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Introduction to

Five-Step Simulations™ Editable, Reproducible Training Simulations Steve Semler

Ready-to-Use Resources for Trainers!

Copyright © 2009 by LearningSim. All rights reserved.


FIVE-STEP SIMULATIONS™ sim·u·la·tion [sim-yuh-ley-shuh n]: imitation or enactment, as of something anticipated or in testing.

WHAT’S THE STORY ON SIMULATIONS? A lot of people in the training world have been using simulations for a long, long time. But look at that definition from, above. Kind of confusing, isn’t it? How is a trainer to know when he or she is really using a simulation, and what’s the real point, anyway? Simulations simplify real-world environments enough for people to practice skills quickly, safely, and in a way that makes the learning points obvious.1 Any time that a teacher has a student perform a skill for practice, in an environment that is simpler and safer than the real world, or with practice materials, it is a simulation. When we simplify real life to make it easier to practice, it is a simulation. When a student does an experiment under controlled conditions, it is probably a simulation. Simulations allow us to imitate real life for the purposes of learning, but without the cost or consequences that failure might have in the real world. (Think of aircraft flight simulators… It’s a good thing that pilots can crash planes in the simulators, instead of wasting lives and millions of dollars on real-world training!) The ability to cut away unnecessary detail, complexity, and distractions is what makes simulations very effective learning tools. It also makes them fun to use as trainers, because the feedback is immediate, learning points are obvious, and the activities can be as relevant and realistic as resources permit. This chapter is about how to understand, build, and use simulations to enhance your own training programs. Read on to see more.


Or, simulations can be used to create a simplified model of a real-world system that allows people to study—or simulate—its behavior in order to draw conclusions or test different scenarios.

Copyright © 2009 by LearningSim. All rights reserved.


WHAT MAKES A GOOD SIMULATION? Simulations can be very effective learning strategies, and fun for the participants, too! What makes a simulation work? There are a few key principles to follow when selecting or designing a learning simulation. Make the simulation feel like real work Strip away excess complexity and focus on the key dynamic Make the situations, choices, and outcomes believable Allow choices to influence outcomes Keep the rules in the background Here are more details on each of these principles.

SIMULATION PRINCIPLES PRINCIPLE 1. MAKE THE SIMULATION FEEL LIKE REAL WORK Research has shown that when learning activities are similar to the situations in which work is performed, we get better transfer of learning. Aviation, civil emergency preparedness, business management, and medicine all use realistic scenarios to teach or improve complex skills. When the cost of failure is high and when the performance arena uncertain, simulations are likely to be useful. There is also an emotional component to learning that we often ignore or fail to use to help learners. When people get caught up in a simulation, it feels like real work. When people get emotionally involved in a simulation, they can draw more impact from the learning experience. This can only happen, however, if the simulation feels like real work.

PRINCIPLE 2. STRIP AWAY EXCESS COMPLEXITY AND FOCUS ON THE KEY DYNAMIC Educational simulations are simplified versions of the reality that learners interact with on a daily basis. They capture the essential dynamics of a workplace in a way that allows learners to explore different approaches and experience different outcomes. For people to be able to grasp the learning points, the extraneous variables must be removed.

3 For example, if you are conducting a financial management simulation, human reactions and employee attitudes may add little value. In this case, you can take out variables relating to these things. In a management simulation, on the other hand, these may be the key variables and the financial elements can be removed. Leave in only what is important to the learning point you are trying to make.

PRINCIPLE 3. MAKE THE SITUATIONS, CHOICES, AND OUTCOMES BELIEVABLE Going back to cognitive psychology, a simulation is a good way to represent a chain of thought and behavior. First, we present a participant with a situation. He or she makes a choice and responds to the situation. The response creates a natural outcome, which the participant can observe. The simulation allows trainers to control this chain of events, and to make each link in the chain explicit and obvious to the participant. By reviewing his or her actions, the participant can reflect on what happened as a result of the choice and response made. If the situations, choices, and outcomes are believable, the person can pay attention to what happened in the simulation. If any of these seem fake or artificially constrained, the participant may be distracted by this, and may deny the learning point. Good simulations create the verisimilitude or feeling of reality that helps the participant focus on the important dynamic.

