This explores the verisimilitude of the business simulation model in terms of two paradigms - the Hunter-Gatherer (positivist) paradigm and the Corporate Cartooning (constructionist) paradigm.
Over the years actually running business simulations on company training courses my design philosophy evolved from designing in elements because they were real to focusing on learning needs and simplifying to ensure that the simulation was short and stylising to ensure engagement and learning. This evolution was because, as in the real world, reality can be confusing and take a long time to deal with and, in appropriate reality in a business simulation leads to bad learning and disaffected learners. This journey led me to categorising two design paradigms - the Hunter-Gatherer (positivist) paradigm and the Corporate Cartooning (constructionist) paradigm.
Hunter-Gatherer (positivist) paradigm
This, the positivist paradigm, proposes that the quality of a business simulation is determined by the "realism" of the simulation model and so its design should focus on and begin from developing a realistic business model.
There is a body of opinion that articulates "management simulations are valid pedagogic tools provided they are complex and realistic. " Yet another author claims that designers "..... all have the common objective of making their model as realistic as possible " Consequentially, the design focus is on representing reality (face validity) and this requires a complex model. A third author states that "a gaming simulation's purpose can well be the last consideration in its development rather than its first " And later, in the same paper, suggests that a simulation's learning purpose is discovered after its design and that this is a common situation. To me this seems to parallel the situation facing primitive man arriving back at the cave to inform his partner that they will be eating the "catch of the day".
When it comes to the assertion that complexity is good consider for a moment how you plan a journey. Would you rather use a aerial photograph (the most real and complex representation of geography)? Or a map that highlights the major roads, focuses on journey planning and eliminates clutter? I suggest that people who advocate a focus on modelling reality as exactly have inadequate or no experience actually using business simulations to deliver learning to business people - as, in my experience it is through use you discover the weaknesses of over complex, "cluttered" models.
Corporate Cartooning (constructionist) paradigm
This, the constructionist paradigm, proposes that the design of a business simulation should be determined by its purpose (learning need, target audience, duration & manner of use) and that the model should be a simplified and stylised reflection of the real world.
Consider the subway map (to the left). This is designed for and used for a specific purpose (traveling by subway in the city). It is a stylised simplification of geography. The actual rail lines are not straight and the distances shown are not accurate representations of physical distance. In the city centre, where the stations are close together, the map is stretched. Outside the centre, where stations are spread, distances are compressed. Yet such a map when originally proposed, was a seminal improvement on the previous maps that were geographically accurate.
I believe that a business simulation must be designed to meet specific learning objectives. To deliver these effectively and efficiently, the model must be simplified  (eliminating superfluity) and stylised (to ensure satisfactory learning). The design must extend beyond this and, like the cartoon , must be engaging, insightful, provide a unfolding experience and be memorable fun. Thus, besides the modelling dimension, the design must incorporate suitable dynamics, cognitive challenges and suitable affective and cognitive feedback.
In conclusion, I feel that the positivist paradigm is naive and primitive as it equates to the hunter-gatherer who got sustenance by hunting Mammoths and gathering berries. Happily, we have moved on from our primitive forebears and our food supply is more reliable, efficient & consistent and food is easier to obtain and use. A situation that, for business simulations, is delivered using the constructionist (Corporate Cartooning) paradigm.
|Issues||Positivist Paradigm||Constructionist Paradigm|
|Design Focus||Model reality||Learning Purpose|
|Verisimilitude||Exact replica||Stylised replica|
|Engagement||Through realism||Through purpose and design|
|Dynamics||Static||Dynamic and unfolding|
|Cognitive Development||Natural through model reality||Designed in|
|Affective Feedback||Natural through model reality||Designed in|
|Duration of Learning Event||Long||Short|
|Learning Focus||Unfocused - discovered after design ||Closely on learning purpose|
|Usability||Not considered||Designed in|
|Tutor Support||Not considered||Designed in|
1. Miller, R. and T. Leroux-Demers (1992) Business Simulations: Validity and Effectiveness Simulation/Games for Learning 22 4:261-285
2. Decker, Ronald James LaBarre, and Thomas Adler (1987) The Exponential Logarithm Function as an Algorithm for Business Simulation Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Exercises Vol 14
3. Thavikulwat, Precha (2004) The architecture of computerized business gaming simulations Simulation & Gaming Volume 35 Number 2 June 2004
4. Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. and Benita M. Cox (1994) Complexity: Is it really that simple Developments in Business Simulation & Experiential Exercises Volume 22
5. Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (2001) Corporate Cartooning: The art and science of computerized business simulation ASTD TechKnowledge Conference 2001
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