Human Facilitation of Online Simulations

From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Contents

Module Summary

A simulation is a type of interactive pretending, with learners engaging with a model or representation of some aspect of the real world. Simulations are used to model a variety of learning situations: acquiring skills to use new devices or pieces of equipment or software; practicing “soft skills” of communicating with other people; interacting with others in a play or political scenario; gaming warfare or strife; or troubleshooting in an environment (such as identifying a mechanical problem on an airplane or deciding when to be concerned about signs and symptoms of a pathogen in crops). Some simulations are more complex, such as having student teams pretend to be professional design teams in any number of design fields (architecture, landscape architecture, branding and marketing, website design, and others).

A key factor in how effective simulations are depends on how these simulations are facilitated, for those that involve expert oversight of the learning. This short module addresses issues related to online simulation facilitation.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • Describe the different types of online simulations that are commonly used
  • Describe (in general) some of the learning objectives related to online simulations
  • Explore different types of facilitation methods for dealing with (different types) of online simulations
  • Review the different phases of simulation facilitation: pre-simulation (priming), during the simulation, and after the simulation (debriefing)
  • Explore some of the benefits of peer interactivity before, during, and after a simulation
  • Consider methods for assessing the quality of learning in an online simulation

Module Pretest

1. What are different types of online simulations that are commonly used?

2. What are some of the typical learning objectives related to online simulations?

3. What are the types of human facilitation methods are used for dealing with different types of online simulations?

4. What are the different phases of simulation facilitation: pre-simulation (priming), during the simulation, and after the simulation (debriefing)? What do these phases involve, and how does each contribute to the learning?

5. What are some of the benefits of peer interactivity before, during, and after a simulation?

6. What are some methods for assessing the quality of learning in an online simulation?

Main Contents

This area contains a general overview of the facilitation of a simulation.


1. What are different types of online simulations that are commonly used?

In higher education, there are some basic kinds of online simulations that are commonly used.

The individual and the computer: To over-simplify widely, they may be considered as two general types. One type involves an individual interacting with the computer, in a kind of computer-based training (with open-source software, off-the-shelf (“OTS”) games, or open virtual world environments). Some of these software programs may be “modded” (modified) to enable certain types of learning. Here, the individual interacts with software hosted on a computer. The software may model how to interact with a system, without really capturing effects to the system. Or the individual interacts with a self-discovery virtual environment, with scripted robots and 3D virtual immersive spaces. Some simulations consist of digital “wet labs” that emulate some of the simple experiments that may be done face-to-face in a physical lab.

This sort of simulation tends to be close-ended. There are a limited number of “branches” that these simulations may go.

The individual and other people: Another type involves a more structured and more complex simulation, where the individual interacts with others based on defined scenarios and often role plays. A role play may place the learner into a situation of greater expertise where he or she embodies a particular point-of-view, attitude, or area of specialty.

The scenarios may be soft-skill interactions, where doctors-in-training and nurses-in-training practice interacting with virtual (or human-embodied) patients. Or people working in law enforcement may work on communications skills in dealing with potential suspects.

Sometimes, these more complex simulations may be based on case studies, which may be real-world or theoretical / fictional. These case studies are designed to address issues of strategy. They are also designed to have students engage in various learning experiences that will benefit their growing expertise.

This sort of simulation tends to be open-ended. Within the parameters of the simulation, there is a sense of serendipity which may affect the directions of these simulations—which may go in any number of directions. In other words, the direction of this sim may be unpredictable.

Discrete start and end dates: Most simulations are discrete in terms of start and stop times. Even projects that may extend through the length of a semester may involve longer preparation for the simulations, and then the simulations may exist for any number of days or weeks or months, but there are clear start and end dates.


2. What are some of the typical learning objectives related to online simulations?

Learning objectives in simulations vary widely. Some learning involves cognition—or the changes in thoughts, ideas, and knowledge. Affective learning involves emotions or the changing of feelings and attitudes. Psychomotor learning is a kind of proprioceptive (embodied) learning which includes muscle memory.

