Time Tables

During the simulation small teams of learners work independently on the simulation. At the end of the simulation to share, embed and ensure transfer, these teams should come together for explore, compare and review their actions.

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For each of my business simulations I provide one or more specimen time tables. Time tables that I know from experience work - time tables that are neither too long nor too short. This page provides background information about designing time tables and why, based on extensive experience using simulation in the classroom, I design our time tables the way I do.

The menu to the right allows you to jump to a specific topic.

Information here
Briefing and Preparation
Decision Processing
Decision-making Cycle
Number of Decision Cycles
Ancillary Tasks
Accelerating the Business Simulation
Increasing the Cycle Length
Simulation Review

Briefing and Preparation

The first stage of using a simulation involves becoming familiar with the task, the business that is to be managed, the issues facing it , the decisions and the results. To help with this there is a written participants' manual and a briefing.

I find providing the written participants' manual beforehand is rarely productive as most learners will not read it, others will reads it on receipt and then forget about it and the rest will read at the last minute and not reflect on the content. So, I find it better to provide the participants' manual at the start of the simulation run and back this with a short visual presentation. Because of this our participants' manuals are deliberately short (from two pages to typically eight pages). I do this because experience in the classroom has shown us that business people will not read a long brief as this will take too long. I have found that it is better, when necessary, for learners to ask for additional explanations from the tutor rather than overload the participants' manual with information that might on the rare occasion be necessary.

The length of time from the start of the simulation to the point where learners make their first decision depends on the complexity of the simulation. Typically for a simulation lasting a day (like the Challenge Series simulations) this is an hour and a half to two hours. For shorter simulations it is significantly less (perhaps as little as half an hour for the Concepts Series) and will be longer for simulations lasting longer than a day.

It can be useful for simulations lasting a day or more to position the simulation so that the briefing and preparation is time tabled just before or a meal or in the evening with the first decision submitted just after the meal or first thing the next morning. This allows learners to extend their preparation into meal time or into the evening. I remember once I ran two one day simulations on a course. I briefed the first simulation on the Monday evening and ran it through the Tuesday. As is often the case, the learners over estimated their business prowess and did were not as successful as they expected. I briefed the second simulation on the Wednesday evening (to run on the Thursday). Motivated to do better that their competitors, four teams worked until 2 am, a fifth to 4 am and the sixth insisted that they worked in shifts all night! I cannot remember which team did best. If running the simulation on a residential course it is not a good idea for the learners to know your bedroom number as there is a risk that you will be phoned in the middle of the night with an important question.

Decision Processing

For Direct Use simulations where learners enter decisions asynchronously there is no time table issue, but for Tutor Mediated simulations where the tutor enters decisions on behalf of the learners decision processing is an issue. Specifically, from the time learners enter their decision to the time they receive their results they are likely to be idle, waiting in anticipation for their results. Because of this our simulations are designed to minimise decision entry and result printing time. How do I do this?

Minimising Decision Entry Time: This is done in several ways

  1. By allowing the decisions from individual teams to be entered in any order. Typically, although some teams wait until the last minute to enter decisions others submit decisions early. This means that the early decisions are entered early.
  2. The decision-entry template is pre-populated with appropriate decisions (typically the previous period's decisions). This means that only the decisions that change need to be entered.
  3. The interface is lean and efficient you can navigate around using the mouse or arrow keys and where you do not have to search for what needs to be entered.

Minimising Decision Entry Problems: This is done several ways

  1. By only allowing reasonable key presses. So for example, if you are entering a number, only the number keys are enabled (if you accidentally press a letter, this is ignored).
  2. By warning of illegal or unusual decisions. So a zero price will be rejected as unusual but zero advertising will be commented on (but accepted as possibly radical or possibly foolish).
  3. Allow the decisions to be printed so you have a physical record of what was actually entered.
  4. For, Direct Use simulations and my most complex Tutor Mediated simulations, online explanations of the decisions.

Minimising Result Printing Times: This is done by automating the process and printing in stages so that the learners receive some preliminary results to work on while the full results are printed.

Re-Running: Occasionally something goes wrong, a team makes the wrong decision or, for Tutor Mediated Simulations, the tutor misreads and enters a decision wrongly. As described above, our designs minimises decision entry problems, but even so some times you have to re-run a period. All our simulations allow you to do this as all results are journalised and for Tutor Mediated and our most complex Direct Use simulations decisions are also journalised. This means that it is always possible to go back to any previous period, re-enter decisions and re-simulate. Where the decisions are journalised, only the incorrect decision needs to be re-entered before re-simulation. This means that you need to re-run, this is done quickly and with minimal disruption.

Decision-making Cycle

This is consists of decision making, results analysis, performance review and re-planning and needs to be repeated six to eight times. If the number of decisions made remain the same through out the simulation then, as teams learn, there is an opportunity to reduce the length of the later decision entry cycles. Where new decisions or reports are introduced as the simulation progresses then the length of later decision cycles are likely to remain reasonably constant and if addition tasks are introduced the individual decision-making cycles may need to be lengthened.

Number of Decision Cycles

For learning to be ensured a business simulation must simulate several periods (or stages) - have several decision-making cycles.

Our Tutor Mediated simulations are designed for learners to run at least six simulated periods as I have found for these simulations that this is the optimum balance between learning and efficient use of learners' time.

For our Direct Use simulations the number of periods (or stages) differ depend on the simulation. Again the number is an optimum balance between learning and efficient use of time.

Increasing the number of periods simulated can lead to some additional learning. But I feel that for simulations where the optimum is six periods simulating beyond eight periods is inefficient.

Reducing the number of periods from say six to four or five is possible for the most experienced and senior learners but I do not advocate it.

It is worth mentioning that some simulations developed for academic use run for twelve or more periods. I feel that for business learners this is a waste of their time and so have designed our simulations to focus on specific learning objectives and do not include decisions and results that are not relevant to these. Additionally, the active involvement of the trainer ensures that learning is driven forward expeditiously!

Ancillary Tasks

On occasion I have found it useful to include additional tasks during the simulation. For each of these I suggest the time required for the task.

Accelerating the Business Simulation

Based on award winning research and experience in the classroom my simulations have a recommended duration. However, I recognise that there is considerable pressure to reduce the length of training courses and so here I discuss ways of shortening a simulation's duration and the risks associated with this. For our short duration simulations - those with a duration of half-a-day or less - I recommend that you do not shorten the duration. For our Challenge Series (business acumen) simulations it is possible, in some circumstances, to reduce the duration from a day to half a day. There are two ways to reduce duration:

  1. Reduce the Decision-Making Cycle
  2. Reduce the number of periods simulated

Reducing the Decision-Making Cycle can be appropriate where the simulation is being used with very experienced, senior managers or where the business simulation is used as a business conference rather than to deliver learning. This is because reducing the decision-making cycle increases cognitive load to the extent that the learners do not have adequate time to reflect and think through their decisions thus they spending too little or no time reflecting and concept forming (Short Circuited Experiential).

Reducing the number of periods may be appropriate for very complex simulations where duration is a major limiting factor. Here it may be possible to cut the number of periods simulated to four from the more normal six. However, there is a risk that the learners will not have learnt enough and it is likely to be necessary to have a longer review session to correct this

Using "dead time": Generally, learners are enthused to work long and hard on a business simulation. Thus, as discussed in the section on Briefing and Preparation, starting a business simulation in the evening can save normal teaching time. Likewise when the simulation is spread through a course as a theme, timing the decision periods so that results are returned just before coffee breaks and lunch means that the learners will use these to work on the simulation..

I am always happy to discuss you needs and advise.

Increasing the length of the Decision-Making Cycle

During the simulation it may become necessary to adjust the time table to give learners more time to make decisions or to increase pressure by reducing the time between decisions. This problem tends to occur where the learners have less prior learning than envisaged. In particular, if you think that the Experiential Learning Cycle is being short-circuited - teams making decisions without sufficient thought - you need to adjust the time pressures and challenge their decisions.

Simulation Review

The final stage of a simulation involves the groups combining to discuss and review their individual performances and learning. The tutoring aspects of this is explained on a separate review page, here I discuss the time table issues. Except for short simulations (of half a day or less), it is beneficial if each team gives a short presentation. The preparation for a very short board presentation will take about half an hour. A longer presentation an hour and, if extensive use of visual aids is required, longer. Because of this, it saves time if preparation is scheduled for after dinner or over a lunch break.

2010 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 07/01/15
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail
jeremyhall@simulations.co.uk