Work load, learning and engagement dynamics

Business Simulation Systems Dynamics Learning Journey Model

a learning process model that explores how cognition (understanding), affection (feelings) and workload evolve during the simulation.











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With extensive, practical experience actually using business simulations for training I am concerned with learning process and the learning journey.

With a degree in Electrical Engineering and having done some leading-edge operational modeling and short-term forecasting while working with GE, it was natural for me to apply systems dynamics thinking to my design of business simulations.

My systems dynamics model that consists of three interacting dynamics work load, learning and engagement and is central to my designs.

Feedback System

Business simulations used for management development involve a similar feedback process to systems dynamics and servomechanisms [1] .


Diagram of the feedback process.

Conventional Business Simulation


Tutor Managed Business Simulation


Conventional Business Simulations involve the team entering decisions that are submitted to the model and processed producing results but where the tutor is not anywhere in the loop.

But, I feel that learning,should be managed by the tutor so my business simulation designs envelop the model in a tutoring support system that places the tutor (or trainer) in the loop. The tutoring support system provides the tutor with extra information in the form of a decision screen, tutor's audit and team commentaries. Additionally, these simulations provide some results as qualitative comments.

Systems Dynamic Process

My research shows that the business simulation learning process involves three intera-cting dynamics:

And the effectiveness and efficiency enhanced and ensured by designing in:

  • Economic Calibration
  • Ramped Complexity
  • Tutor Interventions (management)

Learn more about Design for Process

How work load, cognition and affection change during the simulation.
Work Load (Cognitive Load)
At the start of the business simulation, work load is high as participants familiarise themselves with the task. Then, as they make decisions and their understanding grows, the work load declines. This presents a design paradox. If, initial work load is too high, teams are discouraged and demotivated. However, if initial work load is reduced, this may mean that, later, the work load is too low and participants feel their time is wasted. My designs overcome this in three ways - through economic calibration, ramped complexity and tutor intervention. Economic Calibration means that economic problems and pressures are designed into the business simulation to increase as it progresses. Ramped Complexity means that the number of reports (and, often, decisions) are increased as the simulation progresses. Finally, I believe to ensure learning the Tutor must intervene to coach and challenge and so provide a tutor support system.
Learning (Cognition)
As the business simulation progresses participants move from being (slightly) confused up the learning curve. My economic calibration, ramped complexity and tutor intervention ensures that the most learning is done in the shortest possible time. And, the Tutor Support System allows the Tutor to intervene proactively to challenge and coach. In this way the Tutor drives learning forward and ensures everyone learns optimally.
Engagement (Affection)
Finally, participants get emotionally involved. Business simulations are fun. But, because they challenge participants business knowledge and measure success in hard, financial terms a badly designed or run business simulation can be demoralising. Again my designs take this into account. In the early stages, the simulation and the Tutor emphasises strengths but later, as the learners begin to become comfortable weaknesses are revealed and the Tutor can challenge the learners.
Cartoon from the Design for Process chapter in my latest book that may change your view of what to do about badly behaved children!.

Cartoon 4.03: Managing Affection

Design Issues

My business simulations incorporate the Systems Design Model to ensure that the learning experience evolves ensuring engagement and the maximum learning in the shortest possible time. My award winning research linking duration with simulation complexity suggests that, compared with designs that do not incorporate systems dynamics thinking. I can pack 70% more learning into the available time.

1 Hall, Jeremy and Benita Cox (1993) Computerized management games:the feedback process and servomechanism analogy The Simulation and Gaming Yearbook 1993 Kogan Page London

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1999 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 14/08/14
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail