Simulations present problem situations for employees to work through – usually in a team. For example, a team of employees tries to manage a growing food truck business, with the goal of learning how to make dynamic business decisions. After the simulation, there are debriefing sessions with experts who talk to employees about what went right, what went wrong, how to improve and what the main takeaways should be.
There are two main ways to use simulations for teaching:
1. You might create a simulation that directly mimics a situation your employees will face at work. This gives them practice doing the exact thing they will be doing in the future.
2. You can create a simulation that simply incorporates many of the skills your employees need to do their work. Most companies don’t work in the food truck business, but the food truck simulation involves making business decisions in a changing competitive environment, which is something all companies face.
There are several advantages to the simulation approach. Many companies are concerned with developing soft skills, like critical thinking and cooperation. Simulations are ideal for teaching these skills.
Most experiences with simulations also form narratives that can be particularly memorable. Simulations can incorporate various technologies, such as interactive visualizations and augmented reality. But they can be low-tech too – think board games.
It’s vital for employees to have the debrief with an expert, which should elicit employee observations before making general points about the exercise. Several research studies point to the effectiveness of “telling” (or direct instruction) after meaningful experiences. The experience of the simulation alone, without the debrief, may create misconceptions.
Simulations are probably not the best way of imparting detailed information to employees. Most employees will walk away from the experience with an intuitive understanding of some of the main concepts involved – in other words, they’ll get the gist – but if it’s fine knowledge of details you want them to learn, it might be more effective to combine micro-learning with simulations.