One of the most common questions about simulations is a lack of definition: what exactly is a simulation? Is it the same as playing a game or acting out a role? Is it inquiry-based or problem-based learning? Is it implying something specific?
A simulation is a reconstruction of a real-world scenario that is used to investigate key aspects of that situation. It is the reduction and essentialization of an object or process to enable participants to experience it.
Situation in the real world
Simulations, on the other hand, are what you make of them outside the general description. Simulations can cover a wide variety of events, from the very basic and brief to the profoundly involved and extended, as this website demonstrates.
Instructors can explore materials in fresh, engaging, and unforgettable ways thanks to the tremendous versatility that simulations provide. It’s no coincidence that many of those who use simulations in their teaching are people who have firsthand experience with them: it’s no exaggeration to suggest that simulations provided the majority of the author’s very few real learning experiences throughout his schooling. Furthermore, it is a method that is transferable through disciplines in the social sciences.
The upcoming generation
A simulation allows students to ‘live the world’ of the phenomenon they are studying, and it is through this ‘living’ that learning takes place in a profound way that engages students by requiring them to develop a personal model of that ‘world’ and how to engage with it: if I have to pretend to be the head of the Albanian unit in charge of property rights, and then engage in a simulation, I will learn in a profound way that engages students by requiring them to develop a personal model of that
Simulations, on the other hand, go beyond the active-learning assumption. We may argue that they encapsulate two main concepts in particular. The first is the idea that the universe (or at least the particular phenomenon we’re interested in) can be modelled, implying that a collection of relatively basic laws can encapsulate the fundamentals of a given situation. These laws may be in the form of a decision-making architecture (e.g. voting rights, structural relationships between participants, etc. ), personal or institutional characteristics (e.g. people’s inherent appetite for control, or profit maximisation), or even random occurrences (e.g. using dice to generate chaotic situations). Thus, a simple simulation to investigate negotiation dynamics assumes that large groups of actors have difficulty making efficient decisions, that actors would carry their personal worldviews into negotiations, and that time management is not a primary concern in negotiations. When combined, they create a situation that allows students to directly observe them in a way that is meaningful to them.
The second premise is that the universe is complex, which means that even when basic rules are followed, the outcomes are inherently unpredictable and non-linear due to the chaotic nature of human interaction. To put it another way, when we run a simulation, we do so knowing that both the method and the result will change from iteration to iteration, and it is this ambiguity that we want to communicate to students. To return to the simple game described in the previous paragraph, each time it was played, a new collection of approaches, concepts, activities, and outcomes emerged. This has included everything from defending the threatened town to pretending to be unaware of the attack to dispatching the troops to assassinate the president!
Games appear to be on the simpler side of the spectrum – for example, in terms of constructing highly stylized environments – but they still straddle the realms of computer gaming and serious games. Role-playing and simulations are essentially synonymous, but the focus in role-playing is more specifically on the adoption of a specific role or individual. To avoid misunderstanding, the term ‘simulation’ is used in this Guide to cover all of these. Although simulations and problem- and inquiry-based learning have several similarities, the latter do not share the same basic premise of recreating real-world scenarios, and therefore fall into a different category.
The idea that the environment should be brought into the classroom in a way that encourages learners to fully interact with – and immerse themselves in – the content unites all of these pedagogical methods. In short, they provide an excellent opportunity for students to develop knowledge and skills in a setting that they manage. For the teacher, it creates new opportunities for engagement and shifts the focus to student-led learning. The proverb quoted in Hertel & Millis (2002, pp. ix) sums it up perfectly: “I hear and I forget.” I note and recall. I know what you’re talking about, and I get it.”
Before moving on to when simulations would be most useful, it’s a good idea to define a few words that will be used in the website. The individual (or people) who creates the simulation’s goals and rules is known as a game designer. The game-leader is the person in charge of the simulation’s actual execution (game-play) on the ground; this is often the same person as the game-designer. Assessors, who play a strictly passive role, can also observe the game-play. Participants are referred to as students since it is the main audience.