Simple eLearning Simulations?

The Secret of
eLearning Simulations

If you have ever played (or watched someone else play) a role-playing video game, you can appreciate how simulated environments capture our attention. Games are also great for learning and practicing skills. For example, the Army has used “war games” for years to help prepare soldiers for the rigors of the battlefield.

Custom-animated, immersive game simulations cost millions and take years to develop, so you may think simulation training is impractical and unattainable for your organization. However, you don’t have to build a complete video game to give learners the sense of immersion and hands-on learning that a simulation provides. Branching role-playing simulation elements can be added to eLearning courses, giving learners the experience of being part of a story and helping them practice skills such as decision-making, sales conversations, and customer service.

When can a simulation be valuable?

  • The skills taught are higher on the Bloom’s Taxonomy model, such as Applying, Analyzing, and Evaluating.
  • The skill is difficult to practice in the real world, such as handling an emergency.
  • The cost of failure is high, such as high-stakes sales, making critical business decisions, or administering CPR.

Why are simulations so hard to create?

A person thinking about the right choice in an elearning simulation example.

Most people think choice-based simulations work like the real world. Imagine a simulated conversation with a potential customer. You present your learner with a character and provide dialogue choices. Each time the learner chooses a response, the character responds with a different statement, facial expression, and tension rating. The conversation builds as the learner makes more and more responses.

You might think the underlying structure of this conversation looks like this:

ELearning simulation example showing 12 options resulting from a conversation.

In this conversation, the customer asks a question, and the learner has three potential responses. Each time the learner makes a choice, they are provided with three more unique responses—a total of 12 unique responses for a brief conversation.

This pattern quickly becomes unmanageable from a development standpoint. If the conversation continues for two more exchanges, the instructional designer will have to write 121 individual responses for a conversation that lasts less than a minute!

Plus, there’s a high risk that the learner will bypass critical learning points in the conversation. For example, if a critical learning point occurs in Choice AZ, but the learner selects Choice C and goes down that path, the critical learning point will be completely missed.

A better method for creating simulations.

The truth is, you don’t need a lot of branching for conversations to feel real to the learner. A better way to design role-play simulations is to create “blocks” of branching conversations that you string together in a linear fashion. Here’s how a block might look:

Conversation block method for eLearning simulations

A customer begins a conversation, and the learner selects a response from three choices. If they select the “best” response or the “OK” response, the customer responds appropriately and moves on to the next conversation block. If they choose the “poor” response, they are given three more response choices so they have a chance to recover. The customer responds appropriately and the block is complete.

We can build a conversation by stringing blocks together, adding feedback from a coach where appropriate.

For example, the coach introduces the conversation with some context around who the customer is, why we’re talking to them, and what the learner’s goals are. As the conversation progresses, if at any point there is a critical learning point to be made, the coach steps in to add information. At the end of the conversation, the coach provides customized feedback on how the learner performed. This is accomplished by tagging individual responses with specific feedback that is aggregated at the end of the conversation.

In addition to saving labor and making simulation design easier to understand, the block structure ensures that critical learning points aren’t missed. While the learner makes selections within the block, they encounter each block in a linear sequence. And even though the underlying design of the simulated conversation is simple, it still feels immersive to the learner.

The end result is an engaging learner experience that allows for trial and error, but doesn’t break the bank to develop. Learners are motivated to try the simulation multiple times, exploring different behaviors and having unique experiences based on their choices.

Susan loves chatting about simulations. Give us a call at (859) 415-1000 or drop us a line in the form at the bottom of this page and we’ll connect you with her. 

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