With changing times and reduced attention span of students in classrooms, professors are often challenged with the task of introducing newer pedagogical approaches.
In order to capture students’ imagination and make their coursework effective, professors often resort to experimental methods such as activity-based assignments, case studies and business simulation in their classes.
In my journey as a startup founder, building epistemic games, I have often been asked the difference between various business simulation products. That made me wonder, how different can a business simulation be? at the end of the day, they simulate a fraction of the real-world environment. However, when I went a little deeper and started addressing the question from a fundamental design perspective, there seems to be quite a bit of difference.
Most business simulations have the following similarities:
- Simulates nuances of a business environment
- Offers a risk-free environment to apply concepts
- Increases engagement level among students
- Aids in understanding concepts and hence contributes to higher retention
- Increases employability
The underpinning design assumptions vary from one simulation to the other and that has an impact on the outcome. These design elements impact the effectiveness of the simulation on the learning outcomes. Let us critically look at a few differences.
1. Strategic vs. Strategic + Tactical
The underlying factor which unites most business simulations is the level of abstraction that the designers use to capture the nuances of a business environment. Though business simulations are a great alternative to provide a glimpse of the corporate world, they do have their limitations to the extent to which they can capture this reality.
Strategic: One of the most important differentiating factors between comparable business simulation products (simulating the same business environment) lies in the depth of simulation. Most business simulation products do a good job in abstracting the decisions that the players take to simulate the business environment. These abstractions are quite representative of the decisions taken at the CXO level.
Advantages: This approach provides a bird's eye view of the decisions that a prospective employee takes at some point in their career.
Disadvantage: Students who graduate from schools at the start of the career would take a while before they could relate to the learnings from the business simulation program.
Strategic + Tactical: Simulation Products that find a balance between abstraction and capturing the nitty-gritty of a complex business environment are far and few. They intend to provide the players with the vision of a manager in simulating tactical decisions and that of a CXO by simulating strategic decisions.
Advantages: Students get the perspective of both managerial and leadership decisions, which they can easily relate to.
Disadvantage: The simulation becomes complex, and initially it becomes cognitively difficult to manage many decision points.
2. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous
Asynchronous games: Most simulation products available in the market are asynchronous models. Student groups make their decisions independent of the other teams before a stipulated cut of time. The simulation program then computes the values and provides an output of the team's performance.
Advantage: The model fits logistically well with a professors’ schedule and they don’t have to allocate separate time for the simulation. Participants make their decisions in their hostel dorms/ homes.
Disadvantage: The model lacks continuity and hence the effectiveness is questionable.
Synchronous games: Real-time synchronous games offer the possibility of players to alter their decisions dynamically based on the action of other teams/competitors. They also offer continuity and the feedback is immediate, which aids in learning.
Advantage: Sustained engagement and continuity offers excitement and immersion and hence more effective.
Disadvantage: The program needs to be embedded within the schedule and a separate lab time needs to be allocated for such programs.
3. Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous
Homogeneous: The fundamental assumption of most business simulations is that the teams/groups that participate are a homogeneous unit and with priorities and goals aligned.
Conflicts within the team members if any are not captured in the simulation. Unlike in real life, misaligned priorities and goals are not part of the simulation.
Advantage: This model simplifies the level of simulation since it does not consider one of the most significant variables of misaligned priorities and conflicts.
Disadvantage: Fails to capture the essence that governs real-life business environments.
Heterogeneous; The simulation by design assumes the participants to be a heterogeneous unit with individual goals and priorities. The simulation provides scope for conflicts and expects the participants to align themselves while competing with others.
Advantages: This model is a close representation of the real-world setup where conflicts naturally occur in corporate decision-making.
Disadvantage: The game becomes complex and requires a great deal of effort from participants.
4. Groups vs. Multiplayer
Groups: Participants form groups to access a single decision-making terminal (a pc, tablet) and record their collective decision. The simulation program has a provision to capture various groups decisions to perform its computation.
Advantage: Less resource intensive.
Disadvantage: Does not capture an individual’s decision, this method has been designed to encourage free riding and not all players participate equally in the program.
Multiplayer: Individuals don the hat of various roles in the simulation and have defined goals and objectives, they collaborate with peers and record their individual decision in a terminal. This represents the real-life, where managers are accountable for their decisions, whilst requiring to collaborate with others departments.
Advantage: Accounts for individual decisions and measures their performance. This method eliminates free riding.
Disadvantage: Is resource intensive, one terminal for every student and a good network connectivity is required.
5. Core Business Activities vs. Core Business Activities + Human Aspects of Business
Core Business Activities: Most business simulations excel in simulating the core business activities of an enterprise. The human element and culture are given little importance and are not integrated into the product.
Advantage: Keeps the simulation simple and less complicated.
Disadvantage: Misses the most crucial aspect that governs the functioning of an organization.
Core Business Activities + Human Aspects of Business
The human aspect and organizational dynamics are simulated, providing the learner a glimpse of what he/she could expect in an organization. This offers a balanced view and provides a necessary perspective for students.
6. Number Crunching Exercise vs. Immersive Story Line
Number Crunching Exercise: Critics of business simulation often quip that they become a mere number crunching exercise and don’t engage the participant beyond a point.
Advantage: Designing the model is relatively straightforward.
Disadvantage: This approach to learning caters to a selected few who love solving optimization problems and leaves out a majority who learn through connecting information and understanding them like a story.
Immersive Story Line: A few business simulations which follow the approach of constructing an immersive story tend to offer the best of both worlds, the rigor of business simulation and immersion of games.
Advantage: This method enables affective learning.
Disadvantage: Time consuming to design and develop such simulations.
7. Measuring Outcomes vs. Measuring Outcomes + Cognitive Profile of Players
Measuring Outcomes: Reports teams’ performances in terms of their ability to virtually run the organization and measures financial metrics such as PAT, Revenue, Market Share, Share price etc. The teams are ranked based on their ability to successfully run the organization. Measurements are largely intrusive in nature.
Disadvantage: Fails to capture the cognitive and behavioral aspects.
Measuring Outcomes + Cognitive Profile: Simulations that are multiplayer in nature and designed using Evidence Centered Frameworks, break down competencies into tasks and are embedded in the game. The games analytical engine measures the cognitive skills of players along an epistemic frame comprising of their Skills, Knowledge, Identity, Values, and Epistemology.
Disadvantage: Research in this field is still new and the reliability of the measurement needs to be validated further.
The seven points above in my view are some of the differences between various business simulation products available in the market. Depending on the need, course objectives and professors’ willingness to adopt newer technological methods, the choice varies.
The author is the product architect of STRATUP, a multiplayer, real-time synchronous game, designed using an evidence centered framework that simulates a business environment with a human touch. The game assumes the teams to be a heterogeneous unit, thereby eliminating free riding.