MET:Simulation in the Workplace

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Edited by: --ChristopherMacKay 15:50, 9 March 2014 (PDT)
Original author: Janette Iorns, February 2011. NOTE: This page was adapted from one original titled Simulation in Corporate Learning - A key to competitive edge?

What is a learning simulation?

Learning simulations are experiential simulations that create a virtual event and environment to be experienced by a learner. The main feature of a simulation is the reproduction of a particular aspect of an observed or possible reality in an interactive way.[1] Learning is a vital component of business success[2]. Companies are increasingly dealing with skill and talent shortages as a limiting factor to growth, especially in emerging markets[3]. An emphasis of human resources and learning teams is to focus on the intellectual supply chain, and on the delivery of high-quality training programs. Companies are investing larger amounts in training development, for example in corporate universities and in more sophisticated development programs.[4] Organisations today are also commonly adopting distributed learning to “speed up learning and make knowledge more accessible and economical”.[5] Distributed learning - via the internet or a company intranet - combined with multimedia creates the opportunity for instructional simulations. For the purposes of this wiki, workplace is broadly defined as any work environment outside of the education sector.

Simulation in the Workplace explained:

Learning simulations, examples by sector

U.S. Army Dismounted Soldier Training Simulation


The earliest adopters of simulations were military organizations. Wargaming as a training strategy was first observed in used in the 16th century[6]. Military institutions continue to develop the most sophisticated forms of simulations in all formats – virtual, live, and blended. In 2011 the U.S. Army launched Dismounted Soldier Training (ADST), an immersive, virtual simulation designed for training leaders and army units.[7] Watch a promotional video of the ADST Simulation below.

Healthcare simulation at the Christiana Care Health Center


The healthcare sector has embraced Simulation for Medical Training as an important method for improving clinical training and patient safety. Practitioners of simulation, or “simulationists,” use a recipe consisting of clinically important medical cases, lessons learned from other high-reliability organizations and industries, computer-driven full-body manikin simulators, realistic procedural task trainers, and a dash of theatre to create memorable learning experiences that can be transferred directly to patient care.[8]


Virtual simulation training has been developed for training heavy equipment operators, such as cranes, loaders, forklifts, backhoes, etc.

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Kootenay students benefitting from mining haul truck simulation training


Thousands of people die in mining accidents every year. This is an industry that is benefitting from virtual simulators that simulate underground rock mining, surface mining, coal mining, as well as for the various pieces of heavy equipment used in mining.


Virtual simulations exist for many functions such as atmospheric testing, bonding and grounding, distribution, underground switching, working with live lines, transformers, voltage repair and more.[9]

Types of workplace simulations

Virtual, live, and blended simulations

Workplace simulations can broadly be classified into three types: Virtual, Live, and Blended. Virtual simulations involve real people performing activities in a virtual, simulated environment. Simulation games provide many examples of virtual simulations, such as Spore, SimCity, and SecondLife. Live simulations are conducted with real people interacting with each other, real artifacts, and with live support from coaches, facilitators or instructors. Blended simulations can take many forms but always involve some degree of technology support, as well as live interaction or live coaching and debrief.

Instructional simulations

Instructional simulations are powerful learning tools. They require learners to problem-solve and complete tasks within a 2D or 3D environment that replicates some aspect of the real workplace environment. Tasks are centred on “realistic, job-related problems”.[10] Simulations "result in the acquisition of complex and higher-order skills, as people learn by experience, taking real-life risks, without bearing the costs of making mistakes”.[11] Simulations are particularly beneficial when real learning activities are too dangerous, too costly, or impossible to do. They are also practical for a wide range of workplace learning and can standardise learning across geographically-dispersed workforces.

Software simulations

Many organisations use software simulations to develop employee competency with new software systems. Examples:

Software simulations can support large-scale software installations in the workplace. An example is New York University Medical which installed an Integrated Clinical Information System (ICIS) to replace paper-based patient orders and documents. NYU Medical developed an ICIS simulation to train 8,000 employees on the new software. The simulation presented staff with real-world patient scenarios for which they had to complete orders and tasks in virtual ICIS. View a presentation of the ICIS simulation.

Simulations like that used at NYU Medical enable critical workplace learning to occur without disruption to service delivery. Oracle has developed an e-learning platform to support these types of organisational change projects. The Oracle User Productivity Kit enables rapid development and delivery of software simulations.

