamically. 

Learner paths are where you find the flow of your scenario from start to finish. Throughout each interaction or conversation, actions and choices have consequences. Detailing those consequences into good, better, and best outcomes allow for a robust engagement while still keeping the branching development minimum. 

Have a detailed plan for learner engagement

Lastly, it’s essential to plan out the level and flow of engagement of your learner. The goal is to provide a seamless experience that is appropriate for a VR simulation. At this point, conversational flow is established with potential questions and answers identified in a script. Limited responses, drag-drop, or multiple choice options limit your options in other modalities, whereas VR allows for dynamic solutions. To make the most of your VR scenario, you need to plan out as many potential directions, conversations, and consequences as possible.

Using Motive’s Storyflow authoring tool allows those options to be entered as intents and activated during the scenario through natural conversation. New to intents? Take a look here for more information about Storyflow and conversational AI intents. When a learner responds negatively vs. positively, the conversational AI directs the learner on that path. These conversations lead to those good, better, best outcomes. Those outcomes allow learners to practice, fail, succeed, and experience all of the possible options.

Choosing your own path in a learning experience isn’t a new concept. Interacting through an experience like this is where you can ensure a learner’s ability to meet the established learning objectives effectively. With virtual reality, branching scenarios become even more immersive and interactive than ever before, giving learners an unprecedented level of immersion in the decision-making process. In VR, this consistent and practical learning approach sees new life and new opportunities to take your learners to the next level of success. Using Storyflow, Motive’s VR authoring tool, VR branching scenarios are more accessible and more easily brought to life than ever before.

Are you interested in learning more about learning design for VR?
Download our VR Learning Design Guide: Virtual Reality Learning Design: Best Practices for Trainee Success.

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Destery Hildenbrand

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