A couple of weeks ago I had one of the most fun and insightful learning experiences I’ve ever had. It was a simulation of the near-fatal mission to the moon. I’m not going to divulge too much about the training product because it is for sale as a training tool and I’m not in sales.
Approximately a dozen people took part in the all-day simulation, which was used to illustrate the use of processes, policies, roles, responsibilities, and communications. It was an excellent tool to teach decision-making and to illuminate knowledge gaps.
After the simulation, I began to dissect why it is such a useful tool and then why more instructors don’t use simulations. It didn’t take long for me to discover that for simulations to be successful and powerful, they must contain extremely detailed information.
In addition, simulations must be constructed in such a way that the they help the participants learn from mistakes. While that doesn’t seem difficult, creating a simulation where failure is the only option, no matter what the participants do, is very challenging for curriculum designers.
The attention to detail can only be appreciated once you start to think how many times a simulation must go through practice runs before being used in a training or classroom environment. Each run through nets insight into how to achieve better and consistent results.
But simply designing the simulation is only a small part of the process. Debriefing is critical for learners to gain insights. This instructor used short debriefing session, which worked well for this particular set of learners, but 15 or 20 minutes session may work well for other groups.
Interestingly, while the learners talked amongst, they each other offered ideas, encouragement, and further insights.
Finally, there was much self-reflection. I often asked myself what other experiences or knowledge I could draw from to make the next phase of the simulation more successful.
I believe there are several key factors in designing simulations:
- The scenario must be believable and reinforce the learning objective
- There is a considerable amount of time and trail and error involved with creating successful simulations.
- The instructor must have a solid script for debriefing sessions. Each session should include what went wrong, why it went wrong, and draw out information and ideas from the learners on how to remedy the situation.
- Learning objectives rule the simulation. Always bring everything back to the four or five objectives
- The simulations must make the learners apply their knowledge and motivate them to succeed. If they don’t care about their success, then the simulation has failed
For corporate training, simulations are an excellent learning event. In higher education, many instructors may find the process of creating a simulation too time consuming. I suggest ending the semester with a small simulation. At the end of each semester, add more material to the simulation until the time allotted to an entire class is used for the simulation. It would a learning experience for both the students and the teacher.