There's nothing like the real thing

The power of a 'light' simulation

As you are probably aware, a knowledge about the aims, the products and the customer environment of a business is a major part of peoples' motivation and engagement at work. A 'light' simulation can be the perfect way to increase knowledge in the most fun and active way!

We all know that people learn mostly by doing. Taking on a job makes people learn quickly and practically. But in some situations it's extremely useful to prepare people first, if you can.

For example, with soft skills such as giving feedback, or negotiating, role play in a safe environment allows people to practice and test various approaches. This is simulated reality, but the word 'simulation' is more often used to describe learning that's related to decision-making or the use of processes and equipment.

A type that everyone's heard about is a flight simulator. Trainee military and airline pilots spend hours in these. Most of the scenarios they would meet in the air can be mocked up accurately, allowing repeated practice and avoiding the use of expensive aircraft. In life science, operators of regulation-critical machinery can be trained using simulations of manufacturing plant. Business simulations are also useful. Some organisations run a 'project boot camp' - several days where a whole cross-function team make decisions along the path of a realistic product development exercise.

For learning professionals, the word 'simulation' will typically mean something that is complex, expensive and time consuming to develop. They wouldn't be wrong, for any of the above. The investment required means that these type of systems need to be used by a large, steady clientele of trainees, over several years.

But there is another type of learning, knowledge-based rather than skills or behaviour-based; understanding an organisation's business and priorities, or imperatives for success. This is vitally linked to employee engagement. A clear understanding of a company's purpose, products and customer environment is part of the way staff are motivated.

Unfortunately, company presentations, seminars and lectures, while they are useful for business briefings and annual 'Town hall' meetings, may raise awareness temporarily but are not so effective for real learning. Presented by senior business professionals rather than trainers, they are often drawn from investor presentations and are full of jargon.

Simulation-based training can add a powerful learning boost in this situation. Such simulations, while important to design properly, are shorter and much less expensive to develop and run. A punishing level of fine detail is not necessary - and is counter-productive. It does means that the alternative - didactic presentations - can be interspersed with periods of relevant and enjoyable activity, where groups of people are faced with fairly realistic challenges.

There are two dimensions to consider when thinking about an ideal solution for a particular staff group. The first is 'guided vs competitive'. Guided means that some decision making is done by groups, but a facilitator brings them back on track, and resets the conditions as things progress. Competitive means a business game of some sort, where groups' decisions build into an end result, win or lose.

The second dimension, very open to consideration these days, is 'live vs online'. The eLearning world is perfect for simulations, both guided and competitive.

In the last 10 years or so I have had loads of experience in designing simulations, particularly 'light' ones. The latter is perfect for working with life science IT people, HR, Finance staff - but any groups that need to understand more about how the business works. In particular, they are the basis of the 'Molecules to Markets' program I run.

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