Training & Tech from the Frontlines: Takeaways from AOM2018

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We recently attended the 78th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management conference in Chicago and it proved to be a wonderful opportunity to connect with world-class business academics, educators and edutech providers. After participating in some excellent workshops and breakout sessions and chatting with some of the best brains in the industry, these are our top 5 takeaways from the conference.

#1 Technology in the classroom

Technology in the classroom is here to stay. Whether as a means of increasing student engagement, reducing teacher workload, or improving learning outcomes, edutech is a dominant feature of today’s academic landscape. In this landscape, simulations are but one small component – in addition, you have tech tools focused on research, data analytics, case studies and game-based learning amongst others.

#2 The growing popularity of Business Simulations in Academia

We met a host of Strategy and Management professors that already have a vast wealth of experience in using Business Simulations in the classroom. Their consistent message was that Business simulations have dramatically increased levels of student engagement and satisfaction while improving learning outcomes in their classes.

Many professors said that they like to use simulations at the beginning of a program in order to sensitize students to the importance of various business functions, as otherwise, some students from a specialised background may ‘switch off’ during certain modules, not realising the strategic impact of that function.

Still others report that they like to use simulations at the end of a program to pull together and put into practice all the knowledge that students in the course of their studies. Particularly, they were always impressed at the ability of the competitive simulation class format to drive engagement in students who had otherwise started to tire of their studies.

#3 The breadth of simulation game types and providers

This year’s exhibitor hall boasted a wide array of business simulation providers, and we met many more at simulation focused workshops. Our assessment is that the business simulation landscape can be divided into several, sometimes overlapping clusters.

The most sophisticated games are multi-player games that model and account for the challenges of making decisions in a competitive, dynamic environment. Simpler games have a single player format, where the player ‘plays against the computer’.

In parallel to this, some games are designed to be longer duration, multi-round/multi-decision cycle games, often used as the back-bone of a semester-long course, whereas other games are stand-alone tools that may last only three hours and might be typically used to drive home particular and specific teaching points.

Another way to group the games is between those that are focused on function specific decision making versus those that are company-wide in their scope, with players needing to make decisions on overall strategy, marketing, HR, production and finance.

 #4 The difference between simulation and gamulation/gamification

Simulations are a fine example of what is very much the educational zeitgeist, ‘Gamification’. Applying the principles of game-based learning to knowledge areas is widely understood to improve learning outcomes, student engagement e.t.c.

However, some edutech providers offering simulation-based learning tools, offer what we would consider examples of ‘gamulation’ rather than simulation. What we mean by this, is that their focus is on making learning fun by giving the learner an avatar in which to play a role in a scenario, and maybe offering multiple choice options for the student making the decision.

This is a much simpler tool than the simulations that we typically work with. The difference between the two is analogous to the difference between the flight simulators you might find at an arcade, where your plane flies on a fixed course through a map with limited freedom to maneuver, and the high-end simulations where the user has complete freedom to explore a multidimensional map, in this case a fictional industry ecosystem.

#5 Simulations as executive training tools

Although the conference was focused on business academia, we had an opportunity to discuss the use of simulation games in a corporate environment. Each of the simulation providers we chatted with generate at least a significant minority of their revenue in the corporate market. It seems that HR departments around the world are increasingly aware of the benefits of using simulations as executive training tools.

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