Simulations: Going from Classroom to Online

Not all that long ago, I was working on some projects where the content had previously been taught in a classroom setting, but the client wanted to move the training online. The goal was to make it easier and faster to reach a large audience with consistent results. As I worked with these sims, I found ways to capture some of the lessons learned about repurposing ILT (instructor-led training) for WBT (web-based training). This also gave me an opportunity to test how the 5-Step Simulation™ method applied to the online learning environment.

As you might expect, creating simulations for online use is a bit more complex than writing for the classroom. Still, the same design principles apply—the implementation just gets more complex. The LMS integration step can be the hardest, but allowing time for testing and editing relieves most of that stress. Fortunately for me, my consulting and development partners in the Twin Cities do a great job of tackling the integration details, so I could stay focused on the simulation design and content. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Consider the user: This isn’t anything new. It’s just a reminder to think of the simulation and the content and activities from how the learner will experience it. After working with the project sponsors, SMEs, and technical experts for a while, the user’s experience can be lost. A good designer will keep coming back to the question of, “Yes, and how will this look and feel to the learners? Is this going to do what we and they need it to do?”
  • Chunk the simulation into screens: In other words, write for the space you have available, and get creative about how to present the interactions in a way that preserves the sense of verisimilitude (sense of realism).
  • Stick to the five steps: The 5-Step Simulation™ model works online, as well as in ILT (instructor-led training). For each simulation, set the stage, move through three meaningful decision “chunks” (opening, tackling the main issue, taking next steps), and show the results or consequences. Each step might require more than one decision. Something important happens in each of those three middle steps. Include enough decision points to allow the learner to resolve that step, and then move on. Don’t obsess over getting exactly three decisions. A career coaching course I built had seven decisions within a three step model as the “right” number for that audience and situation. The key point is that the model works and that the designer needs to keep it simple and clean for the learner.
  • Keep the design clean for the technical team: The designer also needs to make the interaction choices, presentation, and layout of the simulation content as consistent and simple as possible so that the team developing the technical part of the course only has to focus on the “special” or unusual requirements. Changing interaction types, screen layouts, and trying to squeeze too much text onto the screen can give the developers extra headaches. Use a template so you can easily plug in the content, cues, and decision options.

Storyline, by Articulate, is a great tool for the kind of online simulations I am often asked to build. Storyline’s simplicity and flexibility have made it easier to apply the simulation-enhanced learning (SEL) method and the 5-Step Simulations™ to different client needs. (I included a Storyline branching simulation template in my 2nd Edition of the 5-Step Simulations™ product package. Check it out!)

Without practice, there is no skill. Simulations make perfect practice.