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The Branching Scenario you didn’t even know you loved – A Black Mirror; Bandersnatch Case Study

So, thanks to Black Mirror; Bandersnatch, branching scenarios are officially cool. With a little help from Coassemble, your eLearning experiences can be just as engaging (and hopefully less scary…)

18 Feb 2019 by Claire Brown

First things first – what is Bandersnatch?

In 2018, the mega Netflix hit Black Mirror released a stand-alone experiential episode called Bandersnatch. This episode officially launched branching scenarios back into the center of public consciousness.

If you haven’t seen Black Mirror before, the series focuses on our modern obsession with tech, and uses this theme to depict some stark, but sometimes hopeful visions of what our future might look like.

The Bandersnatch episode introduces us to Stefan, a young computer game programmer in 1980’s London, whose attempt to create a branching scenario video game lead him on a journey to the blurry edge of reality. Bandersnatch represented a first for Netflix, in that it was the first content on the platform to use a branching scenario to allow users to interact with the narrative, effectively “choosing their own adventure” via their remote.

What are Branching Scenarios, and what use are they?

A branching scenario is effectively a map or flow chart in the form of a user journey. The user starts at the beginning and is constantly presented with a series of challenges, choices and consequences.

Let’s look at Bandersnatch for example:

  • Challenge: One of the first challenges was to select the music that Bandersnatch protagonist, Stefan, popped in his Walkman
  • Choice: The viewer is presented with two options—cassette tapes marked Thompson Twins or Now 2
  • Consequences: Choosing Thompson Twins takes viewers down an entirely different path than the Now 2 tape would have, meaning the next challenge, and ultimate outcome, was different.

The end result of this structure, for viewers, meant that they could spend almost 3 hours helping Bandersnatch’s main character, Stefan, navigate his way to one of a number of different endings, instead of just sitting down to passively watch a 90-minute film. Just take a look at the enormity of the Bandersnatch branching scenario below to get an idea of what viewers are up against.

Applying this model to the world of eLearning, it’s easy to see how branching scenarios could be really useful for employers. This type of training structure provides for a more engaging and empowering user experience, in that it makes users more likely to consider and understand the choices they are presented with, and the consequences of their actions.

How to create eLearning branching scenarios as engaging as Bandersnatch

While half the fun of Bandersnatch may have been the fact that there are multiple endings—some of which simply spat the viewer back out into the rabbit warren of the narrative—when we’re designing a branching scenario for eLearning content, clarity and simplicity is key.

  • Plan your branching scenario layout first: Each challenge, choice, and consequence in your eLearning branching scenario needs to have a defined purpose, so that your user can take away the right learnings. One way to ensure this is to map out your scenario, end to end, before diving into your online training LMS. This way, you’ll be able to cover all of your lesson goals when it comes time to build
  • Offer hints and additional resources: One of the great things about Bandersnatch was that at no point do viewers feel like they made a ‘wrong’ choice. This maintains engagement to continue the journey. This sense of empowerment and achievement is also vital for users navigating an eLearning branching scenario. One of the best ways to steer users towards a final outcome is to provide access to links and resources as part of relevant challenges.
  • Avoid repetition to promote engagement: Just as each challenge along your eLearning branch scenario needs to have a clear and defined purpose, they also have to be continually engaging in and of themselves. As viewers delved deep into the Bandersnatch plot, the challenges became more entertaining and the stakes became higher. Viewers were no longer being asked to choose between breakfast cereals, but to decide if main character should make life-changing choices. Make sure that, like Coassemble, your online training LMS offers you the ability to mix up the challenge options, using things like multiple choice questions, user feedback screens, or even video, and you’re more likely to keep your users engaged.
  • Balance your consequences: Another of the key reasons branching scenarios are so useful for eLearning is that they allow users to practice and test their skills without real world consequences. Granted, the choices you’re likely to be giving your trainees may not be as fun as some of those in Bandersnatch (like choosing whether or not to launch a karate attack on Stefan’s unsuspecting psychologist)—but they should still allow users space to try and fail, all the while absorbing the information they need them to know.
  • Make sure you’re using the right LMS: While branching scenarios are powerful eLearning tools, it’s important to ensure that their creation doesn’t become resource inefficient, and that you’re able to access granular insights into how your employees are using them. Having an LMS partner like Coassemble means that you have access to simple drag and drop scenario templates, and powerful analytics to help you identify trainee pain-points that may need re-assessing or re-structuring.

While the humble branching scenario may have come a long way since the childhood ‘choose your own adventure’ books we all knew and loved, the concept remains the same.

Whether we’re talking about Bandersnatch, where the user helps Stefan avoid a gruesome lion-like demigod named Pax while trying to find answers about his own childhood trauma, or a simple eLearning experience designed to increase staff competency and training engagement, there’s no question that the challenge, choice, consequence model works.

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