Project Background

Project Title

Enhancing Student Learning Outcomes with Simulation-based Pedagogies

Project Team

Pierre Benckendorff (The University of Queensland, Lead), Gui Lohmann (Griffith University), Marlene Pratt (Griffith University), Paul Whitelaw (William Angliss Institute), Paul Strickland (La Trobe University), Paul Reynolds (University of South Australia).

Project Description

This project will evaluate and promote pedagogies that enhance the learning outcomes of online simulations in business and related fields. Business simulations offer authentic learning experiences that mirror real world problems and enable students to practise and develop graduate capabilities, technical skills and strategic decision making skills. Emerging technologies along with increased bandwidth are creating new opportunities for online and cloud-based simulations and provide improved flexibility and portability for students. Simulations also hold some promise of complementing other innovations in online education, including MOOCs. However, online simulations are not effective unless they are embedded within a pedagogic framework that optimises learning outcomes.

Project Aims

The purpose of this project is to evaluate and promote pedagogies that enhance the learning outcomes of online simulations in business education. The aims of the project are to:

  1. Map the features and characteristics of online business simulations;
  2. Assess the challenges associated with the integration of online simulations into sustainable teaching practice in business education;
  3. Evaluate the contribution of online simulations and related pedagogies to student learning outcomes; and
  4. Identify and promote innovative pedagogies and strategies associated with the use of online business simulations in universities

In line with the project aims, the project deliverables will include:

  • An audit of commercial and open access online simulations in business education;
  • Interviews with experienced business educators to identify intended goals, learning strategies, challenges and innovative pedagogies associated with simulations;
  • Interviews with senior decision makers to understand institutional priorities and challenges regarding online simulations in curriculum design;
  • A simulation learning barometer for benchmarking the learning outcomes of online simulations in business programs, with potential application across the entire sector;
  • A series of student surveys assessing the learning outcomes of online simulations and related pedagogies at several universities in Australia;
  • A dedicated project website to provide resources for educators, including a pedagogical framework and an online multimedia toolkit of good practice guides, case studies, video vignettes, assessment and evaluation tools; and
  • A series of national workshops to disseminate and promote the findings of the project.

Project Scope

Although there are many types of online simulations, including online virtual environments such as SecondLife, the scope of this project is limited specifically to business simulations that encourage learners to understand the interrelationships between the various functions of an organisation. The project does not seek to develop a new simulation but is concerned with innovative pedagogies that enhance the effectiveness of online simulations in universities. The role of simulations in linking theory with practice in a business context is of particular interest. This is a 12-month project concluding in December 2014.

Project Significance

The project seeks to address several knowledge gaps at national level:

  1. The project directly addresses the Office for Learning and Teaching’s (OLT) interest in understanding how learning outcomes can be enhanced through technology enabled learning.
  2. TEQSA and in particular the AQF emphasises the development of skills and competencies. Peak business industry bodies have also identified a skills deficit in students graduating from university business programs. We are interested in exploring whether simulation-based pedagogies can address this skills deficit by creating opportunities for active and experiential learning that takes students beyond knowledge acquisition to develop and demonstrate management skills.
  3. The staged roll-out of the National Broadband Network creates new opportunities for online simulations, particularly as a complement to MOOCs, external delivery and distance education. MOOCs appear to focus largely on knowledge acquisition rather than skills development. In contrast, simulations require students to develop skills by applying knowledge.

The project also seeks to address several discipline-level knowledge gaps in the business area:

  1. This project seeks to confirm whether simulation-based pedagogies are a useful tool for addressing national priorities around the development of management skills for business students. In most institutions business programs are among the largest (if not the largest) fields of study for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The size of these programs creates a range of practical challenges associated with capstone learning experiences designed to develop managerial skills. Online simulations may offer both a complement and a substitute for these experiences by developing managerial skills in a safe and risk-free environment.
  2. While many studies have examined student perceptions of the learning benefits of business simulations there is little direct, objective evidence of actual cognitive learning outcomes. There is also no consistent approach to measuring or benchmarking learning outcomes. This project will develop ‘simulation learning barometer’ which will be applied at a national level to provide evidence of the learning outcomes related to simulation-based pedagogies.
  3. The way in which simulations are embedded in the curriculum plays a crucial role in enhancing and reinforcing student learning. Simulations are often used to help business students integrate knowledge in capstone units. However, there has been very little focus on how effective pedagogies, learning strategies and assessment tasks are in supporting learning outcomes and enabling business students to make connections between the simulation, the classroom and the workplace.