5 Ways to Use Simulations

Simulations make training more effective. They can also deliver better results in less time, or tie together different topics in a program. Here are five examples of where I have used simulations to help clients achieve desired outcomes. See if any apply to your situation.


  1. Put it all together. A group of 80 IT professionals were learning consulting skills during a two-day conference workshop. At the end of the workshop, they participated in a set of custom simulations that required them to use the skills they had learned. The simulations presented realistic situations with limited information—just like real life. The learners needed to recognize which skills to use in order to resolve the client challenges, and then they had to use those skills in the moment. The learners and the client organization loved the way this “put it all together” at the end of the workshop in a practical way.
  2. Tie together a multi-session program. A retail client was running a leadership development program with eight sessions over the course of three months. Each session focused on a different topic. We used a single simulation with multiple parts to tie the program together. At each session, the learners received more of the story and tackled a new skill challenge. The scenario and overall leadership focus remained the same, but each part of the simulation stressed new skills. This got learners looking forward to the next session and boosted both engagement and results from the program.
  3. Make it feel real. A global manufacturer sponsored an online course to teach its managers how to do career coaching for employees. After an orientation to the concepts and practical instructions, learners engaged with a simulation. They could choose from four different scenarios drawn from real situations that employees often asked about. In order to pass the course, the learners had to remember and use what they had learned in the instruction portion of the class. The branching scenario reacted to their decisions, and the learners got feedback along the way and at the end of the scenario. This course earned unsolicited praise from managers for its engaging and realistic approach.
  4. Equip non-trainers to deliver high-quality training. A financial services organization struggled to provide training to its employees because it had no training staff or budget. We created short packages of simulation-based training that supervisors and senior analysts could use informally with their teams. Each skill packet focused on one cluster of skills, with one practice scenario. The packet had just enough detail to allow the leader to explain the skill, present the situation, and have a small group of team members wrestle with it. Leaders also received discussion guidelines with “right” answers and feedback suggestions. These packets greatly extended the ability of the business unit to deliver skill training in key topic areas, and were easy for the informal trainers to use.
  5. Wrestle with changes. A sales organization was changing its approach to customer service and sales. We designed a blended simulation to help everyone learn and practice new ways of doing business. In a two-day workshop with 180 salespeople, teams worked through five different simulated challenges. After receiving a skill orientation, they explored the online sim and decided how to handle the situation with the new approach. They received online feedback and then debriefed the challenge in the large group. A public leader board tracked results. Teams worked to apply what they were learning to boost their leader board scores. This was an engaging, dynamic, and effective way for the group to wrestle with what the changes would require of them.


Done well, simulations use the age-old principles of storytelling to enhance skill practice for training. The story pulls in the learners and makes the practice feel more like real work. The more that training can feel like real work, the more impact it has.

The important thing is to put your learners into the story and cut out unnecessary detail. I start with questions to quickly understand the business situation and the challenges facing learners. Then, I use that knowledge to create specific scenarios that stretch the learners’ skills. Whether the learning is online or classroom-based, it feels like real work and builds skill faster than other methods. There are many kinds of business challenges that simulations can help address. Let me know which ones you have faced!