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CTDO Magazine

Use Stories for Success

Thursday, April 15, 2021

High-performing organizations use scenario-based learning in their talent development programs.

It’s not make believe. Talent development professionals are turning to stories to train employees.


According to the Association for Talent Development’s research report Simulations and Scenarios: Realistic, Effective, and Engaging Learning, 98 percent of organizations feature scenario-based learning—imagined or real sequences of events that are described for learners but not simulated in an immersive environment, such as case studies—in at least some of their talent development programs.

However, simply incorporating stories and scenarios into your training content doesn’t mean you will achieve results. Here are two ways to maximize this learning strategy in your training programs.

Broad usage

Of the 200 companies surveyed for the report, 50 percent said they typically use scenario-based learning in about half of their talent development programs. Two-thirds of the companies who use it do so for management and leadership development content and 61 percent for interpersonal skills content. Less than half use it for each of these content areas: technical, mandatory and compliance, sales, and onboarding and new-employee orientation.

However, those companies that use the scenarios more frequently than other organizations were much more likely to be high performers. High performers are companies that perform well across key business areas and have a talent development function that is strongly contributing to organizational performance.

ATD researchers found that the difference indicates an association between frequent use of scenario-based learning and better organizational performance. If you don’t frequently use scenario-based learning at your organization, consider when and how to expand it, including potentially using it in more content areas.

Include participants

Don’t just tell your learners a story—bring them into it. Almost two-thirds of companies that use scenario-based learning engage participants while presenting the scenarios, such as pausing to hold discussions at key points in a case study.

Hadiya Nuriddin, owner of Duets Learning and author of StoryTraining: Selecting and Shaping Stories That Connect, who was interviewed for the report, says formal and informal participant interaction during case exercises adds value to scenario-based learning because it introduces variability that makes the experience more authentic.


“Sharing perspectives in class gives participants opportunities to manage conflicting views in a safe environment,” she notes in the report.

For example, after a scenario about diversity and inclusion, a manager makes a comment. “One person might see it as a kind gesture and another may see it as a sexist remark,” Nuriddin explains. “Each person filters a scenario through their own experiences and takes it differently, and the same filtering will happen back on the job.”

In addition to ensuring the training program’s effectiveness with scenario-based learning, the research found that organizations that engaged participants were also much more likely to be high performers, which suggests that designing scenarios with participant interaction can be a powerful and effective tool.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Alex Moore is a research analyst for the Association for Talent Development. Alex returned to ATD in 2019 after spending a year living and working in Chile. Prior to moving abroad, Alex was a writer/editor for ATD working on TD magazine, a research coordinator at ATD, and a customer care advocate at ATD. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a B.A. in English.

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