PRINCIPLE 4. ALLOW CHOICES TO INFLUENCE OUTCOMES The essence of a good simulation is that participants feel like they can try anything they wish. While this isn't usually true, it is important that participants believe that the choices they make will have an effect on the outcome of the simulation. The embedded rules and structure of the simulation must allow for the participants to achieve different outcomes, depending upon their choices. The best dynamics for simulations are the ones that successfully show "natural consequences" of different choices. For example, in a flight simulator, neglecting certain controls will cause the airplane to crash. In a leadership simulation, failure to communicate clearly and convincingly will result in a failure of people to follow the leader's instructions. These are consequences that flow naturally from the choices of the participants. Modeling these natural consequences is a crucial part of an effective learning simulation.


PRINCIPLE 5. KEEP THE RULES IN THE BACKGROUND Every simulation depends upon an embedded set of rules that model the system being simulated. However, the more obvious the rules are, the less believable and engaging the simulation is. If the intent of the simulation is to give people a way to practice making different choices, then the participants should be able to focus on the choices and the situation, and not on the rules. If participants try to "beat" the simulation, they are focusing on the simulation rules, and not the choices and the situation simulated. Any learning gained from beating the simulation is artificial and has little to do with the purpose of the activity. This makes the simulation a waste of time and money. On the other hand, when the rules are embedded within the situation and the choices offered in the simulation, people begin to forget that they are in a simulation. They act as they would act in the real situation, and can draw deep insights from the experience.

KEY POINT When simulations follow these five principles, they can be very useful learning tools. Attention to the details can make a simulation the most powerful and long lasting learning experience a person ever has. Consider how you might take advantage of this power in your training programs.


GAMES VS. SIMULATIONS Some trainers use the terms “game” and “simulation” interchangeably. Learning games and simulations have some similarities and some important differences. Both can be useful learning tools. What’s the difference? Let’s start with a couple of definitions.

Game. An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime: party games; word games. Simulation. An imitation or enactment, as of something anticipated or in testing: computer simulation of an in-flight emergency.

For the purposes of learning, a game is meant to teach or instruct through fun or entertainment. A simulation is meant to teach or instruct by creating a simplified version of reality with which the learner can interact. Is this to say that a simulation can’t be fun, or that a game can’t simulate reality? No! Of course not! However, the two are different instructional methods, and trainers should keep the differences in mind when designing learning solutions.

GAMES – BEST USES Games are best used to teach through analogy and to engage the learner more deeply in the process of learning. Often, a game can make a concept easier to understand by embedding the concept into the rules and play of the game. As people play the game, they can grasp the idea of how the concept actually works. When simplified and expressed in a fun, entertaining way, the learner can develop his or her own understanding of the course material. By focusing the attention of the learner on entertainment and fun, games also distract the learner from the process of learning. When the learning process disappears into the background, the learner’s attention is on the immediate activity. This gets the learner emotionally involved in the game. As a result, learning that is embedded within the game makes a stronger impression, and is more likely to be retained and used.


SIMULATIONS – BEST USES Effective simulations do a lot of the things that games do, but in a different way and for different reasons. The purpose of the simulation is to present a simplified version of reality so that learners can interact with it and try out skills in a safe environment. A good simulation will present a situation in a way that captures only enough detail to accurately reflect the relationships between the parts of the simulated system. Just as with a game, a simulation simplifies reality to just the essentials needed for the learning task. Unlike a game, however, the purpose is not to make the situation more fanciful or fun, but to make the situation as close to reality as possible. The reason for this emphasis on accuracy is that the more closely the learning environment resembles the environment in which the task will be performed, the greater the transfer of learning from training to the task environment will be. Like a game, learners will often become emotionally involved in a simulation. They want to produce good results, especially when the learning process disappears into the background and their attention is focused on the task. When engaged in a meaningful representation of their own job reality, people make the same affective learning connections they do with games. Simulations that offer feedback (through facilitation or recording and playback capabilities) can help people gain important insights impossible through other learning methods. Objective feedback helps make the connection between action and result more clear and explicit for the learner. The learner can go back into the simulation to try again, armed with the insight provided by the feedback. By a process of experimentation, application of theoretical concepts to the simulated task environment, and feedback, the learner can make quick progress in skill development.

