Educational Simulations: Learning from the Past and Ensuring Success in the Future

Educational Simulations: Learning from the Past and Ensuring Success in the Future

David A. Guralnick (Kaleidoscope Learning, USA) and Christine Levy (Kaleidoscope Learning, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-781-7.ch003
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Learn-by-doing simulations can provide tremendously effective learning. This chapter examines previous and current work in the area of educational simulations and looks ahead toward several potential futures in the field. The chapter includes a number of simulation-based success stories and case studies from past years, along with a discussion of why they worked as well as what could have been done better. It also describes approaches to ensure that a simulation is educationally effective while still being engaging and even entertaining. In addition, the chapter includes a design and development process that can be followed in order to maximize the educational value and usability of a simulation.
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Simulations Vs. Games

Over the past several years, there has been significant interest in the use of games and gaming technologies for learning purposes. Not only could games provide new and exciting ways to learn, but they would suit the younger generation of “Digital Natives” (coined by Prensky, 2001), who are comfortable with technology and tend to enjoy and expect a fast-paced, interactive experience.

One question that has arisen is what constitutes a game rather than a simulation. Prensky (2001) notes that “simulations are not, in and of themselves, games—they need…fun, play, rules, a goal, winning, competition, etc.”, and that simulations may be boring and non-gamelike. There has been strong interest through the decade from corporations, looking to provide interesting training that resonates with their learners—and turning to game-based models.

Many of the attempts at game-based learning in the corporate world, however, have focused on the “game” elements rather than the learning. For example, some companies have implemented training in the form of “Jeopardy!”-style games, where learners must answer questions (or, more technically, provide questions in “Jeopardy!” format). This type of learning is indeed a game, and can often be fun for the learner. But what is often lost in this style of training is their effectiveness when it comes to improving learners’ performance on the job, which, after all, is the goal of the training. Many “educational games” are fun and lend themselves well to the memorization of facts—but fact memorization does not necessarily transfer well to improved job performance. Learn-by-doing simulations, which will be the focus of the remainder of this chapter, have the ability to incorporate elements that make games fun (including those mentioned by Prensky above), but in a realistic environment in which the learners’ experiences will transfer to their real-life jobs.

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