by Hall T. Sprague

Following are some guesses about the educational value of simulations. None of them is proved, but they are more than just idle hunches, since they were formulated by instructors and students with extensive experience in their use. These may help you to decide how you will use the technique and what the outcomes might be.

1. Maybe simulations are “motivators.” Their main payoff may be that they generate enthusiasm for or commitment to: (a) learning in general, (b) social studies or some other subject area, (c) a specific discipline like history, (d) a specific course, (e) a specific teacher.

2. Maybe a simulation experience leads students to more sophisticated and relevant inquiry. That is, perhaps the important thing is what happens after the simulation is over, when students ask about the “model” which determined some of the elements of the simulation, about real world analogues to events and factors in the simulation, about processes like communication, about ways of dealing with stress and tension. Maybe participation leads naturally into a critique and analysis of the simulation by the students, and maybe this can lead easily into a model building experience. And maybe the greatest learning occurs when students build their own simulations.

3. Maybe simulations give participants a more integrated view of some of the ways of people. Maybe they see the interconnectedness of political, social, interpersonal, cultural, economic, historical, etc., factors. Maybe simulations help people understand the idea of a “social system.” Maybe the simulation experience helps them integrate ideas and information they already have.

4. Maybe participants in simulations learn skills, decision-making, resource allocation, communication, persuasion, influence-resisting. Or maybe they learn how important those processes are. Maybe they learn about the rational and emotional components of these skills.

5. Maybe simulations affect attitudes: (a) maybe participants gain empathy for real-life decision makers; (b) maybe they get a feeling that life is much more complicated than ever imagined; (c) maybe they get a feeling that they can do something important about affecting their personal life or the nations of the world.

6. Maybe simulations provide participants with explicit, experiential, gut-level referents about ideas, concepts, and words used to describe human behavior. Maybe everyone has a personal psychology or sociology, and maybe a simulation experience brings this personal view closer to reality.

7. Maybe people know many things they don’t know they know, and simulations act as an information retrieval device to help bring this knowledge to consciousness.

8. Maybe participants in simulations learn the form and content of the model which lies behind the simulation. That is, in a corporation management simulation, maybe they learn about the ways in which certain aspects of the marketplace are related; in an inter-national simulation, maybe they learn the relationship between the relative satisfaction of political influentials and the probability that leaders will retain office.

9. Maybe the main importance of simulations are their effect on the social setting in which learning takes place. Maybe their physical format alone, which demands a significant departure from the usual setup of a classroom (chair shuffling, grouping, possibly room dividers, etc.), produces a more relaxed natural exchange between teacher and students later on. since simulations are student-run exercises, maybe they move “control” of the classroom from the teacher to the structure of the simulation, and thereby allow for better student-teacher relations. Simulations are usually very engaging; maybe one product of such engagement is that students drop their usual interpersonal facades, and maybe this leads to more open classroom atmosphere in later sessions.

10. Maybe simulations lead to personal growth. The high degree of involvement may provide some of the outcomes hoped for from T-groups, sensitivity training, basic encounter groups, etc… that is, a better sense of how one appears to others; discovery of personal skills, abilities, fears, weakness, that weren’t apparent before; opportunities to express affection, anger and indifference without permanently crippling consequences.

This article may be downloaded and distributed provided Hall T. Sprague is cited as the author and Simulation Training Systems, P. O. Box 910, Del Mar, California 92014 (1-800-942-2900: e-mail is identified as the publisher.