Immersive simulations

File:Dubai police academy.jpg
Duabi Police Academy

Another type of workplace simulation is the immersive simulation. This simulation is often used in the military, police, aviation and mining sectors to train professionals in competencies critical to working in hazardous and dangerous environments. The simulation may be a spatially immersive environment resembling a theatre with walls and a large screen. Alternatively, the simulation may be a desk-top virtual experience. In the healthcare sector, immersive simulation is heavily used as a planned educational activity where a learner or group of learners take part in the care of a simulated medical patient in an environment where the theatrical presentation is realistic enough for the participants to feel immersed in the surroundings, suspend disbelief, and manage the scenario as if the patient were real.[12] One example of immersive simulation found in healthcare education is at the Stanford School of Medicine, which launched the Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Training.

Enterprise simulations

Interactive business simulations have found success as tools for business modelling. However, they are now also tools for executive learning. The purpose of an enterprise simulator is to provide a 'problem' to focus leadership development training. View a video of a workshop where a simulated international airport enterprise formed the focus of executive training.

Three case studies

Taiwan’s TransAsian Airways introduced interactive simulations for pilot and in-flight crew training in 2004. The tools included a simulation of turbine engine operations under impact of Newtonian laws of motion, and a simulation of aircraft crossing paths to develop pilot judgement and communication management[13]. The results of learning simulations were that fewer pilots needed retraining or suspension, the Airways improved aviation safety, and the cost of training pilots and in-flight crews reduced by $800,000 per year.[14]

Impala Platinum, one of the largest platinum mines in South Africa, introduced a ‘virtual mine’ simulator in 2005. The simulator trained underground mine workers in hazard recognition and safety procedures for 27 different hazards. There was a high rate of fatalities and injuries in the South African mining industry at the time (on average, one death per day). Simulations were effective; 81% of workers favoured the 'virtual mine' over conventional classroom-based training and on-the-job training[15].

In high-tech industries where technologies have short lifecycles[16], it is imperative that staff quickly learn new products and processes. Bosch developed a web-based training program incorporating Java simulation, virtual reality modelling and animation to train technicians and sales personnel on pneumatic and hydraulic components[17]. One of the simulations is a 2D Interactive Assembly Unit which enables learners to practice assembling Bosch components into a mechanical system.

Theoretical foundations of learning simulations

Bloom’s Taxonomy

According to Blooms Taxonomy of learning, knowledge, and comprehension are the simplest levels of learning. The ability of a learner to apply and analyze knowledge is a better indicator of competence. Simulation, when used with the goal of improving practice, can allow the learner to move from knowledge or comprehension to application, analysis and even synthesis.[18]

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

The process of having an experience (concrete experience), reflecting on that experience (reflective observation), developing mental models (abstract conceptualization) and then testing that mental model (active experimentation) is based on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. Experiences, either real or simulated, are simply catalysts for learning: the actual learning does not occur during the experience itself, but rather during the debriefing that follows. A debriefing is a discussion that occurs immediately following the simulation experience during which educators and learners can reflect together to analyze individual and group performance. Experiences provide an opportunity for this reflection during which individuals can evaluate, refine and enhance the mental models that guided behavior.[19]

Constructivism for Adults

Constructivist learning approaches are typically learner-centred, and are designed on the premise that the most effective learning occurs in contextualized environments, through discovery, experimentation, failure, and reflection. Effectively-designed simulations are based on these design approaches. Refer to the ETEC510 Wiki Page for a deeper explanation of Constructivism for Adults. Constructivist design elements include, but are not limited to:

  • authentic and memorable learning: "When learners are confronted with real and meaningful tasks, the learning becomes more meaningful and interesting for them. The most significant feature of an authentic learning task is that it must deliver a learning experience closely related to reality".[20]
  • independent learning: Learners choose their route through the learning material and self-evaluate their progress based on the feedback to their actions.[21]
  • trial and error: Simulations facilitate the natural human tendency to experiment. Malcolm reported a Statistics Canada survey of workplace computer users in 2000 which revealed that "90% of people used trial and error as their primary method of learning new software" (cited in McCuaig and Cordick, 2007, p. 2094).

