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Is it time for a simulation-reliant course?

Louis Havriliuc  //  16.11.2016

Business School Faculties can work together and develop an active learning methodology and take their educational services to the next level

Business Management and Marketing are two popular business school courses that consistently attract a vast number of students every academic year. The courses are run through different faculties. As part of their ongoing policy of improving educational services, business schools today integrate externally authored learning resources into their study programs. A popular choice amongst professors is the use of simulation games. What simulation game to include in a course is usually left up to the professor. However, this is occasionally determined at the faculty level but almost never at the Business School level. As students' results from the simulations are often counted towards the grading process, this offers more exploratory discussion opportunities on how to carry out simulation active learning exercises and how these activities can be improved over time through achievement of different learning objectives.

If we agree to use grades as a reliable indicator of student involvement within a particular subject topic, then we will bring forward the following hypothesis: If students are doing well in the simulation (consequently getting high grades) then a large determinant for this positive outcome sits with how the simulation game is actively being carried out. To get maximum learning utility and relevance for grading methodologies, I will expose a set of best practices on how to design and incorporate a sound simulation-reliant study module into the typical Business/Marketing course. 

Right now the overall grade for a simulation game activity makes up anywhere between 10% and 40% of the final grade awarded upon completion of the module of which the simulation is part. This means that a considerable determinant of the grade that a student is awarded is dependent on the following factors: 

-  The availability of the simulation resource, how reliable the usage of the resource is and under what conditions it's being made available to the students, and the access rights, costs, terms of use, and pre-requisites.
- How well the students have understood the requirements of the assignment. Getting to know an online simulation system requires learning how the technology works and is usually achieved during an in-class or online product presentation.
- Team dynamics. How students organize their workload is important because professors tend to grade students not individually but as part of their team. It is important that workload inside the simulation be evenly split amongst the members. (As a side comment, the Paretto principle seems to be valid in most cases with one student doing most of the work compared to the other several students on their team)
- The readiness of the instructor in answering questions related to the on-going game and the support offered by the authors of the simulation.

We argue in favor of going above the on-average 25% weight for the grade of the simulation activity. Instead, we suggest awarding 100% of the final grade for a new simulation based study module. I conclude that a simulation-supported course should become a distinct, self-reliant and continuously evolving study module in all economics degree programs that are available to those taking Management & Marketing at the university level (both Undergraduate and Postgraduate courses). Towards the end I will also include a neat solution to offset the ‘not built here’ syndrome that is prevalent in ‘clubs’ of economists and professors formed around a subject, university or culture. A propensity to easily dismiss outside views and specific author resources, such as a simulation game, is currently causing massive inefficiencies for this highly efficient teaching methodology. If deployed well, it can lead to impressive learning outcomes. This article invites you to impersonate an educational degree consultant who has to evaluate the likely success of a new simulation-based business study program. Each success criterion will contain a list of resources needed, as well as a proposed assessment method. We include the simulation game(s) of your choice as a default resource requirement at each stage, and acknowledge that without this essential resource a simulation-based course could not take place.


1. Have students received a comprehensive introduction to the simulation system? 

Is the author or somebody that is very knowledgeable on how the system works ready to answer highly specific questions on the system features and how in-game performance can be improved? The initial system learning process can be augmented by numerous follow-up activities such as dissemination of best practices and presentations of typical student results through which students that are now new to the simulation are encouraged to evaluate the work of previous students during past years. Using this practice an instructor can allocate up to 10% of the total grade for the simulation-dependent module while they also make sure that all students have the right pre-requisites for the simulation course.


Learning Objective Learn how to operate simulation features and how to interpret results which are generated in response to student decisions.

Resources/Activities a 2-4 hours timeslot allocation in which to introduce the simulation (time allocation should take into consideration both complexity of the game and the level of understanding of the students), Slideshow containing example work of past students, Quiz functionality (can be online or paper & pencil). 

Proposed Methods for Assessment

1.    Short Quiz containing general questions on system features and range of results. This produces an accurate pre-activity assessment on each student’s level of readiness for operating the simulation system (up to 5% of final grade).

