Tuesday, September 3, 2013

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING: How to Select a Simulation

Planning makes perfect

Your responsibility as a simulation facilitator is to fully consider the participants, the learning objectives, and how the learning will be assimilated into work processes. A key factor to consider is your skill and experience level, which must be matched to the complexity of the simulation.

Unlike the structured and predictable traditional training classroom, simulations play out differently with every group, making skilled facilitation essential. If the simulation is being used as part of a team development or organizational change process, it can be helpful to pair it with an appropriate self-assessment instrument. These instruments provide more opportunity for introspection and enhanced self-awareness, and should be considered during the selection process.

Know the participants

You should know the group's makeup, form, and function, as well as their previous experience with simulations. Simulations can be used to do an initial assessment of a group's developmental needs, but it is important for the participants to understand this intention.

Know the simulation

Be the expert on the simulation, and fully utilize the facilitator guide. Plan deployment to achieve the learning objectives in the allotted time, and walk through it.

Avoid simulations with one right answer

Simulations with one right answer are not realistic. They shift the focus more to the ability to analyze data. The best simulations present a problem-solving scenario that offers the opportunity to analyze, decide, perform, experience consequences, and then make adjustments. Complex problems rarely have one right answer. The ability to build support for a solution may be as important as the solution itself.

Make a checklist

Order materials; check supplies; and confirm number of participants, equipment, and shipments. If computers are involved, test the software on each device.

Plan the facility

Room setup is complex with many simulations, and every simulation has different space requirements and configuration options, so check your facilitator guide for room setup options, space needs, and other details before booking the facility. Make sure that the person setting up the room understands your needs.

Plan the timeline

Allow sufficient time for reading materials considering learners' different reading speeds. In daylong simulations, have the participants manage their time, including breaks, and provide the option of a working lunch.

Invite the participants

No one likes to feel hijacked from their day, particularly senior executives. Considering the organization's cultural norms, avoid this perception with a personalized invitation informing them of the purpose of the session, its duration, logistics, and expected outcomes.

Coach the leader

When an intact group's leader will be a participant in the simulation, provide coaching on how he should participate. A group may look to its leader to answer questions during the simulation or to share his experience first during the debrief. In both instances, doing so can significantly influence subsequent contributions from the group and should be discouraged.
Coach the leader to listen carefully and wait until others have weighed in before he does. This helps to ensure that others will honestly share their ideas and perceptions without being influenced. If the leader chooses to be an observer during the simulation, this role should continue through the debrief. The organization and the leaders should be made aware that having the leader observe can be a potential obstacle to full participation by the group, as they may feel that they are being assessed.

Coordinate schedules and facilitation styles

When group size necessitates running concurrent simulations, provide each group with a similar experience through the coordination of schedules and facilitation styles. Generally, it is best to have separate debriefs for each group, but if time allows, a large group debrief may be added. This allows everyone to benefit from each other's experiences and insight, which may be relative to the organization as a whole.

Please share your insights and questions by posting comments below. For help in selecting the right simulation, pairing a simulation with an assessment, or learning how to become certified to use any of our simulations, visit our website at or use our Contact Page. We have compiled extensive data to inform us about the best simulation and assessment instruments for different circumstances.

This post was extracted from an article by Chris Musselwhite,  Sue Kennedy, and Nancy Probst, originally published in T+D magazine (American Society for Training and Development).

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