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Benefits of Using Simulations

By Bryant Nielson, Managing Director On February 14, 2011 Under Featured Posts, Learning & Development, Simulations

We’ve discussed some good reasons to implement simulations in your organization. Let’s take a look at the distinct advantages of simulations over other types of training interventions.

When you take the time to consider the methods for implementing a simulation, such as online, written, gaming, group participation, or individual, it’s easy to see that simulations can fit with any type of program. But it’s also a good idea to think about the specific benefits and advantages of simulations, especially if you are going to have to justify an increase in cost or time for an overall training program.

First, participants in a simulation are able to learn through performing an action in order to get to a certain outcome. In regular training interventions, and in the overall intervention to which the simulation belongs, we are governed by the outcomes. But the outcome from a simulation is one that comes from experience and not just reading, discussion, and testing. One of the essential bases of adult learning theory is the experiential component, so we know that adults learn better through experience. On top of this, retention of knowledge and its applications is higher with experience.

Next, the mistakes participants make in a simulation, no matter if it’s a case study or a complex flight simulator, are truly learning experiences. In other words, the outcome is not damaging to the organization, its equipment, or is personnel. Consider high-level executive decision makers. If this group can participate in simulations that are modeled after real-world issues, it can be free to make mistakes, learn from them, and apply the learning before going out to the real world. The organization will have to do less cleanup if mistakes are made in a simulation environment.

The simulation environment also provides the benefit of consistent, constant, and immediate feedback. If the simulation is designed to offer feedback at various points throughout the timeline, participants can take the feedback, make corrections, and move forward. Plus, if they have truly made costly mistakes, the immediate feedback helps them right away and not when it’s too late. The best part of immediate feedback is that it leads to immediate application of knowledge. Application is, like experience, a major component of effective adult learning.

On the lighter side, a well-designed simulation can be an enjoyable, exciting experience for both the participants and the moderator. This benefit essentially serves two purposes. First, you can use the enjoyable application of knowledge as a marketing and promotional tool for the training program and the training organization. Consider how perception might change if potential clients are drawn to the possibility of real-world simulations in training. Second, adult learning theory also tells us that participants increase retention if they’ve had a good, enjoyable learning experience. As you can see, many of the benefits of simulations simply lead to better retention and application of knowledge.

If you’re looking for more than the obvious benefits, take some time to move into the overall organizational realm. As your simulation begins to create “graduates,” you’ll also start to develop a pool of moderators or facilitators. This is not to say that your professional training staff has to move aside, but it does add to their capabilities and coverage. Imagine the reception if a training course is taught by a professional instructor but the simulation is moderated by someone who works in the field full-time. If you do have to make a case for more money or time in training, this is a great benefit to use a selling point.

Also on the organizational level, simulations are a useful “capstone” for overall training or certification programs. For example, a leadership development program could use the simulation as the final step to certification into the leadership or talent pool. Prospective organizational leaders will have completed a simulation that puts them on the same footing, having worked toward the same strategic outcomes. Plus, the people in the pool who have successfully completed the program will know how to apply their knowledge straight out of the gate, so the learning curve is typically less for these people than a simple promotion from within.

The benefits and advantages of using simulations cover not only participants, but also moderators, the training organization, and the organization as a whole.

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