2.    In-class discussion/debate on the work of past students (up to 5% of final grade).


2. Is the delivery of this course content set up in such a manner that it encourages comparing & contrasting the content of the simulation? 

If yes, that’s a good approach. An Instructor can score extra learning points for his students whenever he broadens coverage for a topic and introduces students to multiple ways of looking at a concept through topic exploration and multiple references. This can be done alongside the simulation game. However, if time is a constraint it can be left for the final dissemination stage. At this point students will feel comfortable with the new concepts they have learned and will want to engage with the course resources through comparison and reflection. Assessing how well students react to multiple, connected theories and concepts will be worth 15% of the composed grade of a simulation-based course.


Learning Objective Improve student knowledge on a wide range of theories, concepts & specific terminology, which the simulation might not include or just touch upon.

Resources/Activities Custom set of lecture slides and/or other handout materials with extensive references to simulation content. These materials should be authored to increase the breadth of the simulation content and provide students with a comprehensive learning experience, which overcomes any limitations inherent to the simulation design. Other various resources can be used (see below).

Proposed Methods for Assessment:

1.    Short descriptive-style report on specific topic(s) in which the diversity or the depth of the concepts outlined is evaluated (up to 10% of total grade)

2.    Word-matching, word puzzles, finding new words and other similar games (up to 2,5% of total grade) ‑ this improves vocabulary on specific terminology

3.    Communal, course-wide effort of bringing together information on a particular topic in which every student presents their favorite concept for a short period of time e.g. one minute (up to 2,5% of total grade)


3. Does the simulation act as a new, virtual case study interface? 

The range of decision variables available in the typical business simulation game can transform the business case study method, by now established in most courses into a new, dynamic and iterative state. For students this would involve working on the business challenge using different interfaces, both virtual and in real life. For simulation authors, this entails adapting and setting up the system to match highly specific business conditions, as presented by the business case resource. We assign 15% of the total grade to measure student ability in learning from multiple course teaching materials. 


Learning Objective Develop awareness in spotting similar business situations and patterns across multiple data sets, and to formulate a strategy and execute a list of to-do items.

Resources/Activities Case study documentation, a customized simulation game model or scenario (different from off the shelf solutions, and more difficult to develop and maintain), sheet containing interim goals to be achieved during the simulation exercise. Instructors can encourage the students to come up with their own action items or provide them with a ready made list.

Proposed Method for Assessment The ability to complete secondary, non-winning game objectives within the duration of the exercise (e.g. market share gain, service or product level innovation) with additional points awarded for setting up and completing interim objectives coming from a student’s own initiative


4. Is the simulation exercise being carried out at the same time with other participatory learning projects? 

The rationale is to apply knowledge gained during the course to external situations by using practice oriented learning activities. Learning from multiple Instructors and focusing on closely-related activities can set the stage for an immersive learning experience in which students are encouraged to connect with their own specific interests and will allow them to uncover new topics and to develop their own methodologies for learning and/or working. 20% of the overall grade value is allocated for this activity.


Learning Objective Learn how to apply different concepts and processes to real working conditions by using new tools, working with new persons and managing a diverse set of situations

Resources/Activities Consulting project proposals from companies, Innovation competitions, Startup laboratories, Hackathons, Visiting Entrepreneurs & Mentors

Proposed Method for Assessment Specific metrics will have to be developed on a case-by-case basis depending on the unique requirements of the project in question.


5. Are simulation related activities evenly divided in between team members? 

In some courses you just need to have attendance for getting grades, however given the nature of the proposed course in which decision making is a central learning component, professors should make sure that each student takes up responsibility for at least one product or one market inside the game. Assigning well-distributed responsibilities within teams is a good activity in itself as it stimulates involvement, collaboration and goal completion. Another 10% of the final grade is decided by the way students manage their course activities in between the members of each team.


Learning Objectives Developing team working skills, and a sense of project/product ownership

Resources/Activities Simulation game with team management interface, pre-simulation activity to stimulate team formation and creating a culture. Warm-up exercises in which teams pitch their products and how they will take on the competition

Proposed Method for Assessment Each Student Manager presents their product/market performance and are assessed in comparison to their counterparts from the other teams.