COMBINING GAMES AND SIMULATIONS The best of both worlds, games that include real skill practice—simulation—are the most effective learning methods. Creating this kind of learning game often requires specialized expertise in both instructional design and game or technology development.


LIMITATIONS OF GAMES AND SIMULATIONS Both games and simulations need to be matched carefully to the learning objectives of the course. A game that doesn’t consistently stimulate the desired insights in learners is not worth including. Likewise, a simulation that has too much or too little detail, or doesn’t capture all of the important elements of the task environment, is not very useful as a learning tool. Also, it takes time and experienced facilitation to help learners draw the desired insights from a game or simulation. Each learner will draw his or her own conclusions from the experience. Often, learners rely on the facilitator or trainer for explanations and cues about how the activity relates to the topic of the course, or how to apply what they have learned on the job. Even a good game or simulation, well matched to the course content, can seem like a waste of time if not given proper facilitation and debriefing. Finally, designing a new game or simulation for a specific situation can be expensive in time and money. Simulations, in particular, are expensive because designers have to invest a lot of time identifying which details to include and which to leave out. The more complex the simulation, and the better it represents reality, the more design time is needed. Games can be much less expensive, because they rely upon a more abstract analogy to make the point. Games usually can’t give learners actual practice with the skills, however. As a trainer or instructional designer, you have to make the tradeoffs and determine what would best fit the objectives and budget you have available.

QUICK COMPARISON Games: Focus on fun; learn by analogy; third-person activity; knowledge and facts are embedded in the learning activity. Simulations: Realistic; learn by doing; first-person activity; the learning activity focuses on practicing specific skills. Case Studies: Hypothetical; learn by discussing decisions; third-person activity; knowledge can be presented in detail to encourage dialogue and exploration of options.



THE 5-STEP SIMULATION™ METHOD Simulations can be very complicated to build and use. In order to make training simulations as accessible as possible to trainers, we have created the 5-Step Simulation™ method. Each 5-Step Simulation™ works like this:

Step 1. Set the Stage. This sets up the story, the problem, and the relevance for the learner. There must be enough detail available in this step for the learner to understand the problem, care about it, and see a way to take action. Step 2. Make a Meaningful Decision. Start with the first logical decision or action the learner would have to take to overcome the challenge. This decision must be important enough for the learner to feel that it is meaningful and relevant, without being too complex. This is the beginning of the story for the learner, and often represents how the learner will approach the situation. Step 3. Make the Next Meaningful Decision. The next decision should logically follow from the first, and the consequences of the first decision should affect the second one. This is the middle of the story, and is often the most difficult part of the challenge. Step 4. Make the Closing Meaningful Decision. The final decision should address the remaining actions and consequences that the learner must take to resolve the situation. This is the final action the learner can take to wrap up the loose ends of the story before learning how it all turned out in the end. Step 5. Reveal the Outcome. Every story deserves a solid ending. The simulation outcome step presents the consequences of the decisions the learner made. This can be done with a simple scorecard, but is much more effective when the instructor can describe a different end-case scenario for each of possible outcomes of the simulation.


