Simulation-based learning environment

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draft 1

Editor: Wim Westera, Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies, Open University of the Netherlands, NL

Contributor: Johann Riedel, Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham, UK


A simulation-based learning environment is a setting for learning that includes a controlled, shielded and often simplified copy of a real world process or system to be studied.

Comments on the history

Early usage of simulation-based learning dates back to the early 1900s, when mechanical flight simulators were used to reproduce on the ground the behaviour of an aircraft in flight so that students could practice in a safe environment (Rolfe & Staples, 1986).

In the 1950s modern business simulations (also called business simulation games, or management games) were introduced to let students deal with practical challenges of business. First versions were hand-scored simulations but since the emergence of mainframe computers and later PCs, computer-based business simulations became the standard (Wolfe, 1993).

From 2000, inspired by both the successes of the video games industry and the emergence of the internet, a renewed interest arose in the use of simulations for learning, often referred to with the term “serious games” originally coined by Abt (Abt, 1970).

Simulation-based learning now covers a wide range of application areas, including science and math, language, history and culture, economics, health and fitness, construction, production and supply chain management, soft skills, ethics and many more.

Related terms

Game, serious game, microworld, virtual reality, virtual world, exercise, wet practical, dry practical role-play, game-based learning, augmented reality, learning game

Translation issues


Disciplinary issues

Simulation is a methodology for understanding the interrelationships among components of a process or a system; it uses a model that depicts or mirrors some aspects of reality in form, not necessarily in content (Aldrich, 2004). Strictly a simulation only covers the process or system it replicates. A simulation-based learning environment extends it to an interactive simulation, which includes the learner in the loop and possibly provides structured opportunities for learning, either by adding instructions, assignments, learning scenarios, feedback, assessments or other learning support functions. Simulation-based learning environments enable learners to engage in realistic scenarios with requisite complexity that allow experimentation and safe practices. They allow learners to change parameters of the simulation or to experiment with its functional layout, without any other consequence than a state change in the simulation. They thus provides a risk-free environment for learning.

Key references

Abt, C. [1] (1970). Serious games. Viking Press, New York.

Aldrich, C. [2] (2004) Simulations and the future of learning. Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA.

Rolfe, J.M. & Staples , K.J. [3] (1988), Flight Simulation, Cambridge University Press, London.

Wolfe, J. [4] (1993). A history of business teaching games in English-speaking and post-socialist countries: the origination and diffusion of a management education and development technology. Simulation & Gaming, 24(4), 446-463.