6. Are students required to write a short activity report at the end of the simulation? 

Data-rich simulation exercises present an unparalleled opportunity for students to harness reporting and presentation abilities, highly desired skills in any industry. Come reporting time students often make up their own stories of their virtual companies using the simulation canvas to paint the picture of acquisitions, volatile changes in the consumer environment, using new management techniques or inventing new technologies. If imagination is the hallmark of effective learning, students that are able to manifest creative thinking will have proven that they learned a lot! This counts towards 15% of the final relevancy. This also takes us one step closer to warranting the case for a simulation based study subject. 

Learning Objective learn how to summarize complex operations and present data sets in an easy to read format and to expose past performance as well as future options for the company's strategy.

Resources/Activities Timeslot allocation of approximately 20 minutes per student team divided as such: 15 minutes for the presentation and 5 minutes for Q&A, A room with a projector screen, an external committee (optional, this can be made up by other professors, the representatives from the simulation company or professionals from visiting companies)

Proposed Methods for Assessment

The quality of the presentation can be broken down into: 

Format: A good presentation format should introduce the team members, their activities & results as well as a unique insight or creative item 

Facts: the presentation should cover most or all of the concepts in the simulation. The most important operational or financial metrics should be discussed

Delivery: the rhythm, tonality & presenter roles should be assessed

Additional resources or items supporting the presentation: some student teams have created additional research post-simulation and they offered promotional items such as stickers or pens showing the logos of their simulated companies


7. Is there more than one simulation resource being used on the course? 

As each simulation follows specific patterns and touches upon unique theoretical models it is good teaching practice to use complementary simulation resources to increase the students acceptance of the methodology and improve their ability to relate to different situations & phenomena. In practice this would mean that students should begin the course with a basic simulation which requires them to input a handful of decisions e.g. a simple resource allocation game or marketing the same product in two markets. Then as the course advances so do the simulation models need to evolve into more complex exercises, which demand more analysis and the completion of multiple action items.  One good example are simulations used at MBA level in International Business Courses where the number of markets and products in the game increases with each stage as the simulation unfolds. For each additional and distinct simulation model being used in the module we will add another 20% to the overall relevancy of the course. This amount should be adjusted for simulation complexity (a more complex game model, which requires more decisions will get more weight and viceversa).


Learning Objectives Students should learn how to develop specific decision making for multiple environments

Resources/Activities Additional simulation game(s) & related introductory activities

Proposed Method for Assessment Each game should present a success metric. Students will be assessed against their ability to complete this objective


8. Are the simulation content and related activities actively referenced and discussed across the other, non-simulation study modules which make up the course? 

Linking together theoretical concepts across the entire course and deconstructing them as available training within the simulation will end up improving the global course experience. When exposed to concepts contained by games students are likely to experience an increase in anticipation for the simulation game activities. Different business school faculties should work together and create a rich and diverse curriculum, which encapsulates all of the activities in an easy to follow format. Faculty members which are teaching non-simulation courses should be encouraged to pitch in their opinions on which simulation games will be deployed and should also contribute to some extent to the development of the simulation scenarios and related activities. This will cut through internal silos and will encourage the adoption of externally authored resources to the benefit of the student. Students should look for specific theories or situations on the non-simulation parts of the course with the view of first identifying them and then try to a simulation approach to learn more about This activity can take up to 5% of the final grade.


Learning Objectives Students should develop values which encourage them to contribute to the development of study programs of which they are a part of.

Resources/Activities Town hall type of meeting with non-simulation faculty in which the simulation methodology is discussed

Proposed Method for Assessment Students should identify theories, topics or ideas covered by the non-simulation study modules which are difficult to grasp and work together with faculty to improve the learning processes for future student generations. Innovative ideas or approaches should be considered and graded accordingly.


By deploying a wide range of simulation-based exercises the modern instructor can build a model-driven simulation course, which connects and engages with students, most of which are constituents of today’s gaming culture. These activities can be used individually inside an existing course. When used together they can provide a relevant and memorable learning experience.

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