First things first – what is Bandersnatch?
This last year, the mega Netflix hit Black Mirror released a stand-alone experiential episode called Bandersnatch, and officially launched branching scenarios back into the centre 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: I was presented with two options – cassette tapes marked Thompson Twins or Now 2
- Consequences: Choosing Thompson Twins took me down an entirely different path than the Now 2 tape would have, meaning my next challenge, and ultimate outcome, was different.
The end result of this structure, for me, meant that I spent 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 I was up against.
Applying this 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 empowered 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 were 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 training, 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 did I feel like I made a ‘wrong’ choice. This kept me eager to continue along the journey. This sense of empowerment and achievement is also vital for users navigating an eLearning branching scenario, and one of the best ways to encourage engagement and 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 I delved deep into the Bandersnatch plot, the challenges became juicier and the stakes became higher. I was no longer being asked to choose between breakfast cereals, but to decide if main character, Stefan’s father should live or die by my hand. 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 those undergoing online training to practice and test their skills without any real world consequences. Granted, the choices you’re likely to be giving your trainees my not be as wickedly fun as some of those in Bandersnatch (like choosing whether or not to launch a full-fledged karate barrage on Stefan’s unsuspecting psychologist, or whether or not to drop acid) but they should still allow users space to try and fail, all the while absorbing the information you 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. And 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.