Research by The Conference Board and DDI (Development Dimensions Int’l, Inc.) recently highlighted an interesting shift in a decade’s old formula that’s been used by training professionals – 70:20:10 model. Learning and development takes place 70 percent on-the-job, 20 percent from others, and 10 percent from formal education. This research shows that today’s most effective organizations at leadership development actually have a breakdown that is 52 percent on-the-job, 27 percent from others, and 21 percent from formal education.  And while the research emphasizes that it’s not so much the exact percentage that matters most, but rather ensuring there is a mix, organizations are struggling to provide cost-effective and impactful formal learning.  Key barriers are making formal learning relevant and applicable. 

This is where computer simulation can be an effective tool for training professionals. Computer business simulation is a way to make formal learning relevant and applicable while also incorporating learning from others into formal learning to begin to shift these percentages. But not just any simulation, there are five elements to a great simulation.

Business Relevance

Simulation is often used because it’s fun. However, just being fun doesn’t result in business impact. The best simulations have a tie to where the organization and business is trying to go. This can only be done if the simulation is designed to mimic the business or model the business. It’s doesn’t have to be duplicate or exactly replicate, but it does need to be similar enough so there is a clear link between simulation and the real-world organization and business.

Learning Application

This is the learn-by-doing element. Present learners with situations in which they practice new skills and new ways of doing things. Simulation must tie directly to new knowledge and skills so learners can take advantage of applying learning and doing in a risk-free simulated environment. Better to make a mistake and learn from it in the simulation than back on-the-job.

Collective Decision Making

Use the simulation to foster collaboration and learning from others. Team-based decision making is a way of encouraging discussion, sharing of tribal knowledge, joint learning, and the creation of a memorable experience that just can’t be done when doing something individually. Put learners into teams to do a simulation. The more diverse the team, the better their discussion and shared learning.

Diversity and Ambiguity

People live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. And the majority of leaders are not confident in their ability to meet these new disruptive challenges. Use the simulation as a platform to discuss and tackle these challenges, together with a diverse team of colleagues and peers. The skills that best equip leaders to address VUCA challenges are change management, building consensus and commitment, inspiring others, and leading across generations. Create teams that mix functions and generations to build these skills.

Job and Personal Relevance

Create the bridge from what happens in the simulation back to the learners’ jobs. Simulation is not just a fun activity where learners get to collaborate with colleagues and peers. As designers and training professionals, you must help them see how the decisions they made in the simulation and the application of new skills and practices relate to their work. In some cases that link is obvious, such as when the decisions in the simulation mirror real life, and other times the simulation is practicing something new. Take time in the formal learning setting to discuss current state vs. future state and how things are to be different after the formal learning ends and the learner returns to work.

If you combine all of these elements into a simulation, you will create a memorable and impactful learning activity for your formal learning while also creating a powerful tool where learners learn from each other.

Amy Happ is the senior vice president for performance consulting and business leadership at Advantexe Learning Solutions