Engaging learners through decision-making, challenges, and teamwork

Wharton Interactive’s ARC simulations draw on the principles of engagement to create the optimal learning environment.

Our simulations present learners with carefully calibrated challenges that push them to make decisions, tackle challenges, and recognize the interdependent nature of teamwork. Players learn that:

Decisions carry weight. Teams are presented with multiple options throughout the game and are given autonomy[1] to make a range of decisions that build on one another. Learners must take responsibility for the fate of their teams, whether they are landing on Saturn or running a startup company. Decisions are scaffolded but allow players to make largely unbounded choices. If you decide to go after a patent troll, you should expect to hear from their lawyers; if you decide to pursue a robust PR strategy, you need to be ready to talk to journalists.

They can learn from their successes and their failures. Learners get a sense of accomplishment as they overcome difficulties that push them out of their comfort zone[2] and the game adapts to their level of ability – if learners have trouble making decisions, the game offers more advice; if learners are doing well, they should expect to face more difficult challenges. And learners are provided with in-game and post-game feedback. In-game feedback provides players with important information about how well they (and their teams) did, facilitating learning and providing learners with the opportunity to reflect in the game. Post-game feedback, in the form of a dynamic debrief, allows players to make sense of the whole experience, unpack their successes and mistakes and integrate knowledge gleaned from the experience, with what they already know. [3]

If they succeed, their team succeeds. Learners recognize the link between individual and team success and are energized by the social context of the game - they have to make decisions within their teams, and they care about what happens to their team. Our simulations promote collaboration through icebreakers, team charter building, and automated, adaptive team coaching; to succeed, learners have to share knowledge and link their success to the success of the group.[4]


  1. [1]

    For more on the link between student autonomy and engagement see Wallace, T. L., Sung, H. C., & Williams, J. D. (2014). The defining features of teacher talk within autonomy-supportive classroom management. Teaching and Teacher Education, 42, 34-46 and Reeve, J., & Halusic, M. (2009). How K-12 teachers can put self-determination theory principles into practice. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), 145-154

  2. [2]

    For a detailed overview of scaffolding for potential knowledge, see Chaiklin, S. (2003). The zone of proximal development in Vygotsky’s analysis of learning and instruction. Vygotsky’s educational theory in cultural context, 1, 39-64.

  3. [3]

    For more on reflection in and on action see Schon, DA. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. 1st ed. New York: Basic Books; 1984.

  4. [4]

    For more on creating positive interdependence see Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.