6 Tips for Designing Great Learning Simulations

Simulations have been utilized in eLearning for a long time and, despite seismic shifts in course delivery and learner access, simulations will remain an integral part of the future. That means it’s imperative that you know how to design learning simulations that achieve your desired goals. Following are a few high level tips that serve as a good introduction for new instructional designers and a quick refresher for experienced professionals.

1. Simulations in eLearning – Keep It Familiar

Keep learning simulation situations and visual designs familiar and relevant for your learners. I’ve seen some elaborate and intricate scenarios designed to be so “different and fun” that the purpose and meaning of the course was totally lost. Have fun and use creativity when developing your scenarios – just don’t make them so abstract that learners lose focus.

2. Push Learners to Learn

Most eLearning is learner-led, and that applies to simulations. This means there must be a push – an external force that requires learners to take the first step, and then the next, and so on. That push can be almost anything within a simulation, but it must motivate learners to move forward. An example of a push might be a time limit or a percentage of clearance on each board before a learner can move forward. Even gamification-style components can provide the push needed.

3. Mix Up the Settings

Simulations should not use the same setting over and over again, even if the real world scenario being mimicked would take place in the same location. Switch things up to keep learners on their toes, but also engaged and interested in each subsequent simulation. If each simulation used the same setting, the process would quickly become monotonous and boring causing learners to disengage.

4. Make Characters/Avatars Compelling and Interesting

It might not seem like it, but the choice of character or avatar in each simulation is very important. A great deal of thought and planning needs to go into each decision here. In fact, a lot of benefit can be gained by allowing learners to choose their own avatar/character from a list of available options. This provides a significant level of customization, which results in greater engagement and connection with the game on the part of the learner. Additionally, learners will develop emotional attachments to the characters they use, as well as those they interact with, so diversity and variety are crucial.

5. Bake in Help for Learners

No matter how simple or straightforward a simulation may be, always have help at hand. Learners may struggle to understand any number of things about the simulation, from the point of the exercise to how to interact with characters. A detailed yet streamlined help section, FAQ list, or tutorial is vital.

6. Test, Test, Test

Every simulation should be tested thoroughly by more than one person. This provides different perspectives and also ensures that any areas that need further development or refinement are spotted early on, before the simulation makes it into “the wild”.

Designing great learning simulations doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. These tips will help simplify the process and ensure that the right learning tools are created.

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