Using a Business Simulation to Reinforce a Topic
A short business simulation is used instead of a case study or discussion to reinforce and test learning. Here I explore the simulation relative to other learning. reasons for use, practicalities of use and suggest some suitable business simulations.
Gaining knowledge on a course is vital but to ensure transfer it is necessary to use the knowledge gained to solve a real problem.
Reasons for Use
Practical Issues with use
Suitable Business Simulations
Knowledge acquisition is only part of the learning process. It is necessary for new knowledge to be used and linked to existing knowledge and experience. Case studies, role-plays, discussions and business simulations do this.
A good presenter can make course delegates believe they fully understand a subject but unless, this understanding is practically tested it is not proven. If this testing occurs "on the job", possibly several months later, remedial action is not possible. By following knowledge building sessions by practice sessions, understanding is tested and the tutor can take remedial action.
ADDRESS QUANTITATIVE ISSUES
By their nature simulations are number based. With the computer doing the necessary arithmetic executives can concentrate on the implications of their actions rather than doing arithmetic. This is not to say that, in some circumstances, it is necessary for participants to do arithmetic. For instance it can help learning if some calculations are done once to ensure participants fully understand how the results are derived.
Concentration on implications is an essential factor. Often, while teaching statistics for instance, all the emphasis is computational. This concentration on implications ensures that the executive can relate the session to the "real world" job. If this is not done the session may be perceived as a waste of time and, consequentially, learn little from it.
EXPLORE BUSINESS DYNAMICS
Business is not static. Actions taken yesterday have an effect today or even tomorrow. New products do not appear instantly, promotion takes time to percolate into the market, and inventories cannot be beamed, instantly, like a Star Trek actor to the four corners of the world. Because simulations are time based these dynamics can be explored in a way impossible in lectures and case studies.
Often, in the interest of efficiency, there is a tendency to have heavy periods of knowledge input. Changes of pace both refreshes delegates and provides an opportunity to reflect, think and discuss concepts and issues. The change of pace provided by business simulations is particularly effective since the work is practical and active (rather than passive and theoretical).
The practical, active test and challenge provided by a business simulation also stimulates - both thought and morale.
COMPLEMENT CASE STUDIES
Case studies are immensely powerful at exercising participants' ability to analyse critically a business problem and the recommendation of solutions. Except the discussion, during the review, of what actually happened, they do not address the implementation of the proposals. Further, they often emphasise the qualitative aspects of management at the expense of quantitative aspects.
Business simulations complement this. The emphasis is on implementation, decision-making and control, with results being measured in quantitative, financial terms. To ensure a balance, courses should include both case studies and simulations.
DURATION & TIMING
The amount of time that can be budgeted for reinforce a session is very limited. This means that business simulations must be simple, lasting from two to three hours. This duration, half a day or less, means that the simulation can be used in a morning or afternoon. Another, attractive option is evening use after dinner. (Delegates are usually willing to work after the normal ending time.) If the business simulation is briefed just before meal breaks, participants can reflect, think and discuss during the meal saving further time.
DIRECT USE OF SIMULATION
Short durations and time pressures means that suitable simulations are non-interactive where teams' decisions do not affect the results of others. These usually involve teams making direct use of a microcomputer. Each team must have access their own microcomputer and printer or share one with one or two other teams. Sharing can be beneficial since teams are forced to think and discuss between using the simulation (rather than "playing" with the computer).
Further information about Direct Use Simulations
MANAGING THE PROCESS
The main problem facing the tutor is to ensure that each team spends enough time reflecting, forming concepts and discussing. There is a tendency for teams to become mesmerised by the computer and, thoughtlessly, ask what-if questions. If the business simulation does not limit active experimentation then the tutor must "drag participants screaming and kicking from the microcomputer" and encourage them to discuss and think!
Source: Churchill Fellowship Study and chapter in my latest book - Corporate Cartooning Book (find out more).
Most recent update: 15/06/14
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