We all know that the best employees aren’t company-policy quoting automata.

A good worker also needs to be able to implement their knowledge in an open ended and complex world. You can’t train for every possible scenario, and so people must have the skills to adapt. That’s why the concept of “soft skills” is increasingly important to employers.

However, there’s a problem with teaching soft skills. A problem that’s been acknowledged  for a long, long time. In fact, Aristotle pinned it down in 350 BC:

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them… we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
Nicomachean Ethics, book 2, chapter 1.


Qualities like good teamwork, listening skills and savvy sales techniques are elusive and intangible, difficult to learn from a book. They are generally built on the job and through experience. This leaves many new employees struggling and feeling ill prepared in their roles.

Can elearning help in the messy and unpredictable world of interacting with people and making judgement calls? Or is a technology-based individual learning experience fundamentally at odds with learning how to interact with others?

Stories and Simulations

Developing soft skills through play

Learning through play and imagination.

Children first encounter soft skills in the realm of fiction and imagination. Fables and didactic stories are ubiquitous across the world, whether it’s the Tortoise and the Hare or Peppa Pig. They love to role play, experimenting as doctors, spacemen, parents and police officers. It builds soft skills they will need in their future grown-up lives.

Things may not be too different for adult learners. Soft skills elearning can benefit greatly from complex branching scenarios and roleplaying.  Like a child absorbed in a pretend game, the learner doesn’t just process a quiz on a screen. They engage in a fantasy situation. This equips them for encountering similar situations in the real world.

As we covered in our article on gamification, Elearning can sometimes look to computer games for inspiration. Games often rely on realistic dialogue and complex social scenarios to improve immersion. A famous example is Façade, an interactive story created by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. The player spends time at the apartment of their friends Trip and Grace, whose marriage is on the rocks. Using timing, tact and close observation, they can either steer the couple to reconcile or convince them to move on. That’s if they don’t get thrown out for bad behavior first!

The game is notable for its replay value. In subsequent plays, you learn more about the couple and can try out new tactics to influence them. Before long, you start feeling like an expert in conflict resolution. It’s easy to see how a different scenario might begin to teach you different skill sets.

Soft skills inspiration in computer games

How not to improve your friend’s marriage in Facade.

Soft Skills Scenario Tips

Here are some scenario tips for immersing your learners so they can explore new strategies for soft skill learning.

Weave a story. Be specific. Include the details of the who, the when, the where and the how. Your story doesn’t have to be worthy of the next Man Booker prize, but it should be engaging. Include characters who talk like real people, with realistic motivations.

Allow learners to make decisions. Build decision making skills by letting learners genuinely impact the future of the scenario. Instead of a “that’s right!” or “that’s wrong!” message, create consequences that are engaging and natural. A learner’s actions can anger a colleague, or impress their boss. Engage them on an emotional level.

Allow learners to make mistakes. We often wish we could turn back the clock and have another go at a time management or teamworking task. Elearning can work with a learner’s natural sense of curiosity and experimentation. It gives them chances to see different consequences and observe cause and effect in practice. Every perfectionist’s dream: a private environment with low stakes where you can learn, grow and practice!

Develop intuition and deep intelligence.Just like real life, scenarios should be unpredictable. It can be difficult to remember techniques and formulas from skills training in the pressures of the real world. Safeguard against this by giving learners a chance to apply knowledge in difficult situations with no perfect answer. Make them think on their feet!

Want more scenario tips? Fortunately we have a whole blog post on the subject!

Blending and Building

Conduct Risk Training

So, we’ve seen that elearning can provide engaging soft skills training through storytelling and scenarios. It can engage with our natural inclination to learn through experimentation, in a low stakes environment.

But relying on elearning alone for soft skills training might be difficult. As with any new skill, having many sources of learning and development helps. Elearning can be used to supply new tools and ideas which can be a catalyst for continued training. It’s likely that soft skills elearning works best where management and co-workers can support new skills by giving opportunities for practice, feedback and discussion. See our blogs on blended learning for some examples of this in action.

That way, skills can easily make the leap from the elearning world to the real workplace environment.

At GLAD we offer great range of elearning solutions, and we love soft skills training. If you’d like to know more about how we can help your business, email us at enquiries@embridgeconsulting.com. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Tags: Blended learning, Elearning Design, Gamification, Soft Skills

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