5-STEP SIMULATION™ DESIGN CRITERIA Each of the 5-Step Simulations™ was written with a consistent set of design criteria in mind, based on research in Simulation-Enhanced Learning. Decisions must be big enough to be meaningful. Any decisions the learner has to make in the simulation have to be important enough to the outcome and the context to feel meaningful, or no real learning will occur. For this reason, decisions in the 5-Step Simulation™™ method are presented as open-ended questions. There must be criteria for judging the learner’s responses. The learner needs to know how he or she performed when the outcome is revealed. This requires some sort of reasonably objective and meaningful scoring criteria. The criteria can be yes/no, pass/fail, poor/good/best, or on some other rating scale, as appropriate. There are two sides to every story. No-one is a villain; everybody always has what they think are good reasons for their behavior. The primary actor (the learner) in a simulation only has part of the information. It is okay to role-play. Many people are uncomfortable with acting or role-playing. The simulation material should provide enough detail and structure for the role-playing partner to help his or her partner practice the simulated skills. We are not judging the role-player on the quality of his or her acting skills; the role-player is there to help the learner. Being a role-playing partner for the learner is itself part of the learning process. Enough, but not too much. Simulations can become loaded down with a lot of detail. The benefit of the 5-Step Simulation™ method is its relative simplicity. Each simulation should provide enough detail for the learner (and partner, as applicable), but not so much that it becomes distracting. Learners must reflect on the simulation experience. The purpose of simulations as a learning activity is to allow the learner to increase knowledge and change behavior. This can only happen if there is an opportunity to reflect on the experience and draw the learning from it. Different topics, learners, and situations will change the amount of structure that the trainer will have to provide during the reflection process, but reflection cannot be skipped without losing the learning value of the simulation. Principle-focused, content-agnostic. These 5-Step Simulations™ are intended to be used by many different organizations, most of which may already have chosen specific procedures, practices, models, and techniques. The scoring criteria are based on research-backed principles that allow trainers to use the simulations with any specific techniques or models that fit their organizations.


ETHICAL USE OF SIMULATIONS Professional trainers have an obligation to act with integrity and sound ethics. When using simulations, there are two primary issues to consider: complying with copyright and ensuring the safety of the learners.

COMPLYING WITH COPYRIGHT Be sure to use material for your simulation in a way that is consistent with national and international copyright law. You may be surprised to know that, for training done in a business context, there is no such thing as “Fair Use!� That is a standard that applies to educational institutions (and there is legal debate about whether it can apply to for-profit educational institutions). If you are working in the for-profit world, purchasing a set of training material usually gives you permission to use the material within your company. Use might be limited to a certain number of learners, or it might be unlimited within the legal entity that purchased the material. What you definitely cannot do without specific permission is to re-sell or use the material in a training session where you charge a fee to learners from outside your organization. These restrictions are intended to allow the writers and owners of the copyrighted material to recoup the cost of the time, effort, and money spent developing and marketing the material. The intellectual property is theirs, not the users, and professional ethics require you to respect that ownership when you plan or deliver training. Make sure that you understand what the copyright law and your license allow you to do with the training material, and then stay within those guidelines.

TIP: OBTAINING PERMISSION It is usually easy to obtain permission from the copyright owners to use material for training. I have negotiated very reasonable deals with major publishers to use the entire content of books within an in-house corporate training program. There are also copyright clearance centers for videos (not the training videos, but the kind you would rent from a video store) and articles. The Harvard Business School Press makes reprint copies of its case studies very easy to license and use. If you find something that you want to use in your training programs, contact the publisher and ask for permission!


ENSURING SAFETY Because the point of a simulation is to imitate a part of real life, you may be exposing your learners to certain dangers. Typically, those dangers come in two types: physical dangers and emotional dangers. Your professional responsibility is to ensure that the simulation environment provides an acceptable degree of safety for the learners. Here are some things to consider.

PHYSICAL SAFETY: Provide safe tools and equipment. If you are using simulated equipment as part of the simulation, run a check on each piece before the simulation to make sure it is working properly, and will not cause a hazard to the learners. Make sure that the simulation environment is free from unplanned distractions that might cause an injury. (The simulation will normally provide planned distractions as part of the task, so you must control and keep an eye out for other hazards.) Have a safe place for any observers out of traffic patterns and hazard areas. Make sure that you can provide appropriate supervision of the learners, given your workplace standards and the skill and experience level of the learners themselves. Above all, comply with your organizational safety standards and spend some time before the simulation anticipating possible hazards and ways to prevent or mitigate them.

