Six key business simulation elements and their benefits

Effective business simulations allow learners to interact with a realistic version of their work environment.

A simulation game mixes elements of cooperation, competition and decision-making with feedback and repetition. Combining game elements with simulations, modern technology and media creates a learning programme that has a variety of powerful benefits.

Successful business simulation exercises don’t just teach your learners about the scenarios they’re facing, they show them how they can work together and learn from other people’s experiences.

Business simulations seek to put the learner in a realistic scenario that they will encounter in their work life. Immersing them in an environment that recreates the real world lets them see the effects of their decisions immediately.

To get the most out of business simulation games, there are six key elements you should incorporate:

  1. Mirror real business challenges in your simulation story
  2. Blend physical tasks and technology to create impact
  3. Add an element of competitive challenge
  4. Test throughout development to hone the gameplay
  5. Use images and video to enhance the learner experience
  6. Use game data and reporting to add value to the feedback stage


If you create a business simulation that includes these elements, you can expect to see a range of benefits.

Benefits of business simulation for learners

Accelerated performance through experiential learning

Experiential learning has been shown to be more effective than other kinds of training in many areas. A simulation allows employees to learn by experiencing the consequences of their actions and repeating different strategies to see different outcomes.

Studies show that you can not only impact on learner’s knowledge of the content of the simulation but also more general skills.

    “Business simulation games can improve not only conceptual knowledge about project management but also team working and the participants’ other soft skills.” — Silke Geithner and Daniela Menzel | Dresden and Chemnitz Universities of Technology, Germany


Building critical skills in a realistic environment

Research into critical thinking in students shows that skills are improved by taking part in management simulations.

    “Participation in simulations is an effective way to develop critical thinking skills" — Kathi J. Lovelace, Fabian Eggers and Loren R. Dyck | Academy of Management

In this case, the content of the simulation was secondary to the intended effect. Even if the content of the simulation is not relevant to the exact role a learner plays in an organisation, they will benefit from taking part.

Critical thinking, teamwork and other soft skills all improve when learners take part in a well-designed business simulation.


Deepen learning through collaboration

Cooperation with colleagues is rated as the most important method of learning by learners themselves. This comes from a sample of 2000 learners surveyed by Towards Maturity.

    “86% find that working in collaboration with other team members is essential or very useful for learning what they need for their job.”

A simulation lets learners work together to achieve the best results. Learning from a colleague’s approach to a situation and their knowledge of the industry is more useful than reading about a technique or fact.

And cooperating and competing with different teams that you don’t usually work with enables knowledge sharing that isn’t otherwise possible.

Achieve unprecedented engagement

Towards Maturity also carried out research on the impact of simulations in their report, Online Experiential Learning: Helping Individuals Practise and Perform. Two-thirds of respondents reported increased engagement in the learning when it involved a simulation or other similar interactive element.

Combining teamwork, interactions, rich media and game elements in one package creates a training event that learners want to experience.

When learners want to take your training, and even repeat the session, you know it’s offering something beyond the traditional tick box standard.


Benefits of simulation for business

Provides employees with an understanding of the wider strategic picture

Most learners don’t get to experience more than a handful of roles in an organisation. Putting them in the position of a different role within a simulation allows them to experience how they fit into the wider picture.

Using a simulation as an introduction to how a company operates gives new employees an overview of the way it works that no traditional presentation can match. And allowing them to experience the role of a different department gives them more empathy for their colleagues and their challenges.

An especially pertinent benefit considering the current climate – uniting geographically remote workers with a team-based simulation, makes it easier for all participants to understand the issues facing the different teams in your business.

Provides quantitative assessment data

Modern business simulations use technology to incorporate the event into your learning platform. Recording the actions taken and their results allows real-time feedback to be displayed as well as captured for later assessment.  

Quantitative data can be drawn from the various inputs the learners make to the simulation system. The more sessions that are run, the more data is collected for comparison and analysis, making a simulation more valuable in the long term.


Provide qualitative assessment data

Often, a facilitator will be involved in running a simulation, giving L&D an opportunity to collect qualitative data throughout the session.

Debriefs are an important part of any business simulation and offer some of the most valuable opportunities to learn for the business and participants.

A popular starting point for business simulation debriefing is Sivasailam Thiagarajan's 'Six phases of debriefing': How do you feel? What happened? What did you learn? How does this relate to the real world? What if…? What next?

By asking these questions of the learners, you can get a deeper insight into how effective the simulation has been, and how it can be improved.

Introducing a mid-game debrief allows learners to share thoughts and strategies with team members, facilitators and opposing teams. Tweaks can be made to the simulation while it is still happening to ensure everyone benefits as much as possible.

Combining the feedback and data from the simulation gives L&D a unique opportunity to compare performance and results across teams and individuals.

Case Study 1: Kaspersky Threat Hunting Simulation

Leading cybersecurity provider, Kaspersky, wanted to provide a self-study training program on threat hunting with Yara for individual ITsec specialists and SOC teams within their customer organisations. Using Yara, learners create certain ‘rules’ and search for malicious files that match them.

The key challenges? Realistically practising detecting malware without actually infecting a network and creating a scalable training environment that can be rolled out across organisations.

Sponge developed a Virtual Lab simulated experience that enables hands-on learning on real-world threat cases in a protected environment and without the need for learners to install anything on their side.

This unique program brought together a structured learning experience featuring a video-coach, guided learning tasks and drag-and-drop coding; and the ability to practice in real-time on an online hosted virtual machine.

This method of learning was particularly effective as it required the participants to practice constructing ideas on their own (in this case, writing Yara rules to detect cyber threats). As Bloom’s taxonomy suggests, ‘creation’ is the highest level of complexity and specificity in learning, and helps learners achieve unconscious competence, which leads to mastery.

Providing worked examples, i.e., giving learners example problems to solve involving complexity and judgement, is a proven strategy for effective and efficient learning, according to Neelan and Kirschner, 2020.

Plus, the programme supports spaced practice – allowing learners to return to the problems and rework them over time. This is another effective strategy as they must retrieve what was learned in past sessions, strengthening memory.


Case Study 2: GlaxoSmithKline VaxSim

Leading pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) wanted an interactive activity to support its regular onboarding event for the vaccines arm of its business. GSK wanted the experience to be as immersive and engaging as possible to give their employees an overview of how the different parts of a global vaccines business work together.

VaxSim is a multimedia business simulation game that combines digital, video, gaming and live role-play elements. One to twelve teams of between six and ten people play out a simulated financial year, each team member having a distinct and key role, eg, CEO, CFO, VP of Sales and Marketing, VP of Operations.

They make quarterly decisions on what vaccines to produce, what tenders to bid for, what resources they need and what hiring and customer relations activities they need to carry out to be successful. They must choose their target market from a series of fictional countries.

Throughout the game, players must think on their feet to deal with unexpected situations such as a fire in a manufacturing plant, or the opportunity to hire a maverick salesperson.

These game alerts may come in as a simulated news report, email, Skype call or WebEx meeting. The use of multimedia adds drama to propel the narrative.

Debriefs are held halfway through the daylong session and after the simulated year has finished.

Feedback from learners and L&D was positive, with 100% of participants enjoying the experience and 90% believing it would be beneficial to their job.


You can find out more about Sponge’s business simulation projects, or get in touch to talk to us about your bespoke learning content requirements.

This article was first written in 2016, and has subsequently been updated with new and relevant information, as well as pertinent case studies.

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