What are Business Simulations?
We refer to 'Business simulations' in the same way as 'management simulations' or 'business games'. Our simulations are designed for educational purposes - not 'business tycoon games'; they're something quite different!
Business simulations are specifically designed for students to learn and apply concepts and theories within a practical exercise.
Based on this feedback, in this post we highlight five ways in which business simulations have improved students' learning outcomes.
1. They Develop Students' Employability Skills
"I've heard from students that when they go to interviews those are the two things [marketing simulation and dissertation] that employers tend to ask questions about."
Nick Pronger, Birkbeck University of London
Employability. One of the pressure-points of any Higher Education Institution (HEI) when it comes to not only preparing students for employment upon graduation but equipping them with the skills expected from potential employers.
In business simulations, students work in teams to manage a fictional company and are tasked with improving that company's performance. To succeed students need to employ a range of skills: team-working, decision-making, project management, strategic, and analytical to name a few. All of which are skills employers look for in potential employees.
Indeed, for some academics, developing these skills is a key reason for using business simulations in the first place.
Dr. Stacey Noble's 'employability modules' at Lancaster University involve around 400 students per year. Within these modules students participate in the Phone Ventures simulation which takes place over eight days. As Stacey explains: "The main focus of these [employability modules] is to facilitate team-work, organisation, leadership, and project management skills." Amongst other activities, Stacey decided to use business simulations as a setting to develop these skills.
This is echoed also by Dr. Konstantina Skritsovali of Liverpool John Moores University: "The business simulation created an environment that encouraged group work and interactions between students on a weekly basis. At the same time, it fostered levels of competition between groups.”
In utilising and developing these skills students learn to identify and address their own strengths and weaknesses, which leads us to point 2.
2. They Identify Students' Personality Traits and Professional Personas
“I provide students with a role-making task in the beginning to see what personality traits they have and they decide upon their role within the simulation accordingly.”
Dr. Vassiliki Bamiatzi, University of Sussex
How many of you reading this knew exactly what job you wanted to go into while you were studying?
I reckon not many and today's student is no different. Despite choosing a degree within a particular discipline, many students face a predicament on what career path to follow.
It would be naive to suggest business simulations determine that path for students but they do provide students with an opportunity to find out more about their professional persona, their strengths and weaknesses within this team-based dynamic. As Dr. Anna Tilba, Senior Lecturer at Durham University, points out:
“We’re trying to train and prepare students for the real world...it’s also a journey for students to learn more about who they are. Are they leaders or good team players? Those who are not as competitive could be really good at other areas such as data analysis and finance. There are opportunities for different types of personalities to be effective.”
Students can get a sense of what kind of role they want to fulfil within the simulation setting. Are they leaders, are they analysts, are they strategically minded, are they creative. In asking these questions, students can start to think about the type of jobs that utilise these traits.
3. They Can Combine Both Formative and Summative Assessment
"Intriguingly, we can statistically show that having used business simulation games we have, on average, increased marks by one mark a year for the last four years."
Dr. Keith Halcro, Glasgow Caledonian University
The best of both assessment worlds: simulations can provide opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.
From a formative angle, students can experiment and try out concepts and strategic approaches and learn from those decisions after each round (when their points have been awarded and feedback has been given).
When combined with a summative assignment, students are able to directly recall and reflect on their role, decisions, and overall company performance and what they've learned from the overall experience. This is often helped by their ownership and accountability of their company that can often be missing when reviewing case studies that they've not been involved in.
4. THey Increase Student Engagement and Satisfaction Rates
"The business game supports engagement from all parties so if there is a student who might sit in the background and watch the lectures and workshops go past them, they get drawn into this by their peers who encourage them to be more participative."
Alessandro Ferrazza, University of Sunderland in London
Previously using case studies as a team assignment, Dr. Keith Halcro moved to a business simulation around eight years ago. Concerned by the number of non-submissions of team reports from the case study assignments, he noted more positive submission rates in the simulation exercise:
"Non-submission of team reports [using a simulation game] is virtually unheard of now. In fact, I don't think I've had one in the past 4-5 years. I think the simulation game is helping to keep team members who otherwise might disengage much more engaged."
Another benefit of business simulations is there ability to track participation. In our business simulations, submissions of business plans and decisions made during each round are tracked meaning academic staff can monitor team involvement and, where possible, intervene when there is a lack of activity.
5. They Inter-link Different Modules
"The simulation brings everything to life. It inter-links different subjects, exposes students to what they don’t know about managing a business and highlights any gaps in their knowledge.”
Dr. Dhruba Lahiri
Business simulations are a great way of discovering more about the various functions within an organisation. As Dr. Anna Tilba explains: "...there's a module on strategy, a module on human resources, a module on marketing and they're all separate and compartmentalised...but when students operate the simulation they get the sense of how these different parts work within the business."
The main benefit here is that students gain more of a holistic understanding of how an organisation operates; that functions don't (or shouldn't) operate in silos as each function supports the same, wider business objectives.
Students who gain a good understanding of this are more likely to be prepared when they enter the world of business.