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Simulation and Game Environments Improve Learning

Why simulation

Policy formulation depends upon interactive problem solving that is sensitive to the complexity of global economic and social problems, and understanding of different international, regional and national perspectives. Understanding the environment and operation of the political process is essential to formulating critical judgments concerning important policy issues. Moreover, policy making requires the involvement of stakeholders as active participants in the policy process at different levels of societal organization. This is particularly true for international development policy where the traditional approach to solving policy problems has given way to policy designs based on stakeholders’ analysis and participatory approaches. Nowhere is this approach more essential than in the organization of humanitarian assistance following natural disasters, such as hurricanes.

Simulations have been employed successfully in international relations and public policy courses since the late 1950s, but globalization has prompted a renewed interest in simulations as interactive teaching tools that capture the dynamics of global change. Simulation exercises provide an opportunity for experiential learning about international policy-making processes and the development of negotiation and communication skills to promote successful cooperation in a globalized world.

Simulations are proven tools for enhancing knowledge and promoting learning. Role-playing enables students to understand motivations and behavior of different stakeholders in a negotiation. For instance, trying to answer the questions “What does it mean to be a Executive President of Nike, Inc., or a worker at the Nike factory in Vietnam, or a Congressman from North Carolina who is besieged by complaints of people who lost their jobs due to outsourcing, or a woman shopping for cheap and convenient running shoes at the Great American Mall?” helps students to understand the complexity of interests involved in the problem of labor outsourcing and the trade-offs all participants encounter in the process of economic globalization.

Interactive experiential learning is a powerful tool. Information alone rarely makes people change their minds, but personal experience often does. Role-playing transforms the content of education from information into experience. In fact, while students recall only 10% of what they read and 20% of what they hear, they remember 90% of their actions and statements combined.

Simulation benefits the student in several ways:

  • Studies consistently show that active learning approaches increase student comprehension, enhance student problem solving skills and increase retention rates.
  • Simulation games generate or enhance personal interest in a subject and expose students to a variety of viewpoints and a range of outcomes related to particular situations.
  • The creative aspect of the exercise makes it seem more like play; active learning techniques enhance students’ enjoyment of their educational experience. The pressure to solve a problem for their character can motivate students in a way that is far more typical of the pressure they will face in real life.
  • Role playing exercises help to develop real-world skills, many of which are very difficult to teach using more traditional methods of instruction: self-awareness, problem-solving, conflict management, communication, initiative, and teamwork.

Why a game-based environment

A considerable body of scholarship has shown that computer games provide an environment for active, critical learning. Through computer games one can learn to appreciate the inter-relationship of complex behaviors, signs (images, words, actions, symbols, etc.) systems, and the formation of social groups. Games are not only used for entertainment purposes. Computer games and social simulations are increasingly being used for training and teaching in management science, economics, psychology, sociology, intercultural communication, political science, military strategy, interpersonal skill development, and education. Computer games open up possibilities for simultaneous learning on multiple levels; players may learn from contextual information embedded in the dynamics of the game, the organic process or story generated by the game, and through the risks, benefits, costs, outcomes, and rewards of alternative strategies that result from decision making.