Real-world Applications of Simulations

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--Originally created by Liz Hood March 2010--

Linden Labs popular simulation Second Life
One of the most challenging aspects of the educational arena is relating the skills and content taught in isolation to the real world. Educators tend to provide rigidly constructed instruction with a designated outcome. Limitations of time, resources and training greatly impact the ability of educators to provide real-life experiences within the confines of the brick and mortar classroom. Thus, artificially constructed environments have long been a staple in the educational arena. While a simulation remains an artificially constructed environment, the application of Constructivist Learning Environments theory and technological advances enable simulations to more closely emulate real world scenarios. In what Daniel Pink terms the "conceptual age", skills which are crucial to the shift from an industrial age society to a knowledge based society are transitory and transferable (Pink, 2006). With vast differences and rapid changes in environments, one means of gaining a repertoire of skills and experiences is through the use of simulations.

According to Marc Prensky, each gaming experience provides learning opportunities in five distinct areas: how, what, why, where and when/whether (Prensky, 2006). While not all games are simulations and not all simulations are games, many digital based games (see the entry Digital_Game-Based_Learning) proffer an immersive, rich environment through which experiences gained provide students with valuable knowledge and skills which are applicable to real world scenarios.


NFL Madden Team Management
Business simulations proffer an immersive environment in which marketing strategies and investment opportunities can be practiced without the expense and risk of capital outlay.
NFL Madden
Demanding customers and changing markets conditions can be manipulated to afford practice in both customer relations as well as economic processes. Additionally, participants become familiar with global regulations regarding domestic and international business practices. Even such popular entertainment games such as EA Sport's NFL Madden incorporate a business element in the management portion of the game. Players are no longer limited to simply honing their skills as a sports coach, but can also experiment with sports management skills.

Law Enforcement:

From weapons instruction to interpersonal skills, simulations play an important role in the training of law enforcement.
SWAT weapons simulation
The ability of simulations to provide the quickest scenario setting ensures an entire spectrum of training environments.
The development of automatic responses under a variety of scenarios enables law enforcement to cultivate the ability to react quickly and competently (B. Cashier, personal communication, January 30, 2010). The popular series Call of Duty and in particular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 provides a glimpse of an immersive environment which parallels many real world scenarios of law enforcement as well as military.
Modern Warfare 2

Medical: The medical field uses simulations to train practitioners in a multitude of skills and environments. While many of the simulations focus on medical procedures, simulations also afford students the opportunity to develop communication and teamwork skills. Research studies show the use of simulations increases improvement in multiple medical areas from surgery to procedural skills(Okuda, 2009).

Hospital Town

While an incomplete experience, obstetrics simulations give the practitioners a visual understanding of an experience that cannot be fully emulated outside of the actual environment (K. Nance, personal communication, March 3, 2010). Medical simulations allow practitioners to apply theory to practice while gaining competencies in varied settings; opportunities which would be limited by the traditional rigidity of clinical experience.


Simulations comprise a large portion of the preparation of the United States warrior. From basic training to active duty, the soldier is immersed in both simulated and reality environments.
flight gear
The U.S. military designs simulations to be relevant as well as realistic and thus an integral part of the training process. Military simulations seek to bridge the gap between the classroom instruction and the actual experience; targeting the development of (1) muscle memory, (2) a course of action based on contingencies and
flight simulation
(3) a trained reaction. Simulations are used as a means to provide both preparation and correction (J. Tester, personal communication, February 23, 2010). While simulations aid the trainee to confront the most common combat mistakes and allows the instructor to make corrections in a timely manner, simulations can never fully emulate the real world situation. The reality is unpredictable and fluid. Simulations cannot substitute for the “seat of the pants” experience afforded by active engagement (K. Cooper, personal communication, February 23, 2010). Even with its limitations, simulations have proven to be an integral and valuable component to every form of training the military uses today (G. R. Kast, personal communication, December 14, 2009).
Modern Warfare 2
Tom Clancy's HAWX


