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“A simulation is a form of experiential learning. Simulations are instructional scenarios where the learner is placed in a 'world' defined by the teacher. They represent a reality within which students interact. The teacher controls the parameters of this 'world' and uses it to achieve the desired instructional results. Simulations are in way, a lab experiment where the students themselves are the test subjects. They experience the reality of the scenario and gather meaning from it. It is a strategy that fits well with the principles of constructivism."
“Simulations promote the use of critical and evaluative thinking. The ambiguous or open ended nature of a simulation encourages students to contemplate the implications of a scenario. The situation feels real and thus leads to more engaging interaction by learners. They are motivating activities enjoyed by students of all ages.”
This kind of learning often takes place in disciplines like law, business, and various health fields, and can also be known as case studies. In these situational learning opportunities, students are immersed in a “real world” issue and must apply the subject-area knowledge they have acquired in order to solve complex issues or problems. These kinds of activities can also take the shape of an open-ended game, where students must use strategy, judgment, and subject knowledge in order to solve the problem or to “win”.
Increasingly, these simulations are taking place in digital realms, with highly realistic graphics and sophisticated programming allowing for increasingly sophisticated learning situations. At the CELT Library, we have two excellent books to assist instructors who are interested in integrating simulations in their classrooms: Games and Simulations Made Easy and Using Simulations to Promote Learning in Higher Education.
A general introduction to the theory behind using simulations in the classroom: http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/De/PD/instr/strats/simul/index.html
Using simulations in business education: http://hbsp.harvard.edu/list/simulations-feature
Using simulations in the history classroom: http://teachinghistory.org/nhec-blog/25117
Advice for graduate students: http://careerplan.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2013/10/using-simulations-classroom/