EMOTIONAL SAFETY Make the classroom a place where students can practice their skills and try new things without the fear of on-the-job failure. People need to stretch, and to fail, in an environment that encourages curiosity. Allow people to stretch themselves without putting them on the spot or making them feel negative peer pressure. Keep competition in check. Learners may not show you when they are really feeling uncomfortable. What might appear to be good-natured joking and teasing can be very hard for some learners to receive, and it can shut down their willingness to try new things. (This is especially true for role-playing!)

13 Do not force people to participate. Invite and encourage them, instead. You can’t force people to learn. Set the expectation that everyone will have the chance to participate at a level they choose and that they should stretch a little bit beyond their comfort zone.

See the Trainer Guide for more advice on facilitating simulation-based learning.



HOW TO USE SIMULATIONS IN YOUR TRAINING The easiest way to include simulations in your training is to find one or two pre-written simulations that match the learning objectives of your workshop, and then to use the simulations as-is or edit them to match your learners’ needs.

STEPS FOR USING PRE-WRITTEN SIMULATIONS IN YOUR TRAINING 1. Identify the business outcomes your training must address. This will give you a good sense of the outcomes your workshop must help learners produce. The purpose of training is to have learners practice the skills that they need to use on the job. The reason those skills are important to the job is part of the business objectives. Also, if you get a good sense for the business objectives the drive the need for training, you can naturally identify realistic work scenarios and challenges to weave into your training simulations. 2. Consider the audience and the learning objectives. What does your audience of learners already know? What conditions do they face on the job? What kinds of training scenarios will they find realistic and challenging enough to be helpful? What learning objectives do they have to meet to be successful coming out of the training session? What resource constraints will you face as the trainer? (For example, availability of training resources, equipment, breakout rooms, work space, time, additional trainers, multiple skill levels in the same audience, on so on.) Make sure that you know enough about the training context to make informed decisions in the next step. 3. Pick a simulation that will help the audience reach the learning objectives. First, look for a 5Step Simulation™ in a category that most closely matches the outcomes, audience, and learning objectives. (You can find a list of simulation topics and categories in the index.) Then, read the simulation to get a sense for its structure and details. Make note of where you might need to edit the simulation to provide the best match with your audience and objectives. 4. Edit the simulation to match your specific tasks, conditions, and standards. Change the simulation so that it will be believable and effective for your audience and learning objectives. Here are some things you may wish to change:

16 Scenario: You can change the situation that is described in the simulation to better match your own organization’s terms, language, and culture. Names: You may want to change the names of characters in the simulation. Decisions: You can change the task, conditions, and standards for any or all of the three middle steps of the simulation. You can also change the decisions themselves, if you want to stress different learning objectives, knowledge, or skills. Remember to write new tasks, conditions, and standards when you change the decisions in a simulation. Outcomes: Some simulations describe outcomes that may not be realistic in your environment. Change the outcomes that different choices in the simulation produce as needed. Scoring: Some trainers prefer an all-or-nothing “yes/no” scoring scale. Others like to set up a partial credit scale, like “untrained/needs practice/trained.” If the scale presented in the simulation doesn’t work for you as written, change it. Just make sure that it is consistent, easy to score, and fair to all he learners. FOR MORE VARIETY Consider using the basic, pre-written simulation as a model for extra simulations on the same topic. You can provide variety by having learners work through several variations of the same basic skill challenge. For example, you might think of four key sales objections that your learners face. Using the “Handling Sales Objections” simulation, make four copies of the simulation—one for each of the four objections in your environment—and edit the details to provide one simulation focused on each scenario.

5. Prepare material for the learners and questions for the trainer. After you edit the simulation, prepare copies for the participants and for the trainers who will be facilitating the simulation2. Write or revise the list of post-simulation questions that the trainer will use to prompt reflection, learning, and action for the learners. If you will need the learners to read or prepare any material prior to the training session, arrange for those requirements.


Make sure that all trainers who will deliver the simulation are licensed 5-Step Simulation™ users.


HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN SIMULATIONS Not all trainers will need to write their own simulations from scratch. For most situations, starting with one of the ready-to-use 5-Step Simulations™ and editing the details will work just fine. Sometimes, though, you don’t have a really good match. Other times, you might want to get creative and apply the process with a completely clean sheet of paper. The steps for writing a simulation from scratch are only a little more detailed than the steps for editing the ready-to-use 5-Step Simulations™. You will need to identify and write your own scenarios, determine what decisions are meaningful for your topic, and construct a set of outcomes that makes sense for both realism and learning. The first two steps and the final step are the same as if you were using pre-written simulations. The middle steps are about writing the new simulation.

STEPS FOR WRITING 5-STEP SIMULATIONS™ 1. IDENTIFY THE BUSINESS OUTCOMES YOUR TRAINING MUST ADDRESS. This is the same as for “how to use simulations in your training,” except that you need even more information.

2. CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE AND THE LEARNING OBJECTIVES. Again, this step is the same as “how to use simulations in your training.”

3. PICK A SIMULATION TOPIC THAT WILL HELP THE AUDIENCE REACH THE LEARNING OBJECTIVES. The difference in this step is that you pick a topic with an eye to using your own experience (and maybe the experience of subject matter experts, or “SME’s”) to write the details. Consider the outcomes, audience, and learning objectives you need to address in your 5-Step Simulation™.


4. WRITE THE SIMULATION TO MATCH YOUR SPECIFIC TASKS, CONDITIONS, AND STANDARDS. Write the five steps of the 5-Step Simulation™ model in order. Keeping the outcomes, audience, learning objectives, and your organization’s culture in mind, start with a scenario.

SET THE STAGE It often helps to prepare the scenario as a one-page case study. This can make it easier to write the details of each of the five steps with a common story as a guide. (See the advice on writing custom case studies from our free white paper at

DECISION ONE This is the first meaningful decision that the learner has to face. Make sure that it is big enough so that the learner feels that it is important, and not so big or complex that it is too much for a practice situation. Use the pre-written 5-Step Simulations™ as guides to the recommend amount of detail to include. Write up the setup and information that the learner and any partners or role-players will need to do the simulation successfully. Document the task, conditions, and standards for the learner. Consider using your own models and content in the task, conditions, and standards section of your simulation. While the pre-written simulations do not cover your unique training content, when you write your own sims, make sure to reinforce your own material!

DECISION TWO The second meaningful decision needs to follow as a logical progression or consequence of the first. What would naturally happen next? Make this “the middle” of the simulation. Remember to document the task, conditions, and standards for the learner.

DECISION THREE The third meaningful decision also needs to follow the second decision. Again, think about what would naturally happen next. This is last meaningful decision of the simulation, so use this step to have the learners “wrap up” their practice. As before, document the task, conditions, and standards for the learner.


REVEAL THE OUTCOME Consider the range of different outcomes that may result from the learners’ decisions. Consider writing up a one-paragraph description of the different possible outcomes. To the extent that it makes sense, tie the outcomes to a scoring system. (For example, learners who meet all standards get to hear about the best outcome that they produced. Those who scored poorly have the worst outcome or go to the bottom scoring bracket, and so on.) The scoring system needs to allow the learners to see how they did against the standards of the simulation. Make sure that your scoring system is consistent, observable, and as objective as possible.

TIP Use the Simulation Principles (p. 2) and the 5-Step Simulation™ Design Criteria (p.10) as a guide to check how well you have written your simulation.

5. PREPARE MATERIAL FOR THE LEARNERS AND QUESTIONS FOR THE TRAINER. This step is the same as it is in the “how to use simulations in your training” section, with one difference—make sure that you have someone proofread your materials to make sure that they will make sense to the learners. It is usually best to ask a colleague who has not helped you write the simulation to do this. Then, prepare participant and trainer copies, as usual3. Pay special attention to trainer preparation by going through the scoring system, trainer instructions, and debrief or reflection questions.

SIMULATION EDITING REMINDER If you make changes to simulations that use partners or role-players, remember to make the learner and role-player material match. When people in a simulation are playing by different rules, you can quickly lose all the value of using a simulation!


Again, make sure that all trainers are licensed to use 5-Step Simulations™.


