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By Lizzie Short
Editor, MindEdge Learning
The first episode of the new reality TV show, “The Rehearsal,” tells the story of a man with a secret he’s been keeping for years: he doesn’t have a master’s degree, and he’s misled his trivia team on that point for over a decade. (Okay, so it’s not the juiciest secret.)
As the man prepares to share his secret with the team’s most judgmental member, the host of the show elaborately recreates the trivia team’s bar and hires an actor to play the judgmental teammate—essentially creating a real-world simulation. The man then repeatedly practices telling his teammate the secret, allowing for every eventuality, until he’s rehearsed his talking points to perfection and he’s ready to tell his real teammate, in real life.
The show is off-kilter and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it effectively demonstrates how simulations can prepare people for (debatably) high-pressure situations. Most of us don’t have access to a Hollywood studio’s budget, but fortunately, online simulations are also incredibly effective learning tools.
If you’re familiar with the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, you’ll understand the concept behind simulations. Essentially, learners are presented with a situation that requires them to make a decision. Their choice will lead to a new outcome and scenario, while a different choice may lead elsewhere.
Simulations are designed to mirror real-world circumstances and offer learners a chance to practice skills and strategies in a low-stakes setting prior to implementing these approaches at work or in school. Additionally, because simulations present a story that places the learner at the center of the narrative, they can be highly effective, memorable, and entertaining learning tools.
Here are some of the characteristics that set simulations apart:
- Simulations allow for the human element: Management, business, and STEM students tend to focus on systems problems, and they often use abstract models to solve those problems. However, their training usually does not address the way that people—whether coworkers, clients, or stakeholders—can influence those systems. Simulations allow these students to encounter situations similar to the ones they might experience on the job and learn how to deal with human (rather than exclusively technical) complications. Simulated on-the-job experiences can make students better prepared to enter the job market and enable them to manage a variety of complex issues successfully.
- Simulations put the learner in the driver’s seat: Simulations keep students engaged and ask them to make decisions in complicated circumstances. Because students need to make choices—and those choices can affect the rest of their experience in the simulation—learners are actively involved in their education. Simulations make good capstone courses because students often need to draw on material from previous courses to navigate the simulation successfully. Additionally, the narrative format allows students to encounter course material in a fresh way.
- Simulations help train students in high-stakes fields: Simulations have been used in the medical field for years, with great success. While doctors and nurses specifically benefit from in-person simulations due to the physical nature of their work, professionals in other industries can also benefit from online simulations that present them with challenging scenarios that they may encounter in the real-world. Learning how to address a public-relations crisis, negotiate the nuanced complexities of working for a major corporation, or coach a team through a product launch, students practice how they might handle these stressful trials in real life.
Online simulations offer a cost-effective method for giving learners an opportunity to test what they’ve learned in a real-world setting. They provide an ideal environment for college students, job-seekers, or professionals looking to take the next step in their careers to test their knowledge, gain applicable skills, and move one step closer to their goals. So, while we can’t all perfectly prepare for life’s biggest moments, à la “The Rehearsal,” simulations allow students and professionals to “rehearse” for their most significant career challenges—right from home.
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