This page was originally authored by Carolann Fraenkel (2008).
Simulation refers to the recreation or modeling of a real event. Simulations can model either physical systems or social systems through another means. Simulation is used widely in both training and education as a means of providing active learning in realistic and authentic situations. Simulations create a bridge from the learning environment to the real world. Learners become the participants of the simulation activity and the teacher becomes the controller of the mechanics. Simulation is a learner-centric activity that shifts the power and responsibilities of obtaining the objective from the teacher to the learner.
Simulations vary in nature from basic human actions including activities such as role playing and acting, or technology supported events that are administered by the controller including advanced flight simulators and medical diagnostic tools.
Types of Simulation
Clark Aldrich describes four types of genres of simulation used in education that focus on technology: virtual labs and products; branching stories; games based models; and interactive spreadsheets. Non-technology based simulations also exist and have been employed in education and training environments including role play and case study.
Educational simulations have the following characteristics:
1. They are not designed for the participants to have fun. This does not mean that the participants will not have fun;
2. They are designed as a formal learning program with specific learning objectives targeted.
3. The instructor or some other individual becomes the facilitator of the learning experience. The participant assumes the role and the responsibility to learn from the actions and reactions of the events experienced during the simulation;
4. They are tools for developing learner skills that are transferable to the real world; and
5. Simulations can be a game, but are not always a game. Games can also be simulation, but are not always simulations.
Virtual labs and products refer to a physical or virtual object that represents a real world object. These learning tools are designed to provide a cost effective means of training whereby the learner is able to explore the object in a scenario based system. An example of a virtual product is CyberCIEGE a Computer network security sim game developed by the Naval Postgraduate School. Players purchase and configure computers and network devices to keep users happy by providing (for example email and Internet services) and must at the same time protect their network from cyber attacks at the same time.
Branching stories refer to an activity consisting of a series of events that are linked by decision points and actions. They typically start with a list of choices. The learner selects a response at a decision point, and the outcome of that decision affects the rest of the decision making process. This simulation event is used to replace a tutor in the learning environment. The popular Choose your Own Adventure books are an example of a branching story. Branching stories are useful for training in complex environments where decision making is critical. The US Air Force uses branching stories to train technical trades in equipment troubleshooting procedures.
Game based Models
Game based models refer to the genre of educational entertainment based games whereby the learner may not know that they are actually engaged in learning. They have recently been referred to as Serious Games. These simulations are fun and rewarding for the learner. There are many commercial game based simulation models available including the popular Sims products, Roller coaster Tycoon and Civilization . There are also game based simulations that are designed for education such as Whyville http://www.whyville.net/ or Contagion http://contagion.edu.yorku.ca/
Interactive spreadsheets refer to simulation that introduces a systematic approach to events in real world terms. This category of educational simulation is commonly used in business or military training including policy, product/supply chain management, and accounting.. The learner is exposed to a system, provided the variables under which the system works, and is afforded the time to explore and practice within the variables. Interactive spreadsheets are commonly called systems dynamic simulations and acumen simulations.
Role play refers to an activity whereby the learner is assigned and must attempt to identify with the assigned role. Normally a facilitator will provide a scenario to frame the actions of the learner. The learner role plays and is provided both the experience of realistic events, often coupled with the experience of the “other”. The conclusion to the role play is a resulting discussion or debrief over what occurred and to analyse the event/activity. Role-playing Games (RPG's) are games in which players assume the role of a fictional character and follow a story line.
Case study refers to an activity that is focused on real events that have been sequenced and documented. In situations were case studies are used as simulation activities, the learner is provided the initial foundational information. The object is to make informed choices and discuss the answer. The learner may be provided the correct answer or the solution at the end of the simulation. This event allows the learner to make choices and to simulate what may have occurred based on the sequence of events known at the time.
Simulation in Training
Simulations are often used in training when the situation is either too dangerous or too expensive to use real materials in live situations. These training simulations come in three categories, live simulations, virtual simulations, and constructive simulations.
Live simulations occur when people use simulated equipment in the real world. For example dummies to teach artificial respiration and CPR have been in use for many years.
Virtual Simulations are where real people use simulated environments and equipment. An example would be war games or flight simulators.
Constructive simulations use virtual people (or avatars) and simulated environments. There are many medical simulations to teach decision making that are constructive simulations.
Simulation Games in Education
Simulations are useful tools for education. They allow students to develop a conceptual understanding of complex systems and allow teachers to manipulate, reduce or eliminate variables. Simulations can be high tech video games like the Sims game that teaches urban planning or low tech board games like "The Real Game" that teaches personal planning and career development.
Simulations allow learners to do the following:
1. Manipulate variables and observe their effects
2. View situations from new perspectives.
3. Observe behaviour over time.
4. Add hypothetical situations and observe the what if's
5. Visualize events in three dimensions
6. Compare their understanding of a system or situation with those of others.
7. Look at situations for bias or inaccuracy
While using a simulation does not ensure that students will learn, they do provide opportunities for learning and give teachers a starting point from which to reflect, collaborate and extend learning. Simulation games can provide fantasy, whimsy or a good story line, which can in turn help with student motivation and engagement. They can transfer goodwill and also lower stress levels of students who might have anxiety. They must, however, be balanced with sound pedagogy in order to be effective.
Educational Theory and Simulations
Simulations can be a valuable tool in constructivist theories of education, which suggest that deeper learning occurs when students construct knowledge. They require students to make decisions, make connections, choose relevant information, and analyze their choices in the context of the simulation. This experiential learning not only provides students with the look and feel of a real world situation, but also allows students to experiment, and discover the consequences of their actions in ways that are difficult to replicate with other pedagogical methods.
Computer simulations can also personalize the level for each student and scaffold their progress as they progress through the simulation. This immersion like experience is engaging for students and adds motivation to material that might otherwise be considered boring when it is presented out of context.
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Military Training & Simulation News
Simulation Nation http://www.edutopia.org/node/3341
What is simulation http://www.cis.ufl.edu/~fishwick/introsim/node1.html
Society for Modeling and Simulation International http://www.scs.org/
Informs Simulation Society http://www.informs-cs.org/