Classroom Flight Simulator
While not traditionally associated with simulations the educational arena is utilizing simulations as a means of providing experience. Simulations, from an educational standpoint, allows students the opportunity to gain real world experience while in the classroom.
Classroom GPS Simulator
Children can use simulations to be create, innovative, and limitless. Within the classroom, students can simulate being a pilot, an engineer, a computer programmer, an astronaut, an animator, a stylist, and an electrician. These opportunities and skills will afford students the opportunity to excel in non-traditional core classroom disciplines (R. Hamm, personal communication, March 8, 2010). Educational leaders also benefit from the use of simulations which allow leadership and team building skills to be cultivated in a variety of socio-economic environments, allowing for low-risk development of transferable experiences.

Conclusion Training a human to be adaptable under stress is elusive without the actual situation. Classroom instruction will never be able to fill the knowledge gap between school and reality. Simulation, on the other hand, can erase common mistakes and bring a student closer to the reality experience. It is not the physical verisimilitude that provides the immersive environment for the participant, but the cognitive realism afforded by complex and engaging tasks. The exposure to and completion of the tasks (afforded by the simulation) develop the necessary knowledge and skills which are transferable to the “live” context.


Cashier, Bob. "Simulations." Personal interview. 30 Jan. 2010.

Ching-Huei, C., & Howard, B. (2010). Effect of Live Simulation on Middle School Students' Attitudes and Learning toward Science. Journal of Educational Technology & Society,13(1), 133-139. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Cooper, Kevin. "Simulations." Personal interview. 23 Feb. 2010.

Dalgarno, B., & Lee, M. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments?. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 10-32. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01038.x.

Hamm, Robert. "Simulations." E-mail interview. 5 Mar. 2010.

Hew, K., & Cheung, W. (2010). Use of three-dimensional (3-D) immersive virtual worlds in K-12 and higher education settings: A review of the research. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 33-55. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00900.x.

Idol, Chris. "Simulations." Personal interview. 5 Mar. 2010

Issenberg, S., McGaghie, W., Petrusa, E., Lee Gordon, D., & Scalese, R. (2005). Features and uses of high-fidelity medical simulations that lead to effective learning: a BEME systematic review. Medical Teacher, 27(1), 10-28. Retrieved from MEDLINE with Full Text database.

Kast, George R. "Simulations." E-mail interview. 14 Dec. 2009

MLB Front Office Manager Review - Xbox 360 Review at IGN. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2010, from

Moizer, J., Lean, J., Towler, M., & Abbey, C. (2009). Simulations and games: Overcoming the barriers to their use in higher education. Active Learning in Higher Education, 10(3), 207-224. doi:10.1177/1469787409343188.

Nance, Kathleen. “Medical Simulations.” Personal interview. 3 Mar. 2010

Okuda, Y., Bryson, E., DeMaria Jr., S., Jacobson, L., Shen, B., Levine, A., et al. (2009). The Utility of Simulation in Medical Education: What Is the Evidence?. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 76(4), 330-343. doi:10.1002/msj.20127.

Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead, 2006. Print.

Prensky, M. (2006). "Don't bother me Mom, I'm learning!": how computer and video games are preparing your kids for twenty-first century success and how you can help! St. Paul, Minn.: Paragon House.

Rieber, L., & Noah, D. (2008). Games, simulations, and visual metaphors in education: antagonism between enjoyment and learning. Educational Media International, 45(2), 77-92. doi:10.1080/09523980802107096.

Salas, E., Wildman, J., & Piccolo, R. (2009). Using Simulation-Based Training to Enhance Management Education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 8(4), 559-573. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database

Tao, Y., Cheng, C., & Sun, S. (2009). What influences college students to continue using business simulation games? The Taiwan experience. Computers & Education, 53(3), 929-939. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.05.009

Tester, Joe. "Simulations." Personal interview. 23 Feb. 2010.

Wilson, L. (2009). Using Games and Simulations in the Classroom. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 16(3), 26-30. Retrieved from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text database. (2009). Using online simulation in child health nurse education. Paediatric Nursing, 21(8), 32-36. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.