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Five Secret Mantras to Create Successful Online Simulations

Simulations in e-learning are not a recent development, but what’s new is the way they are being used in various contexts of online training. The approach to designing simulations, however, is something that’s widely misunderstood. Most experienced trainers think the ‘mantra’ to designing a simulation is similar to creating a workplace model of Monopoly; while they may sometimes succeed in being fun; they are rarely effective as training tools.

Here are five ‘mantras’ to ensure a safe passage through the marshy terrains of simulation design.

  1. Make sure your simulation is more than a replication

    Do not be tempted to make a small-scale replica of a real-world situation or environment, and call it a “simulation” because simulation is not merely replication. Simulations are re-creations of real-life environments, involving real-life situations that warrant a response from the learner, which must be clearly distinguished from replication, which means producing an exact structural copy.

    Simulations in e-learning bring the learner close to real life situations where they relate to their real-world experiences. This opens a horizon of doing and learning – a training where the learners are involved directly with their learning, keeping them motivated and involved as they play a decisive role in learning.

    Although it makes sense to keep the simulation as close to reality as possible to make the experience more ‘valid’ and memorable, assuming that they are the same can be quite detrimental. This assumption may be true for flight simulations – which use ‘replicated’ environments for airline pilots – however, it’s not true for, say, soft skills training.

  2. Know that not every subject can be simulated

    Some subjects are more suitable for simulation training than others, but there are no golden rules to determine the likely subjects. To make things easier, I have compiled a few training scenarios where simulations play a big part.

    • Software simulations, for example, can be used to train employees on new ERP software, because they show a step-by step process of how to use the software and also allow learners to try it in a virtual environment (also called as Watch-Try-Do simulations).
    • In the pharmaceutical field, simulations can be used to demonstrate drug development processes and the usage of patient management applications, allowing learners to use them in a risk-free environment.
    • Simulations can be used to provide experiential learning for product & sales training, to enrich the training program with simulated product presentations.
  3. Keep the simulations as short as possible

    Today’s workforce comprises mostly of Gen-Y employees. And a recent report by Microsoft revealed that Gen-Y learners have an attention that spans no more than 8 seconds.

    Employees are busy people, and may not have room in their schedule to sit through a 30-minute online training simulation. So, break your lengthy simulations into smaller, digestible chunks that learners can complete at their convenience. Also, “byte-sized” simulations make it easier to skim through the specific steps needed to perform a task without having to start at the very beginning.

  4. Allow learners to take responsibility for their actions

    Applying the learning gained through exposure to simulations, is the main purpose of simulations. Rather than jumping to a “do-or-die” mentality, simulations offer a safe environment for learners to practice and hone the necessary skills. However, learning itself is sidetracked when you deny learners the responsibility for their own actions. If learners can claim they did what they did only because the simulation suggested or encouraged that action, their motivation to learn takes a beating.

    You can avoid this, though.

    For example, instead of asking them to “pretend” to be the president of a company in a simulation, assign them the authority and responsibilities of the president. This way, when you allow learners to be themselves and not merely “actors”, you don’t compromise their stake in the learning outcome.

  5. Choose the appropriate authoring tool

    The choice of an authoring tool remains one of the important aspects of simulation-based e-learning. Because there are so many of them out there, it becomes a rather challenging task to choose the right tool. Choosing the right tool that suits your requirements will save you both development time and costs. Here’s a neat infographic on the top 10 authoring tools for developing simulation-based learning.

    A lot of today’s e-learning courses are just ‘A-to-B-to-C and D’ or ‘Tell, tell, tell, tell’, what’s essentially a passive form of learning, with no scope for “learning through mistakes”. Simulations, however, change how traditional e-learning is offered – by providing vital mistake-making environments.

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