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Implementing Business Simulation Games 101
Did you know that nearly 100% of AACSB accredited business schools were using Business Simulations in 1986*? Whether in the academic or corporate context, the importance and value of business simulations as training tools has been well established for decades.
*A.J. Faria “Business Simulation Games: Current Usage Levels – An Update, 1998
Business simulation games: Computer-based simulations used for business training, education or analysis.
But to extract value from this learner-friendly approach, you can’t just haphazardly throw a business simulation game into your training mix. Unlike simulations that are used for modeling purposes, so-called ‘instructional simulations’ need to be integrated into a coherent pedagogical framework in order to effectively drive learning outcomes.
In this, the first of a series of articles, we’ll give an overview of the key pedagogical elements that business teachers, program directors, and executive trainers need to consider and plan for before selecting and implementing a business simulation game.
Pedagogy: the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.
Look for much more on all of these topics in the weeks ahead – but first, here’s a quick rundown of the topics you can expect from this series.
Although sometimes business simulations may be applied as a standalone training course, particularly in the corporate environment, more often they have to fit in with a predefined curriculum or overall learning agenda. This is especially true in the secondary school environment where there is usually more curriculum standardization, and assessment points are more defined and assessed more granularly.
Feedback over the course of a business simulation game can come in various forms:
- Game feedback (consequences of participants decisions)
- Teacher feedback to students
- Student feedback to teacher
- Peer to peer feedback
All forms of feedback contribute significantly to the value that simulations can add to a training program. As such, they need to be facilitated by the instructor, and the best simulation games will assist by automating a significant amount of feedback as well.
Range of difficulty
The simulation should offer the right level of challenge to the participants. Business Games can be applied in a wide variety of contexts, which means some games might be too simple or too complex for specific groups: A secondary school business student will likely need a simpler game than an experienced corporate executive or MBA student, for example.
But our favorite games are the ones that can be modified and adapted to match any participant skill-level. Some games offer the instructor the option to reduce or increase the number of components in a game, such as crises like strike actions etc.
Business simulation games can and should help drill particular technical skill sets. For a strategy business game, such skills might include:
- excel-based demand forecasting and production management
- conducting a strategic analysis (e.g. SWOT, 5-force)
- deriving cashflow statements from an income statement
- Et cetera
Based on the prior experience and skills of game participants, supplementary exercises should be set either prior to or during the simulation game in order to instruct the learners in how to apply a sound approach to conducting analysis and making their decisions.
These same skill sets can and should be integrated with any existing curriculum, and so should have pre-defined standards and be systematically tested either during or at the end of the game to assess the participants’ mastery of such skills.
Capturing situational variation
The best simulations reflect the complexity of a dynamically shifting industry ecosystem, where the terrain changes over the course of the game in accordance with the actions of the other players. This is important because it sensitizes the learner to the challenges of making strategic management decisions in a competitive and dynamic environment.
Balanced with the supervised teaching of specific skills, the instructor should consider what skills might be best acquired through self-guided, individualized learning. For example, skillsets where there is a reasonable expectation that the participants already have them, or where such skills are not critical to effective participation. In team-based simulation games any ‘soft’ skills – such as defining team structure, delegation and communication methods – might be something well suited to self-guided learning.
The best simulation games lend themselves to team-based learning. This is essential as business management invariably involves working with others, perhaps with different skillsets and from different backgrounds. By drilling team-based decision making, these types of simulations help students learn how to lead, delegate and communicate effectively.
Stay tuned for much more on all these topics and more in the weeks ahead. If you want to learn more about business simulations, please visit www.hfxtraining.com.