Simulations in the Classroom and Online

The em186phasis at Granite State College on active and student-centered learning lends itself naturally to the use of simulations. Learning simulations provide safe practice environments in which students can explore and experiment with different complex topics, ranging from ecological systems to ethical dilemmas. Simulations take advantage of the powerful properties of situated learning, providing realistic contexts and consequences in which students can attain higher levels of learning, including application, analysis, and evaluation of situations, choices, and interpersonal factors.

Simulations are useful when:

  • Real-life practice would be difficult to arrange, expensive, or even dangerous (to the student and/or others)
  • The topics are complex, without simple answers that can be memorized
  • There are “affective” goals, e.g. asking students to adopt or revise patterns of thought
  • The learners need to gain a “systems” view of the subject

While learning simulations have some overlap with learning games, the two are not the same. Learning games often include game-show style trivia challenges, which can improve fluency, but allow little opportunity for application or in-depth analysis. Simulations generally involve complex models to integrate the relationships between multiple factors and influences. However, simulations do often include “gamification” elements such as high scores, “leader boards,” and new levels that are unlocked when earlier content is successfully completed.

Simulations can also be conducted in face to face classrooms as well as online. Many of the first simulations were paper-based exercises conducted by teams and managed by a facilitator, usually the instructor, and these are still powerful learning tools.

Over the next few months we’ll be reviewing a number of learning simulations, including some already used here at Granite State College, such as the Glo-Bus management simulation used by Mike Russell in MGMT 650 Strategic Management, or the Change Management exercise used by Kathleen Smee in PM 810 Change Management and Communication. Look for future articles to cover topics as wide ranging as rhetorical strategies, classroom management, and cultural awareness, in addition to the plethora of business and science simulations becoming ever more popular in schools across the country. In the meantime, if you have a particular topic you’d like help finding a simulation for, or a specific simulation you’d like to share with other faculty, please let us know!

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