Branching Structure in Learning Design

A branching structure in the teaching and learning process is helpful because it gives students more control over the learning process and the freedom to choose the sequence of their learning. Adult learners like to learn skills that they can see will directly help them on the job. Branching engages students because it allows them to learn the skills they think are most useful first, or to bypass what they already know or do not need to review. Then, they can explore other skills from that point onward.

Connie Malamed, in the eLearning Coach, discusses the characteristics of adult learners. Adult learners like:

  • autonomy to learn at their own pace and sequence
  • goal-oriented instruction
  • learning by doing
  • results oriented instruction

Basic Indexing and Mini-Scenarios

A Mini-scenario is a learning tool that presents a problem on one or two slides, gives feedback and advances into a different scene with a different problem.

Camtasia allows for simple branching or mini-scenarios. You can set-up links called hotspots that take you to different places in the video. You can also create menus that students can click on to go to different places in the video. The students then return to the splash page or menu and explore other links. The links or hotspots can be displayed in a list similar to a table of contents or in the form of tiles across the page. Here is an example of a basic indexed mini-scenario created in Camtasia.

Below are two styles of a Table of Contents that can be created in Camtasia. One style is created using the interactive hotspot feature. The other style is created by placing markers on the timeline that are read by Camtasia which auto-generates a table of contents during the publishing process. Here is an example of the skipping forward and backward function in Camtasia using interactive hotspots.

Image of table of contents created using interactive hotspots

A table of contents created using the interactive hotspot feature.

Image of table of contents auto-generated by Camtasia using timeline markers

A table of contents auto-generated by Camtasia after placing markers on the timeline.

Advanced Branching for Active Learning

Branching also allows for the development of in-depth scenarios or case studies. This design helps students become problem solvers. They make choices and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment. They can get immediate feedback from which they can make their next decision as they try to solve the next problem. According to Cathy Moore on her Action Network blog, a branching scenario is useful for sending learners deep into a complex situation.

According to Cathy Moore, with branching scenarios, decisions are made early that affect later scenes. People can practice skills such as

  • recognizing their own assumptions
  • recovering from mistakes in a long process
  • navigating ambiguous situations
  • deciding when to stop gathering information and act

The graphic below is an example of a flowchart used to create a branched learning experience in a language learning scenario program.

Image of a flow-chart used to create a branched learning experience

This is an example of a flow-chart used to create a branched learning experience.

Another scenario called “Connect with Haji Kamal” is an example of branched design that takes the learner through a complex conversation in which a new military officer tries to connect with an Afghan leader. This was designed to help military personnel recognize when their perspective was hurting a negotiation and how to recover from mistakes they make in the conversation.

Li Whybrow, wrote Branching Scenario eLearning: 5 Killer Examples in the eLearning Industry blog. He says in “Patient Management” by the company Smart Builder, learners such as student nurses go through medical cases using investigation skills to diagnose and treat virtual patients in a branched scenario design. These nurses get feedback at different levels, a chance to attempt again, lots of patient information and a setting conducive for investigating symptoms.

This design is better than showing the learner a variety of mini-scenarios that cover many topics, because deeper branching allows for deeper learning.

Programs like Articulate Storyline provide the capability to create many branches that come from different responses. Storyline allows for an interactive design of slides or videos with buttons and triggers that the learner clicks on as they make each decision. The action a trigger can make could be a pop-up text-box with feedback or an advancement in the story to another challenge that is presented to the learner. Articulate can incorporate video, images and graphics allowing for your chosen level of realism. Here is a link to an example scenario using interactive design created in Articulate Storyline.

Thought Exercise

Identify an opportunity in your course where video/multimedia branching can allow for deeper, more immersive, specific learning or content review.

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