Churchill Fellowship study model of simulation purpose.

Learning and Simulation Purpose

This rubric is based on an analysis of thousands of runs of simulations on management development courses over more than forty-five years coupled with discussions with trainers and human resource executives around the world.











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The information on this page is from my Churchill Fellowship study and my keynote at the 2011 SAGSET conference. I found that although the study showed that use and the client needs were very varied, they could be grouped in five elements:

Although these are separate aspects, every adult learning course or activity that I have been involved with focused on one or two elements BUT involve ALL elements.

In the radar diagrams below, each element is scored out of five and the number is the average across all elements..

Showing the learning needs model applied to a business acumen course.

Exploring & Challenging Business Knowledge

The radar to the left is for a Business Acumen Course. Although the focus is on Knowledge Exploration active nature of a simulation and its focus on doing is especially relevant to the development of business acumen. Likewise, business simulations are motivational and here can help the tutor and participants assess what they still need to learn.

Why explore and challenge knowledge and understanding? Because:

Although business simulations are not good at introducing new material they provide an excellent way of exploring knowledge and testing understanding. The knowledge to be exercised is:

Usually the prime reason for using the simulation is to explore and use the new knowledge presented on the course. However, the brevity of most management courses means that there is often a need to use and exercise prior learning and experience.

Ideally, the simulation should map the course knowledge closely. However, the scope of the simulation scenario and the complexity of the model may mean that a wider range of knowledge and experience is needed. If this is not covered by prior learning  across the group then coaching, additional readings or even course modification (as a last resort) may be needed.

When matching knowledge needs we do not just look at individual participants as they are working as part of a team, they can share knowledge and experience and learn from each other. (This can be aided by forming "balanced" teams.)

The areas of knowledge exploration is likely to include the following:

Developing & Honing Business Skills

The radar to the left is for a Negotiation Course where the simulation is used to enhance a role-play. The focus is on Skills Development with a secondary focus on Motivation and Engagement and, perhaps, exploration of negotiation techniques and strategies.

The practical nature of simulations provides an opportunity for participants to practice, develop and hone their management skills. The skills most practiced by simulations are:

Motivating & Engaging Learners

The radar to the left is for a business simulation used on a conference where the focus is on fun and developing the team. However, occasionally, the simulation's secondary purposes are to develop skills, emphasise profit and allow senior managers to observe (and assess) staff!

The learners are people and the learning activity and environment must address this! Happily, most forms of participant centred and experiential learning tend to engender involvement and stimulate hard work and business simulations are especially good at:


Assessing Learning & Evaluating Teaching

The radar to the left is for a business simulation used as part of an assessment centre. Although the focus is on assessment, it is interesting to note that in practice the involving and competitive nature of business simulations means that it reduces stress and is motivating!

The traditional academic examination is unlikely to be appropriate for practicing managers. However, as managers take charge of their life-long learning needs, they need an activity that tests and challenges their knowledge and skills. Further, the tutor and course designer needs to assess the quality and appropriateness of the course. So the assessment dimension is important.

This leads to several assessment options and needs - both for the participants and for the tutor.

  • Self Assessment
  • Informal Assessment of Delegates
  • Formal Assessment of Delegates
Assessing the Learner
  • Changes Needed to the Course
  • Prior Learning (starting point)
  • Future Course Opportunities
  • Remedial Teaching
Evaluating Training

Learners' Viewpoint

The first three (self assessment, informal assessment and formal assessment) are all from the viewpoint of the learners.

As learners take charge of their own managerial development and learning needs they need to be continuously assessing and defining future learning. And, this can be supported by the trainer informally assessing delegates - although this must be done with care as it can interfere with learning.

Simulations are used regularly on Assessment and Development Centres to assess a wide range of competencies.

Trainer's Viewpoint

The last four (course changes, prior learning, future courses and remedial learning) are all from the viewpoint of the trainer and evaluating training and training needs.

Using a simulation at the end of a course to draw it together not only refreshes and challenges the learning but also allows the course director to assess how the various parts of the course delivered learning (and this is particularly important if different parts of the course are delivered by different trainers.

The knowledge and experience sets vary considerably between course members and this coupled with learner expectations means that the trainer must attempt to position the course to best meet learner needs and draw on their prior learning. Consequentially, many trainers use a short simulation at the start of a course to assess prior learning, delegate needs and start the course with a bang!

A course should only be one in a series of learning initiatives. Thus both the company trainer and the training consultant are concerned with identifying future learning needs and training opportunities.

Finally, as the course proceeds, the trainer must identify the learners who need help. Here, a simulation used as a course theme linking the session can help the trainer identify these needs and provide remedial teaching.

Enhancing Adult Learning

The final reason for using business simulations is that they enhance the learning process (cognitive development). Typically simulations are used to:

Integrate Course Sessions: Commonly, a simulation is used at the end of a course where it incorporates all sessions and integrates them to provide a holistic view. Similarly, a simulation can be used as a course theme testing and honing understanding and introducing the next topics.

Integrate with Prior Knowledge: For experienced business people, a simulation builds on prior knowledge and revisit this to update and extend learning.

Help Assimilate Knowledge: As for most active learning activities, simulations are much better at embedding knowledge and are far, far more memorable than lectures.

Test Understanding: It is all too easy when listening to a lecture to feel that you understand all the aspects and ramifications. But, only when your apply the knowledge do you sure that you understand. I remember well running my Market Strategy simulation with a group of new graduate hires. One, an accounting graduate said "Why measure both IRR and NPV - they are both the same" . For those of you who are nor familiar with Discounted Cash Flow the statement is the same as saying Black and White are both the same - they are both colours. At the end of the simulation he knew better!

Revise, Review & Reinforce: It is useful to use a simulation as a course theme or several simulations during a course to link theory (content) with practice (the simulation).

Provide Active Learning: Adult Business Learners like taking charge of their learning, being active and having their experience and knowledge recognised. Additionally, this ensures learning is relevant and the learners can share and learn from each other.

Provide Clinical Practice: Would you trust a surgeon who had no practical experience or a pilot who had never stepped into a plane's cockpit - would you trust a business person to make good decisions if his or her knowledge is just theoretical (and perhaps only validated by remembering things for an examination)? Clinical practice is vital.

1999 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update:04/05/15
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