> Needs additional work

Criticisms of simulations for learning

Criticisms of constructivist learning strategies apply to learning simulations. One key criticism of constructivist learning is that because everyone constructs their own personal meaning, there is no way to reliably construe others’ constructs. Terry Simpson (2002), points out the dichotomy between scientific observation and constructivist interpretation. Science is not about making sense of one learner’s experience, but is about producting objective knowledge on a particular subject.[22] Airasian and Walsh (1997) point out that constructivism (and simluations) should not be the sole means by which learners construct knowledge. No single teaching method should be used, particularly for more complex cognitive domains. Simulations can take more time than classroom learning. Time is needed for learners to learn how to learn in a simulated, constructivist environment. It also takes time from the facilitator, coach, or teacher to address individual learning needs in a constructivist learning environment.[23]

Design of learning simulations

Computer-based simulation authoring software

Organisations use a range of simulation authoring software to develop interactive simulations for distributed desk-top learning. Examples are:

View a software simulation of Panasonic HD Writer designed in Camtasia. It included text instructions, screen capture and sound. View a presentation on comparative pros and cons of Camtasia, Captivate and Jing for screencasting.

Elements of simulation design

What are the success factors in simulation design? Studies by Vance and Bosworth (cited in Mallinson & Miller, 2006, p. 1681) and the subsequent findings of Mallinson and Miller (2006) show there is some debate on this. Some design elements include:

  • challenges that are complex enough to be believable, but not so complex as to be unmanageable
  • appropriate consequences as feedback
  • provision of support
  • debriefing

Needs additional work

Steps for Simulation Design: Workplace Simulations By Katie Schultz

Simulation design competitions

Brandon Hall Research hosts the ‘Software Simulation Shootout’ for software developers. The competition was hosted annually for several years, requiring software development companies to design 'on the spot' simulations. Given that the software development industry is fiercely competitive, and innovation lies at the heart of the industry, the Brandon Hall shootouts have been a great testing ground for product development. It is not known if there has been a shootout since 2007.

More Examples

Simulation for Zoho Creator software

Simulation for Visio 2007 AutoConnect software

Simulations designed 'on the spot' for the Brandon Hall Software Simulation Shootout

Walkthrough of a simulation of CPA Exam software

See Also


  • Bastiaens, T. (2006). Competence-based learning in virtual environments. In T. Reeves & S. Yamashita (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006 (pp. 1046-1053). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • Chuang, C.K., Chang, M., Wang, C.Y., Chung, W.C. & Chen, G.D. (2008). Application of E-Learning to Pilot Training at TransAsia Airways in Taiwan. International Journal on E-Learning, 7(1), 23-39. Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • Greene Ph.D.,, E. (2001). Distributed Learning Intranet and Internet Applications. In C. Montgomerie & J. Viteli (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2001 (pp. 620-621). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • Mallinson, B. & Miller, F. (2006). A Theoretical Model for Online Simulation Design and Development. In T. Reeves & S. Yamashita (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006 (pp. 1680-1687). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • McCuaig, J. & Cordick, A. (2007). Scaffolding for Experts: Trial not Error. In T. Bastiaens & S. Carliner (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2007 (pp. 2093-2102). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • Vassileva, T., Astinov, I. & Bojkov, D. (2002). Advanced Interactive Web Technologies in Industry Training. In M. Driscoll & T. Reeves (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2002 (pp. 968-975). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • Safety Training Using Interactive Simulations. In E. Pearson & P. Bohman (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications 2006 (pp. 2454-2459). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from
  • "Intelligent Decisions, Inc., Rolls Out Revolutionary New Training System for U.S. Soldiers to Army Installations Worldwide." Intelligent Decisions Website, Web. March 9, 2014.


  1. Landriscina (2013), p. 5
  2. Vassileva et al., (2002), p. 2
  3. Dealtry (2008), pp. 286-287
  4. Dealtry (2008), pp. 286-287
  5. Greene (2001), p. 621
  6. Wikipedia, Wargaming
  7. Intelligent Decisions (2014)
  8. Wang (2011), p. 664
  9. 3D Internet Website
  10. Mallison & Miller, 2006
  11. Mallison & Miller, 2006, p. 2
  12. Wang (2011)
  13. Chuang et al., (2008), p. 37
  14. Chuang et al, (2008)
  15. van Wyk (2006)
  16. Vassileva et al., (2002)
  17. Vassileva et al., (2002), p. 2
  18. Zigmont, Kappus, and Sudikoff (2011), p. 47-48
  19. Zigmont, Kappus, and Sudikoff (2011), p. 48-49
  20. Bastiaens (2006), p. 1049
  21. Vassileva et al., (2002)
  22. Simpson (2002)
  23. Airasian and Walsh (1997)