The concept of the flipped classroom is becoming popular, spending classroom time applying learning versus actually learning. Progressive teachers and professors have been doing it for some time now, and it’s finally catching on with adults in the training industry.  So how do you replicate the college lab or application activity? In a few words – a computer-based business simulation.

Simulation is an ideal learning application tool since it appeals to all different learning styles as well as being highly relevant and interactive. Learners are placed in a role where they encounter situations and are met with various experiences. They must make decisions by analyzing numbers, reflecting on prior observations, or using knowledge. Learners then experience the outcomes of their decisions not only in terms of what happens next (concrete events), but also the emotional impact on others and the financial or business impact. This leads to reflection and thinking to determine future actions and decisions.

Since some of us learn from experience, feeling, observing, conceptualizing and experimenting, a computer-based simulation can do all of these things.

  • Learn through experience and doing: A computer-based simulation is by nature a learn-by-doing activity. Learners are faced with situations and must make decisions. Placed in realistic situations, learners must implement new ways of doing things or practice new skills and experience the impact and outcome of their decisions in the form of financial results as well as the reaction of simulation characters.
  • Learn by observing and reflecting: When a team is faced with a simulated scenario or challenge, its members must reflect on their relevant experience and/or knowledge in order to apply it to the current situation. As the group gathers information from various sources and perspectives, this period of reflection helps many solidify their learning.
  • Learn by conceptualizing and thinking: A simulation encourages learners to hypothesize and try out new ideas. For learners who focus on the how of a situation or challenge, a simulation –especially one that requires learners to work in teams – forces the learner to articulate their thoughts to others. Otherwise the participant may get caught up in the conceptualization phase and stay inactive for too long.

None of this is new though, simulation has always had these benefits and has been a great learn-by-doing tool. What is different in the flipped classroom is that the simulation takes the center stage. It is no longer the application activity after a lecture. It replaces the lecture and is the classroom event.

First, the simulation must be self-explanatory. Directions need to be explicit and crystal clear. The more this is done, the better learners can get started with application. The flipped classroom environment is about minimizing the lecture and getting right into the application.

Next, the activities of the simulation must tie directly to the knowledge and skills the participants previously learned. If you need to give a lecture or explain the linkage, then you haven’t designed an effective simulation activity. The “aha” moment where the learner sees how what was learned in an e-learning module or video tutorial prior to the classroom applies to the simulation activity should occur in the simulation itself – not as a result of being told by the trainer.

The bottom line is that whether you’re ready or not, the flipped classroom is here – and it works – as long as you utilize the right tools such as computer-based simulation. The flipped classroom is all about the learner, not the facilitator or trainer.  In making the transition, facilitators and trainers need to not only transform their lectures into e-learning modules and video tutorials that can be delivered pre-classroom, but also design and deliver effective application activities such as simulation. It’s all about facilitating learning, and in this environment, simulation can be a facilitator’s best tool.