Simulation in Adult Learning: Across the Disciplines of Engineering, Business, and Healthcare

Simulation in Adult Learning: Across the Disciplines of Engineering, Business, and Healthcare

Yi Wu (Penn State University, USA), Dan Eaton (Penn State University, USA) and Diane H. Parente (Penn State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1306-4.ch015


This chapter discusses the use of simulation in higher education, particularly in the engineering, business, and health care disciplines. The authors have identified three simulation types in terms of learning outcomes: single skill building, role play or skill building in a simple context, and comprehensive scenario-based simulation. The history and the application of simulation to build a single skill, for role play, and for comprehensive skills learning and practice is explored. It is observed that simulation is beneficial to student learning in all disciplines. However, business and health care appear to use simulation more extensively, especially scenario-based. Both business and health care employ simulation for behavioral training. In conclusion, simulation tends to appeal to students of the new generation Z, who value the experience of doing.
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Simulation is the imitation of a situation or process (Definition of simulation, 2019). The question of “why use simulation pedagogy” in higher education is based on the characteristics of today’s student body and two education models. Students in higher education today or in the near future are either millennials or Gen Z, who in nature are in favor of learning through simulation, as will be discussed in the next few paragraphs. The first education model is the development of the Learning Pyramid below in Figure 1 (Center for Excellence in Teaching Learning and Assessment, 2015) which shows the retention rate of each teaching style. The second education model is the modified Bloom’s taxonomy (Letrud & Hernes, 2016), which defines six levels of education objectives. The benefit of simulation is stated later in the framework of those two education models.

Millennials are those born between 1980 and 1996. Generation Z are those born in 1992 or later. An easy frame of reference is that if these students do not remember 9-11, they are Gen Z. Generation Z are beginning to dominate college classes in the decade of 2012. Students in this generation want to laugh and have fun, learn something new and escape from everyday life. Generation Z does not have a fascination for technology, they expect it. Z’s begin using tablets and cell phones in their strollers. Compared to millennials, they are more hands on and want to be involved in making a better world. They are more global and more diverse. They value experiences more than material things. Given their desire to be involved overall, traditional pedagogy of lecture is not appropriate nor embraced. Simulations, especially scenarios in which they can be involved in making decisions and experiencing the outcomes are likely to be successful with Gen Z.

The Learning pyramid, as illustrated in Figure 1, shows that passive learning (i.e. lecture, reading, audio visual, and even demonstration) has lower knowledge retention rate. More active learning has significantly higher knowledge retention rate which is illustrated in the three pedagogies in the lower part of the pyramid (doing a dramatic presentation, simulating the real experience, and doing the real thing). Learning through simulation, as will be discussed later in each different discipline, targets mostly the active learning zone, or the higher-retention-rate categories in the passive learning zone.

Figure 1.

The learning pyramid


Taking the generational discussion one step further, it is important to remember that the student body of today is different from that of 30 years ago. Professors have an average age of over 50, attending college thirty years earlier than their students. Table 1 below notes some significant differences in the profiles of the student body of 1970 as compared to that of 1999. A large proportion of the student body today are non-traditional, attending college part time, and having dependents. Eighty percent of the student body is employed and nearly 40% are over 25. Simulation, as a nontraditional pedagogy, appeals to the student body of today.

Table 1.
Student data in 1970 and 1999 (Oblinger, 2003, p. 1)
    1970    1999
    Enrollment    7.2 million    12.7 million
    Two-year enrollment    31%    44%
    Attend part-time    28%    39%
    Women    42%    56%
    Older than age twenty-five    28%    39%
    Nontraditional    N/A    73%
    Have dependents    N/A    27%
    Employed    N/A    80%

Key Terms in this Chapter

Scenario-Based Simulation: A simulation based on a situation that is typically intended to approximate real life.

Numerical Simulation: A simulation using numerical methods, typically run on a computer.

Continuous Simulation: A simulation whose variables can take on any value within the specified range.

Discrete Simulation: A simulation whose variables can take only specific discrete values with the specified range.

Behavior Variable: A construct that is likely an organizational or latent variable, not easily measurable.

Deterministic Simulation: A simulation whose starting condition or initial states may change, but always produces the same output from the same starting condition or initials states.

Model-Based Simulation: A simulation realized based on a mathematical model.

Interactive Simulation: A simulation that user’s inputs affect the output.

Stochastic Simulation: A simulation whose variables may change stochastically (randomly) with certain probabilities. A stochastic simulation may produce different outputs from the same starting condition or initial states at different time.

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