How to use simulations in your course

Simulations give students a chance to apply what they know in a place where failure is not critical and where skills that might only be experienced rarely can be practiced repeatedly.

Simulations can be incorporated into any course and can be easily adapted. Expertly designed simulations can:

Engage your students. Simulations capture and maintain student attention. When students are immersed in a simulated environment and have the autonomy to make decisions, they are drawn into the experience. Engagement both increases student satisfaction and focuses their attention, a key to learning.

Deliver “aha!” moments. During a simulation, students navigate through challenging and realistic scenarios. Students practice skills that they might only read about in other courses; the interactive nature of the simulation drives learning by pushing students out of their comfort zone. That struggle can be revelatory as ideas they had only encountered in theory take on new meaning in application.

Help you assess and grade your students. Simulations provide you with insights about your students – you can track their progress and get a clear picture of what they know through the decisions they make during the simulation. The simulation itself can be graded, and you can use what you learned about your students to tweak course content, connecting key ideas in the simulation to low-stakes quizzes and follow-up exercises.

Provide a perfect backdrop for an interactive debrief. The post-simulation debrief puts the lessons of the simulation into context. The simulation is a shared experience providing common ground from which to build a discussion about key ideas. During the debrief, students can discuss the experience, hear other points of view and reflect on their decisions. Armed with insights about student decisions during the simulation, your debrief can build a bridge between the simulation and real life; you can encourage students to describe what happened, analyze what they might have done differently, and relate the experience to key course concepts.


How you use a simulation in your class depends on what you hope to accomplish through the exercise. For instance:

The Saturn Parable Simulation can be played at any time during a course; it delivers team, organizational, and strategic lessons that can serve as a way to introduce students to concepts, or it can be used as a capstone exercise in which students get a chance to practice what they have learned in a fictional setting.

The eCommerce Analytics Interactive Case can be used as a capstone exercise, a lead to a course, or as a stand-alone, rich exercise that gives students a decision-making toolbox to assess critical data such as revenue, costs, customer lifetime value, and customer loyalty tradeoffs.

The Startup Game can be played at any time during a course as either an initial exercise introducing students to the chaotic world of entrepreneurship or as a capstone exercise in which students can practice what they learned in the course.

The Entrepreneurship Game can be played at the beginning of a course, introducing students to key course concepts or at the end of a course, giving students a chance to practice what they learned and build on that knowledge.