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#DevLearn-409: Soft-Skills Simulations – A Road Map for Success

Summary: Frito-Lay built a compelling soft-skills simulation using mostly-traditional branching techniques and Articulate Storyline.

This session was presented by Chris Ayers, President and CEO, Yukon Learning, and Marvin Mullins, Project Manager, Frito-Lay.

Soft-skills simulations are a great way to reinforce learning and have proven effective in increasing learning transfer from learning event to the workplace. But while many organizations would like to add simulations to their e-learning arsenal, not everyone is familiar or comfortable with the tools and processes for design, development, and delivery of a simulation. Some common barriers to starting a simulation project include a lack of knowledge of how to develop a simulation, what tools to use, and a belief that simulations are too expensive to produce.

Project Background

Frito-Lay has a very structured program that consists of multiple learning events for new hires. The program is robust and has been very well-received.

However, there was still a need to for additional training because there was no opportunity to practice many of the skills new hires were learning in the structured program. The intent was to create a simulation based around the idea of leadership in the field, but another factor affecting development was the need for a regional/local rollout. As Frito-Lay considered the various options available to build a simulation, they found them to be very expensive and limited.

Development Process

The intent of the simulation was to put the new hires in the situations they would face in the field and give them a chance to practice the skills they had learned during the earlier training.

Content, Context, and Coaching is the key to success for any e-learning program. Often, you can get two out of the three, but it’s difficult to get them all. Content refers to the need for good, relevant content. Context is the setting and Coaching is the remedial/feedback portion of the process. This is the C3 model as it exists at the macro level, but a similar approach at the “question level” also exists in the form of Challenges, Choices, and Consequences.┬áThe course was built around a number of branching scenarios in which the learners had to make decisions about how they would respond.

1. Define the Project

Defining the project was the first step in the process.

After defining the project’s purpose and analyzing the audience, the structure of the course was determined. The team decided to develop four “rounds” of approximately 30 minutes each that involved scenarios based on the more likely interactions new hires would actually have on the job. Thus, the emphasis here was on storytelling and placing the learner in real-life situations. An effort was made to map the simulation to the structured training that had been provided earlier, and this analysis was assembled into a table that reflected the scoring, issues and challenges the learners would face.

2. Design the Project

In Chris’ view, content is still king because it must be relevant to, and resonate with, the learners. So in the second project step on design, scripts were written and then validated by the client; this included the various pathing points through the course. Articulate Storyline was used to create a mock-up or prototype of the simulation (and, ultimately, the course itself). The design portion of the course concluded with usability testing to make sure the overall usage and design of the application aligned well with learner needs. For the testing, learners had to walk all of the paths through the course.

3. Develop the Project

The develop portion of the process was next. This consisted of actually building the simulation, performing functional testing and then, as the shell was completed, additional assets were developed to support the training. This included shooting of the videos used in the course and creating graphics, all of which were created in realistic, job-related environments. When these steps were complete, an alpha build was generated that people could play with.

4. Deliver the Project

In the delivery phase, the team began with an internal review using new people not previously involved in the process. This helped identify further changes that needed to be made. A pilot was then conducted by the actual learners for whom the training was being developed, and additional changes and modifications were made to the program. Also, the pilot was conducted in a room with many players at the same time, so feedback was obtained in real-time. After this collaboration with the testers, final revisions were made. The course was then published in multiple formats using Storyline.


The project is delivered to multiple learners as a “team” of 2-3 at the same time. The underlying theme is a “day in the life” of the employee.

To start, the course introduces characters that learners will see throughout the program. After some further introductory information, the first scenario is shown. Learners then walk their own path through the simulation and, using intrinsic feedback, learners see the consequences of their actions as they continue through each round of the program.

At the end of the first round, scores are given based on the responses. The course is designed in such a way that every decision made could impact on multiple learning points. After the scores are displayed, a recap is given that evaluates the learner’s performance and provides feedback on the decisions they made, and what might have been better choices to make in that situation.

Lessons Learned

An interesting aside: The more experienced learners who went through the course tended to get the lower scores. Marvin surmised this was because they were trying to “win,” rather than thinking about the particular situation directly facing them.

Here are the lessons learned:

  • It’s a lot easier to do this work now than it would have been 10 years ago.
  • Starting slow is not a bad thing. We can build up to simulation-type e-learning.
  • Get the actual audience involved early so you can benefit from their feedback.
  • Build-test-revise and repeat to reduce waste and ensure a good product.
  • Save everything! This helps evaluate success and encourage re-use on other projects so that the next ones will be even better.
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