Educational Simulations

From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Contents

Module Summary

Various types of higher education learning experiences are enhanced through the uses of simulations. These are models of the real-world that highlight particular aspects of learning: for practice, for insight, and for projecting into the future. This module will focus on what educational simulations are, how they’re used for higher education learning, the features of the most effective simulations, the basic accessibility requirements for simulations, and some of the technologies used to create educational simulations.


image:EdSim.jpg

(The above image is taken from an educational simulation used at Kansas State University.)

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • Define what an educational simulation is and the various types of simulations that are popularly available
  • Explain how educational simulations are used for higher education learning
  • Describe some features of the most effective simulations for learning
  • Highlight some of the basic accessibility requirements for simulations
  • Review some of the technologies used to create educational simulations

Module Pretest

1. What is an educational simulation, and what are the various types of simulations available?

2. How are educational simulations used for higher education learning?

3. What are some of the features of the most effective simulations for learning?

4. What are some of the basic accessibility requirements for simulations?

5. What are some of the technologies used to create educational simulations?

Main Contents

What is an educational simulation, and what are the various types of simulations available?

An educational simulation is built around set learning objectives. These objectives may involve

  • acquiring a certain attitude (like customer-centered care)
  • acquiring certain skills (like learning how to word-process)
  • acquiring certain learned behaviors (like how to communicate with a customer)
  • gaining a complex world view (like understanding how global political systems may work through a simulation), and
  • troubleshooting problems in a real-world context (like identifying when to notify authorities about suspicious looking signs or symptoms or plants that may / may not be infected with a high-risk pathogenic agent)

An educational simulation involves the conveying of an online experience in which a learner goes through a sequential or non-sequential experience that models or emulates a real-world experience. The simulation consists of “selective fidelity”; in other words, the experience does not pretend the whole complexity of a learning experience but highlights the salient parts of a simulation.

For example, a simulation that focuses on teaching word-processing will show a visual keyboard on the screen and will offer indicators of speed and accuracy—because speed and accuracy are two key components that are beneficial for those learning to word-process.

A simulation that emulates a real-world machine will have certain common scenarios coded for the learning level of the student. Real-world actions that may be too complex may not be depicted at the lower levels of the simulation learning.

How are educational simulations used for higher education learning?

Educational simulations are used for various general purposes in higher education.

  • They raise student interest.
  • They enable a deeper sense of experiential reality for experiences that might otherwise be expensive or dangerous to the student.
  • They enrich the learning.
  • They are often memorable.
  • They offer ways to culminate complex learning.

What are some of the features of the most effective simulations for learning?

Effective simulations, foremost, have to be accurate to the world. They have to have clearly defined learning objectives. They have to offer salient and clear learning. They have to offer the proper level of complexity for the desired learning. They should not lead to “negative learning” or mistaken ideas or practices. (The simulation itself should involve clear definitions of what is / is not covered in the simulation and the limits of the underlying model.) Incomplete or inaccurate knowledge may actually impede the learning process. (Alexander and Judy, Winter 1988).

The information in simulations should be timely and current.

The technological interfaces should work smoothly.

The simulation should be fun and entertaining.

The simulation should be as accessible as possible to the widest possible group of potential learners.

The simulation should involve all members of the class and offer fresh insights to real-world challenges.

In terms of research on the effectiveness of simulations, these are often done specific to a learning group and a particular simulations.

What are some of the basic accessibility requirements for simulations?

Various non-profit and professional organizations have been working on standards for both electronic game and simulation accessibility. The basic concepts have been that games and simulations must allow players to control the pacing; to interact with the interface using more than a mouse or a keyboard (but also accessibility devices); to access relevant information with more than one channel (not just visual or auditory or symbolic reasoning / reading), and so on.

Clearly, some of these types of mitigations may not be possible in every game or simulation situation, but these are important ambitions to build to.

What are some of the technologies used to create educational simulations?

The types of software and technologies used for building the educational simulations depend on the simulations. Low-end and simple games may be created by some fairly straightforward commercially available software tools. There are different technologies sometimes for creating for a laptop-based game vs. a mobile device game.

There are some technologies for modifying existing online and boxed game structures, depending on how open the software maker is in terms of offering modifiability.

Some simulations are created on a Web 2.0 substructure, such as simulations built on student research and thinking and deployed on wikis. Others are built on learning / course management systems. Still others are built on a mixed substructure of various technologies.

Examples

How To

Instructors will not often build their own simulations except those that involve student research and role-playing of certain scenarios (such as in political science, history, business, and security studies) or those that mimic real-world design (such as in art, web design, architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, and other types of design and problem-solution courses).

Designing these types of simulations may be helped by considering some of the following questions (phrased generally):

  • What are the learning objectives of the simulation?
  • What information and skills will the learners need to have in order to achieve the learning objectives?
  • What elements of a real-world context do the learners need to have to evoke the environment?
  • What support will the instructor need to provide?
  • What lead-up studies should the learners have in order to benefit most from this educational simulation?
  • What types of intercommunications will students need?
  • What sorts of digital artifacts will students need to create?
  • What sorts of formal feedback will learners need throughout the learning cycle around the simulation?
  • What sorts of debriefing would be beneficial for learners going through this educational simulation?

Possible Pitfalls

Educational simulations need to offer sufficient feedback streams to learners to fully enable them to anticipate the realities of a real-world situation. Learners should also fully understand the limitations of the simulation, particularly the underlying models. Learners have to understand the amounts of serendipity (and open-endedness) that have been built into the simulation (such as those that involve human-embodied avatars in public virtual spaces).

Module Post-Test

1. What is an educational simulation, and what are the various types of simulations available?

2. How are educational simulations used for higher education learning?

3. What are some of the features of the most effective simulations for learning?

4. What are some of the basic accessibility requirements for simulations?

5. What are some of the technologies used to create educational simulations?

References

Alexander, P.A. & Judy, J.E. (1988). The interaction of domain-specific and strategic knowledge in academic performance. Review of Educational Research: Vol. 58, No. 4. pp. 375 – 404.


Extra Resources

Human Facilitation of Online Simulations

Simulation (Wikipedia)