Simulations in e-Learning: The power of experiential learning

Posted on : December 10th, 2013
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With evolving technologies, the need for high-end e-learning is also on a continuous rise. The corporate world has seen and experienced the success of traditional e-learning and now want more. Not just in terms of delivering knowledge but the inclusion of the elements of interactivity and motivation for learners. Simulation-based e-learning is one such mode of training which is being extensively utilized in the corporate training.

We gather and process information using our senses but it is through ‘doing’ that we actually learn. Leading learning theorist David Kolb describes learning as a four step process of watching, thinking, feeling and doing. Active experimentation allows learners to utilize what they have learned in different situations and scenarios. This is the all important step of ‘doing’. In most training courses, this step is either skipped altogether or done within a restrictive environment where experimentation fails to be ‘active’. Simulations allow the learner experimentations to be close to real-life situations, thus opening up the vast expanse of ‘doing and learning’.  In a previous post titled Business Simulations – Learning through experience, we had talked about the benefits of simulations in e-learning. We follow that up with a few examples of the types of simulations that can be created and the ways that they can be utilized.

There are many ways of differentiating simulations – and one popular way is to categorize them as per the level of complex interactions they offer the learners. (Source: William Horton, 2000). They are:

  • One-shot simulations
  • Learn by example simulations
  • Microworlds

One-shot Simulations: As the name suggests, one-shot simulations can be utilized for courses that offer one-time learning. Software or process trainings can be built based on this type of simulations. Learners can learn about different features of the software or process. They are also given the opportunity to try out the workings and change or tweak responses if they get it wrong. This provides the opportunity to understand complex processes or concepts with ample room for ‘doing’.

At G-Cube, we created an e-training which utilized one-shot simulations for learners. The learner group was the management staff of a large chain of hotels. The course was built to train them to work efficiently on a sourcing website to buy utilities for their hotels.

  • The course was designed to mimic the look of the website – including color schemes and layout, to strike a familiar chord with the learners.Simulations in e-learning
  • Three levels of interactivity were built in. The first was a series of click-able links, explaining the various functionalities built into the website. When the user clicked a link, a pop-up text would appear and explain to the user what that particular link does.
  • The next level allowed the user to view a demo of a particular functionality, including the details filled to demonstrate an actual purchase being made through the website.
  • At the third level, the user could try and fill sample forms with the required details – finally reinforcing learning by a providing an action-based experience.

Learn by example simulations: These simulations provide the learners with a number of situations and encourage them to intervene to determine the further course of action. Each decision is crucial for getting to the final outcome and through multiple tries the learners observe the consequences of their actions. This type of simulation encourages learners to think logically and cognitively.

  • Learners listen, view or read about a scenario, often describing a conflict among individuals.
  • At every juncture, the learner is presented with choices as to how to proceed.
  • Different choices offer different outcomes.
  • No outcome is ‘wrong’ but the consequences are clearly laid out and the learner is free to judge what route he or she should take in real life.

An excellent example of this is a course designed for war-soldiers, which teaches them survival skills and diplomacy. (www.worldwarfighter.com/hajikamal/activity/)

Microworlds: These are simulations which present the learners with a virtual representation of a real environment. The learners can physically interact with the elements of this virtual microworld and learn from their experiences.

We have had many interesting experiences in creating virtual microworlds but a particular case stands out for the unique learner-group and how we addressed their needs. We created a 3D modern-trade environment for a leading FMCG company. The training module was different from others as the target audience was ground-level sales personnel – a group which was not computer proficient to begin with and spent very little time in the confines of an office.

  • The structure of the environment was created as per the layout of shops or stores that the learners often frequented.
  • The interactivities were simple and did not intimidate the learners.
  • Through the 3D environment, the learners were first given the opportunity to practice simple interactivities like ‘click and drop’ the right product, ‘place’ the products to acquire fair share of shelf space and so on.

Simulations in e-learning   Simulations in e-learning

  • Multiple tries were allowed to build the confidence of the learners.
  • The learners could also take print-outs of layouts that they mastered and refer to them as per need.
  • In spite of the unfamiliar platform of delivery, the learners quickly adapted to the training as they realized the worth of practical expertise it provided, something they could not try at an actual shop or store floor.

At the core of the success of simulations in learning is the fact that learners – children and adults alike, learn best by experience. For kinder-gardeners it is the weekly show-and-tell. For the corporate learner it is simulation-based learning.

Suggested further reading: www.lbfdtraining.com/resources/Exercises/Simulation-Based%20e-learning.doc

Arunima Majumdar

Arunima is an e-learning blogger and likes discussing innovations in training & learning for the new-age corporate sector.

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