CONVERTING PAPER-BASED SIMULATIONS TO E-LEARNING When you build an electronic simulation, the same principles hold true. The classroom simulation material serves as the starting content for the e-learning courseware. The instructional designer’s task gets bigger because he or she has to also program the delivery and facilitation of the simulation, which is the trainer’s job in a classroom environment. Here are some suggested steps.

21 The primary work of converting a simulation for online delivery is in programming the details. You will have to specify which conversation options or decision choices are available, and then fill in all of the details that the participants would have come up with in a fuzzier, more idiosyncratic way. Break down the meaningful decisions of the 5-step method into smaller pieces. Each piece has to be big enough to have several options, with different descriptions and outcomes. Try to limit yourself to three options for each decision, and look for ways to identify a “best path,” “okay path,” and a “troubled path.” Lay out the main paths you want to recognize and the behavioral triggers or things that are the real-world challenges for each of the decisions. Write the decisions and responses in such a way that they lead to no more than five final outcomes—Best, Good, Okay, Poor, and Terrible. Be sure to describe each of these outcomes in terms of the meaningful results that the learner would see in the real world. For example, the Best outcome screen might describe the increased impact on business results, relationships, unexpected benefits, and innovative ideas. The Terrible outcome would describe how the employees involved become disgusted with the manager and quit, sabotage production, experience increased accidents, or otherwise demonstrate the results of complete failure by the learner.

WHY USE THE TERRIBLE OUTCOME? If you are going to allow the learners to really explore the simulation and all of their options, you need to include the best and worst possible outcomes, and then use them as “anchors” for the other outcomes. Purposefully trying to fail a simulation to see what happens is almost as fun (if not more so) as “winning” it by getting a perfect score. Encourage the learners to explore all possible decisions and outcomes, to the extent it makes sense for your situation.

It can also be helpful to write the decisions and the response options in a way that would allow the learner to return to the best path by making better choices. For example, if the learner does a poor job starting up a feedback conversation (an example of a Step 2 meaningful decision), he or she might recover and eventually reach a Good or Best outcome by handling the balance of feedback and talking about next steps (Step 3 and 4 decisions) in a better way. Your design challenge is to provide enough options to the learner while keeping the decision tree from expanding to a potential size of three unique options for each step.

22 The decision tree for the “Giving Feedback – Mostly Positive, with One Correction” simulation from the 5-Step Simulations™ package was made up of 22 screens, including the five outcome descriptions. The five steps for this simulation were: Step 1. Set the Stage – An employee did a new task very well, and there is just one thing you want him to do differently. Step 2. Make a Decision – How do you start the feedback conversation? Step 3. Make a Decision – How do you balance the mix of positive and negative feedback? Step 4. Make a Decision – How do you check for agreement on next steps? Step 5. Reveal the Results – There were five outcomes presented in the quiz interaction, and the course moved on to deeper reflection questions afterward.

In this simulation, the Step 1 information for “Setting the Stage” was given in a process step interaction with five screens. A branching quiz interaction presented the decisions for Steps 2-4 and ended with the outcome screens for Step 5. The different colors on the decision tree show the boundaries of the Good, Okay, and Troubled paths. You can see how the choices for the different decisions could bring the learner to a better, similar, or worse place along the path. There was also one decision that put a learner back onto a primary path after a distraction.


DESIGN TIP To organize your decision tree, use sticky notes with question (or screen) numbers, point values, “good, okay, terrible� path notes, and the question numbers that the learner can go to from the current question.

This particular e-learning simulation course took about one day of instructional design work to build for an experienced simulation designer. Plan to spend 3-5 days for your first simulation course, if you have not done it before, or two days if you are used to working with e-learning simulations. You may also need to add your own content and rich media to support the instructional portion of your course development, as well, so remember to give yourself time for that work, as well.

CONVERSION CAUTIONS Not all simulations can be easily or appropriately converted to a self-paced online format. Consider the topic, the audience, and the resources you have available before converting paper-based simulations into an e-learning format.

For deeper detail on the process of converting a classroom or paper-based simulation to an elearning format, take a look at the demo course on the LearningSim website. Here is the full URL: Also, check out the LearningSim blog from the website for articles and tips about instructional design for simulations.

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