Effective eLearning for employee training involves many different components working together in unison, much like a puzzle.

All pieces need to be in place in order for the full experience to work.

One of the most important pieces in eLearning is for employees to understand just how their online training fits into their everyday experiences.

eLearning must translate into real-world situations in order to be successful, especially as an investment into an employee’s future at your organization.

But depending on the skill, incorporating what’s known as “real-world experience” into eLearning can be a challenge.

You will need to know exactly how to translate what’s on the screen to the day-to-day life of the learner.

Here are a few ways that organizations can include real-world experiences into their eLearning experience for a more complete learning puzzle.

What are Real-World Experiences in eLearning?

eLearning takes place in a digital environment, but there are ways of using realism to aid in practical learning.

“Real-life experiences” – sometimes called real-world scenarios – are simply realistic scenarios that allow learners to apply the practical skills learned in a module to their hands-on work life.

For example, a manager learning how to oversee a team may practice real-world scenarios during an eLearning module that allow them to troubleshoot problems that occur regularly in the office.

Someone who works with machinery may practice potential emergency responses should a machine breaks down or something goes wrong, for instance.

These real-life experiences should be reflective of challenges or situations faced by real workers on a daily (or frequent) basis.

Examples: Real-World Experiences in eLearning

There are several tools and techniques you can use to create real-world experiences in your eLearning modules and lessons.

Here are a few examples:


  1. Avatars


Avatars can include 2D or 3D representations of an employee or worker. It may be a generic representation or a cartoon example of each employee.

The purpose of the avatar could be to guide the learner through the course, present content, pose questions, provide tips or add a conversational tone to the material.

It may also be used alongside simulation software to help present scenarios so that the employee has a better idea of how they might handle a certain situation.

For example, an avatar may be used to show how to handle certain machinery or how to perform certain procedures in the office.

The idea of an avatar is to give a name and face to the lesson being learned (considered a pedagogical lesson for personalization), which has been shown to aid employees in applying the lesson more practically in real-world situations.

  1. Simulation software (or virtual simulations)

While not all organizations may have access to simulation software, having digital simulations (handling equipment, workflows, emergency situations, etc.) can help workers translate lessons to the real world.

If you don’t have access to specific software (some examples can be found here) that can create simulations, you can also include other types of simulations in your lessons and modules.

Written (or visual) scenarios, branching lessons, storytelling and gaming or gamification modules are all examples of real-world simulations that can be created without specific software.

Employees may answer questions in a quiz format regarding the scenario, for example, or they may be asked to demonstrate a real-life skill in the work environment later on.

  1. Storytelling scenarios

Storytelling is another way to incorporate real-life experiences in eLearning modules without needing to invest in new software.

Storytelling modules focus on immersive case studies, real-life situations and examples that might best apply to the work environment.

For example, a storytelling experience might mimic an office situation, including an email that an employee might receive, phone calls, or other events that would normally be a part of their workday.

 For more examples of storytelling scenarios, check out Cindy McCabe’s two-part blog series on storytelling for simulations.

How to Include Real-World Scenarios in eLearning

If your eLearning modules or lessons are not already designed around real-world experiences, there are a few other ways you can include them into existing lessons.

  1. Turn eLearning lessons into interactive discussions

Real-life discussions – whether in a physical environment, if possible, or in an online forum, video comment sections, or other online interactive environment – can help employees apply what they’ve learned more effectively.

In a branching scenario, for instance, you could place two or more avatars on a screen and have them play a part in a storytelling scenario. You would then ask your learners questions about the scenario and have them answer in real time.

  1. Include case studies in your eLearning scenarios

You can always add case studies or similar stories alongside already developed eLearning lessons.

These could include a case study about certain avatars or characters from a storytelling scenario or a reading assignment in a 3D environment, which might also include a quiz.

  1. Include real-world time limits

If you’re using a digital scenario or simulation to quiz / test employees on their knowledge of real-world situations, include a time limit that would mimic the event in real time.

This might include a time limit to write an email in response to a situation or a time limit to demonstrate a specific skill the lesson addresses. For example, if the situation calls for someone to address budgeting concerns, give them a set time to create a budget.

Or if you are trying to develop customer service skills, you could have them monitor a simulated “calling center” each day and monitor it over the course of a month.

This might enable them to understand how their actions affect customers over a span of time, just like a real-world environment.

  1. Ask employees to create their own real-world scenarios

Having employees create their own scenarios can help them apply the knowledge they’ve learned from their current roles. This has a number of benefits, including an increase in knowledge retention as well as being able to identify knowledge gaps.

Employees could use collaboration and communication tools to develop scenarios as a group, or you might assign certain employees (whose jobs require specific skills they need to learn) to develop material.

This material can be created for those who don’t already have a skill set – an employee who has been with the company for five years training a new employee, for example – or as a refresh for employees who need to retrain.

Final Thoughts

The goal of real-world experiences in eLearning is to help employees translate written or visual skills into practical, everyday situations.

These experiences can be high tech, including the use of simulation software, avatars and virtual environments that mimic the office.

They can also be low tech, including storytelling situations presented in PowerPoint, added on case studies to traditional learning modules, or discussion questions and forums to demonstrate knowledge.

In some situations you may find that a real-world demonstration (following an eLearning module’s completion) is helpful, but this might not always be necessary.

The key to real-world experiences is to ensure that employees understand how the lesson directly relates to their hands-on skills in the workplace.

A successful eLearning lesson will improve day-to-day job performances for every learner.

Jonathan Davis is an accomplished professional with experience helping Fortune 500 companies achieve success in employee communication and training programs. Jonathan focuses on delivering reliable, successful outcomes that increases employee engagement through highly targeted deliverables, creative messaging and robust programs.