Business Simulation Structural Design: Meta-Composition

Composition is an "approach to art through structure [that] is absolutely opposed to the time-honored approach through imitation" (Dow, 1913). Meta-composition for business simulations concerns the structural design of the simulation to ensure effective and efficient learning and is unrelated to the business modelled.






Site Map










Home > Meta-Composition Overview

Composition knowledge and use separates the amateur artist from the professionally trained artist. Dow (1913) states "good drawing results from trained judgment not from making facsimiles". and arguably the same is true for business simulations where the word drawing is replaced by the word learning. Poore (1903) suggests that "without composition, there can be no picture" and it can be argued for business simulations that "without meta-composition there can be no simulation" (Hall, 2015).

Meta-composition focuses on cognition (learning) and cognitive load (duration) rather than content and it is the design elements that ensure effective and efficient learning.  

This page introduces meta-composition and provides links to other pages that explore individual meta-compositional elements in detail.  (I use the term meta-composition rather than the term composition to  differentiate between it and the structural composition of software).

meta-composition elements relative to the experiential learning cycle

Information about linkages Information about model domain Information about interaction domain Information about progressions Cognitive Prompt Cognitive Prompt Cognitive Prompt Reflection Trigger Reflection Trigger

Click on diagram to go to pages with more detail or scroll down for more information

Temporal-Topical Progressions

The meta-composition cognitive progression of a business simulation over time can be done by pre-planned changes in the economic situation, by introducing tasks and issues to be focused on at different stages and involve the introduction of new decisions and reports. The business situation can change with new competition entering the markets, new technology becoming available etc. Different reports can be introduced that involve participants viewing their business in different ways and, finally, sudden changes can be introduced on an ad hoc basis.

The purposeful design of the simulation's learning journey is crucial to learning (cognition), engagement (affection) and simulation duration (cognitive load)

Learn more about Progressions

Decision/Model/Result Links

This meta-compositional element involves the structural linkages between decisions, the model and results and how these impact cognitive processing, cognitive load and ambiguity. These structural linkages range from complex (intersecting) to simpler ones where a single decision is linked by the model to a result and ones where the linkage does not include all elements.

The purposeful design of these linkages are crucial to learning (cognition) and simulation duration (cognitive load).

Learn more about Linkages.

Model Domain: Simplicity & Stylisation

The simulation model is positioned in two dimensional space where one axis is the degree of simplification and the other is the degree of stylisation. Stylisation involves amplifying the way the model responds and reduces the amount of cognitive processing needed to unravel the links between decisions and results. Simplification involves removing elements that are irrelevant to the learning purpose and reduce cognitive load and duration.

Simplicity and stylisation is crucial to learning effectiveness and efficiency as an overly complex simulation model will confuse and overwhelm learners and add significantly to cognitive load .

Learn more about the Model Domain

Interaction Domain: Ambiguity & Granularity

Like the simulation model, interactions (decisions & results) are positioned in two dimensional space where one axis is the degree of ambiguity of the decision or result and the other the granularity (detail). Ambiguity determines the amount of thinking necessary to make a decision and interpret the extent to which a result is caused by decisions. Decision granularity defines the range of choice with numeric decisions being highly granular and multiple choice and Yes/No decisions being low granularity. For results granularity impactes the amount of processing with raw data high granularity adding to cognitive load.

Ambiguity and granularity ensure appropriate cognition and cognitive load.

Learn more about the Interaction Domain

Cognitive Prompts and Reflection Triggers

Cognitive Prompts are pre-planned nuggets of information provided at key points in the decision-making cycle to get participants to step back and discuss. Reflection Triggers are comments about decisions and results produced reactively as the simulation progresses to highlight issues, strengths and weaknesses and cause participants to discuss and reflect on their actions.

Learn more about Cognitive Prompts and Reflection Triggers.

It is possible that a business simulation that lauds its reality without consideration of meta-composition is the learning equivalent of an amateur photographer's snap! - a vanity rather than a learning experience!

Papers & Articles

My interest in improving business simulation design and use goes back decades and over the years have written many articles and papers. Central to meta-composition are two papers.

A paper introducing my Systems Dynamics Learning Journey Model that is central to Temporal-Topical Progressions - Computerised Management Games: the feedback process and servo-mechanism analogy

My meta-composition structures presentation keynoted the 2008 ISAGA Conference and an abbreviated version was presented at the 2009 ABSEL Conference - Corporate Cartooning: The Art of Computerised Business Simulation Design

Besides these design theory models I have also published papers that explore the practicalities of meta-composition use when designing actual business simulations.

Challenging the Sales Force - a paper describing how Temporal-Topical design allowed more and better learning to be packed into a tight schedule

Designing the Training Challenge - a detailed look at the design of a business simulation - presented at the 2012 ABSEL Conference and nominated for the best paper award.

Business Simulations: Reality and Beyond - presented at the 2015 ABSEL Conference this paper contrasted the need for reality with the needs of adult learners, discussed learning effectivness and efficiency and described meta-composition.

Time and the meta-compositional elements of business simulations - a draft paper exploring meta-composition and how to reduce business simulation duration without impacting learning.


Dow, Arthur Wesley (1913) COMPOSITION A series of exercises in art structure for the used of students and teachers Doubleday, Page & Company, New York

Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (2015) Business Simulations: Reality .......... and Beyond! Developments in Business Simulation & Experiential Exercises, Volume 42

Poore, Henry Rankin (1903) Pictorial Composition and the Critical Judgement of Pictures G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London

2015 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 28/07/15
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail