September 30th, 2010

Simulations Deliver Real Benefits


Simulations can be powerful active learning experiences. In the social sciences and humanities they can provide a kind of “lab-like” experience, often not a part of these courses. Finding good simulation exercises is a challenge in some fields and integrating them into the content and objectives of the course requires careful planning and execution. However, this extra work is justified given what a good simulation can accomplish in class. Check out these benefits listed in an excellent article on simulations (reference below).

  • “Simulations offer students the opportunity to manipulate content knowledge in an active context that engages a variety of learning styles and offers the opportunity to experience the subject matter in a dynamic way.” (pp. 447-448) They allow students to experience issues in a more personal and dynamic way.
  • Simulations are also very good at making clear the complexities involved in issues. They move students away from thinking that issues can be resolved definitively and that problems always have right and wrong answers.
  • Simulations put students in roles they otherwise read or hear about. In a real time situation, students are forced to make decisions and they see much more directly the consequences of what they propose. A good robust debrief discussion at the end of a simulation activity can help students analyze their tactics. This enhances the learning potential of these experiences.
  • Simulations effectively move students beyond grade issues. Simulations motivate students to get involved and do well because the simulation feels like a “real” world situation and because they are interacting directly and substantive with their peers. These experiences give students a taste of how professionals confront and resolve problems.
  • Simulations offer students with certain learning styles a chance to do well. Some students “learn best when they can see processes in motion, or when they have the opportunity to apply knowledge while they are learning. Students who may sometimes appear to check out, or who are underperformers, often connect better with the applied nature of a simulation exercise, and very often the leadership and coordination roles of simulation teams are assumed by students who may not have distinguished themselves in traditional classroom formats.”

Reference: Wedig, T. (2010). Getting the most from classroom simulations: Strategies for maximizing learning outcomes. PS, Political Science and Politics, July, 547-555.