Simulations are thought to enable a kind of experiential learning, which will enable learners to internalize particular processes and understandings.

In terms of types of learning, some general approaches follow:

  • Practicing particular simple skills
  • Troubleshooting a particular situation
  • Make proper decisions in different decision contexts
  • Conducting research to problem-solve and analyze, and then presenting on their research to support a “jigsaw” learning endeavor (in which each learner contributes a piece to finish the entire jigsaw “puzzle”)
  • Using new field-specific lingo or jargon
  • Getting familiar with new equipment or software
  • Forming a sense of empathy about one’s future role or the roles of others with whom one will interact
  • Acquiring and practicing communications skills
  • Understanding “systems” and potential complex effects, and
  • Building and applying strategies and tactics in complex situations

A simulation provides experiential learning based on an underlying model which controls the system behaviors. That behavior is conveyed in visualizations, interactions, and text—which are known as “output variables.” Human participants interact with the simulation by putting in certain variables or interacting with the system in a particular way.


3. What are the types of human facilitation methods are used for dealing with different types of online simulations?

The instructor plays a fairly critical role in facilitating simulations. The following highlights some of their work.

Context: First, the instructor sets the context for the simulation. She or he explains the situation and sets the guidelines. She or he defines the learning objectives of the simulation. She or he sets the tone. In the background, she or he also chooses the technologies for the simulation and the actual intercommunications and then the recording of the simulation.

Coordinating roles: The instructor may assign student roles, or he or she may select a key student who then assigns roles. There are various permutations of this role assignment, depending on the nature of the simulation.

Providing support: As a subject matter expert, the instructor will work with students to enhance their learning and performance. This support exists at every stage of the simulation—from pre-simulation to during the simulation to post-simulation. The instructor will connect learners to the needed tech support or media design experts or others to enable the success of the simulation.

Bringing in expertise: The instructor may invite guest speakers who shed new light on an issue. Or she or he may solicit the insights of professionals from the field to serve as judges and critics of student work, when they are in a simulated design situation.

In-role or out-role: An instructor may be a part of the simulation by playing a particular role (as adjudicator, as client, as company CEO, or other) or may exist outside the simulation (as supporter, as adviser, as coordinator, or other).

Refereeing: During the simulation, the instructor may coordinate and referee the discussions.

Debriefing: After the simulation, the instructor may solicit insights from the participants and share observations and insights. The facilitator may ask questions to trigger and highlight certain types of learning. They may ask individuals to reflect, through journaling or sharing aloud. The learners may be set up as pairs (or dyads) and asked to interview each other about the learning. They may also debrief as parts of small groups focused on particular types of learning.


4. What are the different phases of simulation facilitation: pre-simulation (priming), during the simulation, and after the simulation (debriefing)? What do these phases involve, and how does each contribute to the learning?

There are three major phases of the human facilitation of a simulation: pre-simulation, during the simulation, and after the simulation.


(1) Pre-Simulation (Learner Priming)

The pre-simulation phase is often the longest phase of the three. As many who’ve used simulations note, the learning in a simulation happens prior to the simulation, during the simulation, and after the simulation.

This early phase helps set the learning context. Learners read up about the context. They watch videos about the scenario. They interact with subject matter experts. They may even experience the simulation environment and learn how to navigate and function in that environment.

Even more importantly, they work on lead-up assignments that often involve research and analysis. For still others, the work may involve creation or the design of certain artifacts that meet stated standards (of functionality, for example).


(2) During the Simulation

During the simulation, learners are expressing their roles and practicing their skills. They are coordinating with their fellow learners and colleagues. The facilitator supports the learning and propels the simulation forward.


(3) After the Simulation (Debriefing)

After the simulation, learners discuss what they learned and what they saw. They may review a recording of the simulation as a method to highlight what they experienced and observed. They may highlight their learning and enrich the learning of others through their discussions.


