Why and When to Use Simulations

With the Immersive Learning Conference & Symposium coming up January 18-20 in New Orleans, LA, we are pleased to include a guest post by Ken Spero, who speak about Sims and Experience Design.The Twitter hashtag for the conference is #ILU2012. Ken will also be speaking at the upcoming Training 2012 and SALT conferences in February.

Ken Spero has been designing, developing and delivering simulations both on-line and in the classroom for over 20 years. Currently, he is the Executive Director of the new Immersive Learning University at NexLearn, LLC. In this role, he is able to continue Simulation Evangelizing activities by making the creation and use of Immersive Learning Simulations more available to the masses. A faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Work-Based Learning Leadership Graduate program, Ken is also a frequent presenter at learning conferences.

The focus of this blog entry is primarily on Soft Skill Simulations that can either be computer based or live. Although the focus on experience is also evident in other types of simulations, such as quantitative/financial simulation as well as software simulation, the focus here is a more scenario driven approach.

A key question is, Why use Simulations at all? The most definitive answer is that experience is the best teacher. Consider that:

  • Sims provide experience.
  • Sims provide emotional engagement with environment/content and there is much literature now available that shows how memory is improved and retention is increased through emotional engagement (see John Medina in his book Brain Rules).
  • Sims expand the evocable experience base by adding experiences to your experience portfolio / “gut”.
  • Sims can be written to provide consequences for mindless behavior and/or provide encouragement for mindful decision making.
  • Sims enable time acceleration to feel consequences.
  • Sims promote critical thinking and improved decision making.
  • Computer-based Sims use the power of storytelling to promote and maintain active engagement and retention.
  • Sims provide an opportunity for participants to experience failure in a risk-free environment so that they can “fail forward.”

Another consideration is When to use a Sim. We’ve found that simulations are most impactful when:

  • Critical thinking is imperative
  • Decisions depend on situations
  • Contextual experience is necessary

When blended with other content, simulations can substantially reinforce learning and prepare learners to effectively deal with obstacles to execution. They also provide the opportunity to create an expanded learning environment where learners are free to engage with / learn from others (in contrast to the instructor only). Delivering simulations in a group setting is further called for when decisions or how they are implemented must be consistent across / within groups. By having groups work together to come to a consensus the learning is enriched by appreciating the perspective of their peers.

When Not to use a Sim:

Sims are not best for instruction of content, or for presenting content that can be executed by following a fixed process or recipe. It is important to distinguish between instruction and experience. When students need to be taught ‘stuff’ then the content should be design instructionally in a method best oriented to impart the necessary knowledge and information to them. However, when experience is required; when they have been taught the ideas but they need to gain experience in how they manifest in the real-world so that they can improve their situational decision making in a realistic context then simulation is appropriate. This further reinforces the need for blended approach where there is focus both on instruction and experience and delivering both elements in a unique and compelling manner that enables the benefits of each approach.

To summarize, why we would want to use simulations? IT IS ALL ABOUT EXPERIENCE. This includes Participant Experience (playing), Leadership Experience (developing/authoring), and Organizational Experience (blending).

Let us know your thoughts!

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One Response to “Why and When to Use Simulations”

  1. Carl Says:
    January 18th, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Ken thank you so much for posting this information and sharing from your experience. I will definitely point folks to it from my blog.
    Best Regards,

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