Research around computer simulation all expounds upon its benefits – it engages learners, makes learning fun, increases retention, solidifies learning and builds skills. Yet, if this is the case, it would seem that its use would be almost commonplace by now, especially with all the technology and tools that allow simulations to be created relatively quickly and affordably. So why is simulation still not used to a large extent?

There are many misconceptions around simulation. In looking at recent research, simulation is listed as a great tool for learners to apply new knowledge and skills. Anyone that has used simulation in training would overwhelmingly agree. Yet simulation is much more than a reinforcement and application tool. When defined in this way, simulation is a formal training method that falls into the 10 percent of the 70/20/10 model, where 70 percent of development comes from on-the-job experiences, 20 percent through people and coaching, and the final 10 percent through formal training.

In reality, when designed and delivered in a thoughtful way, simulation is just as much about learning from others as it is a vehicle to apply new knowledge and skills. When designed to do so, it can be an on-the-job experience. There are a few different ways to deliver simulation to capture these benefits.

Individual Simulation

The most traditional use of simulation is an individual simulation. The simulation recreates some real world experience or task so that learners can practice in a risk-free environment. It’s like the flight simulator analogy. Pilots individually practice different techniques in a simulator so they are ready when they encounter those or similar conditions back on-the-job.  These individual simulations can be found in e-learning modules and in formal training classes. When teaching a new software system this is a great way to do it.  The drawback to this type of individual simulation is that it is only a formal training application tool.

Team Simulation

If you take the same concept of recreating real-world experiences, but this time place learners into teams with their peers from various backgrounds and areas of the company, you can create an environment to learn from others. Team-based simulation is a way of encouraging discussion and shared learning. According to Josh Bersin in his book, “The Blended Learning Book,” people retain only five percent of what they hear, 10 percent of what they read, 20-30 percent of what they hear, and almost 50 percent of what they learn through discussion and interaction. By delivering simulation in teams, you can dramatically increase retention through this shared learning experience. This is what experiential learning is all about.

Competitive, Team Simulation

Simulation can be taken a step further by having the simulation completed in teams competing against each other. This can be an extra motivator to some, yet even for those that are not naturally drawn to competition, the competitive element adds a time management and team coordination factor that just isn’t as apparent without the competition. Now it’s not just about collectively applying new knowledge and skills – it’s also about applying knowledge and skills to achieve the best possible results in the fastest time. The combination of time and comparison of results forces learners to build connections and relationships faster – and possibly interact with thought leaders or other professionals in order to achieve the best possible results.

In summary, simulation is a valuable learning tool no matter what. But to appeal to today’s learners that are often overwhelmed, distracted and impatient – team simulations and competitive team simulations have much more appeal. They go beyond a mere application tool and allow for collaboration and fun as they create an experience where learners can share knowledge with each other. This makes learning more effective for the organization and more engaging for the learner.