Scenario Based Learning/Student orientation

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There really is no learning without doing. -- Roger Schank

This brief orientation outlines the important components of Scenario Based Learning. It provides some guidelines for students making the transition to the "employee" role for working "in-scenario" for the project.


  • understand how scenario-based learning differs from traditional assignments
  • prepare to be "in-scenario" - roles and responsibilities
  • use critical thinking for problem-solving "in-scenario" - team, management and client meetings, background research

Scenario-based learning

We know that we learn best on the job, from experience, by trying things out. Scenario-based learning simulates complex "real world" problems. The Scenario-based Curriculum approach draws upon the Cognitive Science research of the late 80s done by Dr. Roger Schank and others.

Key components of Scenario-based learning

  • A detailed scenario describing the company that “employs” the students, and their roles within that company.
  • Online resources and links, which provide just-in-time learning for students, allowing them to build on their existing knowledge.
  • Team based projects and tasks, providing students with practice in working and communicating with fellow “employees,” while they learn by doing.
  • Role playing that allows students to live the life of a worker, learning and practicing to be a successful professional.
  • Reflection questions, allowing students to think about what they learned throughout the process.
  • Tasks and product deliverables, which are based on industry standards, and replace assignments and exams.
  • Team meetings with management (the instructor), suggested planning, tips, and a checklist for deliverables. In addition, the instructor serves as "upper management" guiding students toward resources as needed. Subject matter experts serve as Mentors to the students and may be available to consult on some tasks.

Scenario thinking

Staying "in-scenario" can be difficult but necessary to get the most from the project. Here are some suggestions

  • Deal with questions and problems "in-scenario" - Ask questions as you would in a business situation. You are not students. You are not being lectured to. You are not preparing for an exam that has right answers. You are employees what have a responsibility to your employer and the client who pay your salary.
  • Learning on the job - You want to learn all you can about the job and do it well. There are going to be situations where you are going to have to take responsibility. You will have to find answers own your own. You will have to do your best without having all the answers provided to you.
  • Make it "real" - You and your group need to work together for the client. Communication is critical. You have to let everyone know what's going on regularly. You can request client representative meetings. Be sure there are regularly scheduled communications to review ideas, check progress, and make suggestions for revisions.
  • Management - Your manager is busy with many other responsibilities. You can ask questions. You will get suggestions, but you will not be "taught" what to do or how to do it. You should work with your group and figure out what and how. Check with your manager to make sure you are on the right track.

Examples of scenario-based learning

The scenario-based, problem-based learning projects at De Anza College's Experiential Learning Center working with SRI International and the NSF ATE community developed these scenario-based scenarios and tasks