5. What are some of the benefits of peer interactivity before, during, and after a simulation?

Peer interactivity may be characterized in several basic ones. One involves the exchange of messages or communications—using text, avatar behaviors, voice, and the sharing of digital artifacts. Another exchange involve collaboration and co-planning. Another involves co-building digital contents. Peer interactivity offers a way to surface unique insights by each of the learners.


(1) Pre-Simulation (Learner Priming)

Prior to simulations, students interact with each other in shared learning endeavors, which builds trust and which also enhances each other’s understandings of the others’ work styles, personalities, and study preferences. They may encourage and support each other in the learning and suggest strategies and resources. They support each other in being prepared. When relevant, they work to coordinate their actions. They may share information and understandings that authenticate the simulation.


(2) During the Simulation

During the simulation, learners inter-communicate and share digital objects. They co-learn. They interact and bring a situation to life, which is experienced in different ways based on the perspective of the various learners and their points-of-view.


(3) After the Simulation (Debriefing)

After the simulation, each learner openly shares insights—which enriches the debriefing. The learners ask different questions. They share different insights.


6. What are some methods for assessing the quality of learning in an online simulation?

Much more research will need to be done to judge the efficacy of games and simulations. Some simulations are measured by their graphics and entertainment value. Others are based on the quality or “selective fidelity” of the simulation (How close does the simulation model the real world? Is the information up-to-date and relevant?). Others still focus on the defined learning objectives for engaging with simulations—with some that are goal-limited (specific), and others that are less defined (general).

So far, the most common model used to judge the learning experience is the so-called Kirkpatrick Evaluation Process (1998), which works on four levels.

Level 1: Reaction (Did the learner engage with the simulation?) Level 2: Learning (Did the learner know what he or she learned? Did he or she show metacognition?) Level 3: Behavior (Did the learner change his / her behavior in an observable way?) Level 4: Results (Are there observable and measureable ways to identify changes based on the learning?)

This model suggests the importance of analyzing the return-on-investment (ROI) of the simulation by measuring actual behavioral changes in the population that engaged in the learning.

Examples

The Jamestown Online Adventure

Cyber Nations: A Nation Simulation Game

Enduring Legacies Native Case Collection

Stop Disasters!

Online Airline Simulation Game

Outbreak at Watersedge


How To

The "how to" depends on the respective contexts.


Possible Pitfalls

Online simulations need to be facilitated well for the learning to be effective. If the facilitation is not done well and if the simulation itself does not offer sufficient feedback, then people risk “negative learning” or the acquisition of incorrect mental models and incorrect information.

Online simulations require trust among the participants. Proper preparation is important for the different roles of the simulation participants. Then, during simulations, all participants need fair access; they have to be brought into the gist of the action. There also needs to be thoroughness in the debriefing to surface what people learned and to capture their impressions and indirect learning—so any misconceptions may be addressed—and so that fresh learning may be captured for the future. Many capture and record simulations in order to debrief more thoroughly. Having a record of historical performances and the different insights surfaced may enhance future learning.

Module Post-Test

1. What are different types of online simulations that are commonly used?

2. What are some of the typical learning objectives related to online simulations?

3. What are the types of human facilitation methods are used for dealing with different types of online simulations?

4. What are the different phases of simulation facilitation: pre-simulation (priming), during the simulation, and after the simulation (debriefing)? What do these phases involve, and how does each contribute to the learning?

5. What are some of the benefits of peer interactivity before, during, and after a simulation?

6. What are some methods for assessing the quality of learning in an online simulation?

References

Aldrich, C. (2005). Learning by Doing: A Comprehensive Guide to Simulations, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in E-Learning and Other Educational Experiences. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, A Wiley Imprint.

Castronova, E. (2005). Synthetic Worlds. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Castronova, E. (2007). Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gibson, D., Aldrich, C. and Prensky, M. (2007). Games and simulations in online learning: Research and development frameworks. Hershey: Information Science Publishing.

Kapp, K.M. (2007). Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.

Extra Resources