Teaching with Simulations

Initial Publication Date: May 18, 2010

This module was initially developed by Betty Blecha and currently is coordinated by Beth Haynes . The module was refined and enhanced by Mark McBride, Teresa Riley, Katherine Rowell, KimMarie McGoldrick, Mark Maier, and Scott Simkins.

Barry Keating's class conducts a stock market simulation.

What are Instructional Simulations?

When students use a model of behavior to gain a better understanding of that behavior, they are doing a simulation. For example:
  • When students are assigned roles as buyers and sellers of some good and asked to strike deals to exchange the good, they are learning about market behavior by simulating a market.
  • When students take on the roles of party delegates to a political convention and run the model convention, they are learning about the election process by simulating a political convention.
  • When students create an electric circuit with an online program, they are learning about physics theory by simulating an actual physical set-up.
Students often use simulations to make predictions about the social, economic, or natural world. Learn more about simulations

Why Teach with Simulations?

Instructional simulations have the potential to engage students in "deep learning" that empowers understanding as opposed to "surface learning" that requires only memorization. Deep learning means that students:

Learn scientific methods including

  • the importance of model building.
  • the relationships among variables in a model or models.
  • data issues, probability and sampling theory.
  • how to use a model to predict outcomes.

Learn to reflect on and extend knowledge by

  • actively engaging in student-student or instructor-student conversations needed to conduct a simulation.
  • tranfering knowledge to new problems and situations.
  • understanding and refining their own though processes.
  • seeing social processes and social interactions in action.
Learn more about teaching with simulations

How to Teach with Simulations

Effectiveness instructional simulations require:

  • Instructor preparation.The good news is that instructional simulations can be very effective in stimulating student understanding. The bad news is that many simulations require intensive lesson preparation.
  • Active student participation. The learning effectiveness of instructional simulation rests on actively engaging students in problem solving.
  • Post-simulation discussion. Students need sufficient time to reflect on the simulation results.
Learn how to teach with simulations

Examples of Teaching with Simulations

A good way to learn about instructional simulations for your courses is to go to the examples pages.

See examples of simulations


The References page includes both general and discipline specific papers, books, and articles about using instructional simulations in undergraduate education.

Browse the list of references

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