Quick Guide: Scenarios

Note: Choosing Between Case Studies and Scenarios

Case studies and scenarios help students leverage theoretical or practical information from readings and lectures to analyze or select courses of action within real-world situations.

Case studies are typically longer, detailed activities that are presented in real-world contexts using relatively set pathways. They may include facts and data and be intended for a longer critical analysis. For instance, students may need to figure out the structure of the case’s problem(s), what information may be missing, or what faulty assumptions were made.

Scenarios are typically shorter activities that are presented in realistic contexts using dynamic pathways. They include multiple decision points and related feedback or outcomes; they may also include fictional characters or exaggerated elements.

Suppose an author wanted to create an activity to support a chapter about therapeutic treatment for certain conditions but wasn’t sure if a case study or scenario would be most helpful.

  • With a case study, students could examine recommendations for a real or hypothetical patient’s therapy treatment. Students might review relevant data and/or analyze the outcome.
  • With a scenario, students could practice determining a hypothetical patient’s therapy treatment. Students would receive feedback and see customized outcomes based on their decisions.

The author would then select a case study or scenario based on goals for the activity (e.g., is it important to study how different counselors have treated or could treat this condition? Or is it important to practice deciding on a therapeutic treatment?). For more details on case studies, see Quick Guide: Case Studies.

What Makes a Good Scenario?

Good scenarios usually have the following characteristics:

  • Sufficient detail: Scenarios work best when they give students enough information to understand and make decisions about aspects of those situations. Unnecessary or irrelevant details should be omitted.
  • Suitable complexity: Too few possibilities make scenarios simplistic; too many make them hard to complete (or construct).
  • Appropriate difficulty: Scenarios’ difficulty levels should align with the difficulty levels of corresponding textbooks.
  • Supportive of learning objectives/outcomes: Strong scenarios clearly align with or support chapter learning objectives/outcomes. Aligning activities with objectives/outcomes helps confirm that those activities enrich, relate to, and accurately assess the textbook content, where applicable.
  • Realistic review of topics and/or practice of concepts: Scenarios will provide more value when they resonate with what students are likely to experience.

Developing Scenarios

When completing scenarios, students read about situations and make choices in response to them; these choices customize their journeys through the content. These activities might enable students to:

  • Make an ethical decision about a particular situation.
  • Select the tools and steps needed to fix a mechanical issue.
  • React to a child’s temper tantrum (Example).
  • Conduct an intake assessment with a new patient.
  • Practice speaking with a customer service representative.

Think of a scenario as an interactive method of practicing or applying concepts in a realistic setting. Framing material this way permits students to make different selections related to situations. Students then experience various outcomes based on their selections. For instance, students might decide how to act, respond, or speak in a hypothetical situation. These decisions form pathways that lead them to custom outcomes.

Scenarios are often graded based on correct/incorrect choices or participation; the latter can encourage students to explore different pathways within a single activity. They may also be presented as ungraded activities.