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Business simulations are one of many teaching modalities available to professors. Yet, while the research shows that business simulations are (when compared to lectures, case studies and textbooks) the most popular teaching tool there is amongst current users*, they are viewed with caution by non-users, who are often concerned about the relevance and complexity of the method.
In this, the second article in our Business Simulation Implementation 101 series, we hope to dispel these fears by giving you a 9 step process to effectively integrate business simulations with an existing curriculum, based on three phases: planning, implementation, and evaluation.
*Developments In Business Simulation & Experiential Exercises, Volume 23, 1996 BUSINESS SIMULATION GAMES: CURRENT USAGE LEVELS A TEN YEAR UPDATE A. J. Faria, University of Windsor Ray Nulsen, Xavier University
Step 1: Identify the Curriculum
Business simulations are used on business programs at graduate, undergraduate and secondary school level. Simulations may fit better in some programs than others, and equally may fit better within some modules than others.
There may be less flexibility with curriculum content at secondary schools, where the teaching focus is on obtaining results in standardized university entry exams. As such, more care should be taken to adapt the business simulation to ensure the very specific learning outcomes tested by relevant exam boards.
Alternatively, many secondary school’s have excellent extra-curricular business education programs, and business simulation games can fit beautifully into such programs with minimal adaptations.
Step 2: Identify which outcomes are best addressed by business simulations
We strongly believe that business simulations are effective at driving learning outcomes in almost any part of a business program. For example, a broad ‘strategy’ game that requires students to engage with financing, marketing, production and HR decisions could be easily adapted to teach, support and reinforce:
- An introductory module such as ‘principles of management’
- A ‘capstone’ module that concludes the program.
- Function specific modules such as:
- Strategic management: to understand competitive strategies and strategic planning
- Marketing: to understanding pricing, segmentation and product lifecycles
- Finance: Cashflow forecasting and management accounting
- Operations Management: Demand forecasting and production management
- People and Organisations: Workforce management and compensation strategy
Step 3: Identify appropriate business simulation
With the multitude of business simulation games out there, it is important for program and course directors to select their provider carefully.
Business simulations are either dynamic (the participants play against each other and their success depends on the ability to react to the strategy of the other participants) or static (there is only 1 right answer). They are also either general / strategic (typically longer lasting), or function specific in their focus (perhaps only last a few ’rounds’, or could be delivered in 1 session, in an effort to drive a very specific learning outcome).
Dynamic and broad simulations demand the most from the students and professors, but are unquestionably the most rewarding type of game because they give students a realistic exposure to and understanding of the decision making and leadership challenges that come with running a business. They also defy participants efforts to ‘reverse engineer’ success (there is no cracking the code – you are competing against humans!) and fit in well with the ‘learn by doing’ approach that is now so popular.
Step 4: Determine mode of delivery
The best business simulations are flexible in the way in which they are delivered. Popular modes of delivery are:
- In the classroom
- In a specific part of a course (perhaps condensed into an intensive workshop)
- Over an entire course (often simulations are run over a 16 week semester)
- Via a blended version of all of the above (perhaps having the simulation introduced in a half day workshop, and running the rest of the simulation remotely)
Step 5: Plan feedback mechanisms
A standard part of most courses, having a standardized feedback mechanism for the students to feedback to the teacher, and for the teacher to feedback to the simulation provider is essential.
These feedback mechanisms need to support in-game communication and also end of game reviews. It might be as simple as ensuring that lines of email communication are established before the game starts, and that there is a end of game questionnaire for students and teacher to complete.
Step 6: Pilot and roll-out
Its always best to start with a pilot of the business simulation, as this allows the teacher to better assess it’s dynamics and effectiveness, and subsequently be more confident when rolling the game out formally.
Step 7: Evaluate learning outcomes
There are three different ways to assess learning outcomes in a dynamic, strategic business simulation game: the final score, parallel assignments and end of course exam results.
i/ The Final Score: The best simulations will automatically score and rank the different participating teams at the end of the game. Depending on the professor’s preferences and course objectives, these scores can be a key assessment point, as all things equal, the teams with the highest scores have probably worked the hardest and have the best understanding of the tools and techniques of effective business management.
ii/ Parallel assignments: However, in order to more accurately assess the specific learning outcomes required by the curriculum, teachers should also have students submit assignments focused on relevant topics throughout the game. See table 1 below for an example:
Note that the final assignment should allow for participant’s to critically assess their performance over the course of the game and explain where they could have made better decisions. The best simulations assist this by providing automated reports that show all the decisions made by different teams over the course of the game, so that the participants can see where and why a particular competitive strategy succeeded or failed.
An advantage of these assignments is that they can also circumvent the freeloader problem, as they can require individual work and provide an opportunity for students to identify team members who didn’t pull their weight. This helps teachers be more equitable in end of course grading.
iii/ End of course exams: At secondary school level in particular, where in the UK for example, the AQA, OCR and Pearson A-level exam boards are the most popular examining bodies for Business, the best evidence of the effectiveness of a business simulation in driving learning outcomes should come with improvements in exam performance. Business simulations, when properly set up and adapted to a curriculum, can powerfully enhance learning.
Step 8: Evaluate teacher and student satisfaction
An MBA program director may require professors to use a particular business simulation, particularly when there is an established commercial relationship between the simulation provider and the business school. In such instance, the program director should regularly obtain feedback from the relevant teachers to identify any problems with the simulation software and supporting materials. With a number of different simulation providers out there, any negative feedback may stimulate a business school to look for another simulation better suited to the teacher and curriculum.
Likewise any student dissatisfaction, especially if it repeats over different classes, may suggest a need to reappraise your simulation provider.