The 5-Step Simulation™ Method

Learning activities that recreate work situations make for better transfer of learning. We also know that people are engaged by story. Story makes training personally relevant. Putting these two things together is what my work focuses on—recreating work situations with an engaging story. That is why I developed the 5-Step Simulation™ Method.

Simulations are simplified versions of the reality that learners interact with on a daily basis. They capture the essential dynamics of a workplace in a way that allows learners to explore different approaches and experience different outcomes. Written well, they make great skill practice activities.


The 5-Step Simulation™ Method

Cori Hill and I developed a simulation design process in 1999-2000 at Personnel Decisions International (now Korn/Ferry) while doing work with our clients. We found the process useful and applied it to other situations and clients. It was an expert-driven process, however. Over time, I found that many clients were somewhat intimidated by the complexity of simulations. Simulations seemed too difficult to understand and build, so many clients shied away from using them.

My work with stories and improvisational role-playing games suggested an easier approach. I simplified the simulation design process into a sort of “one scene skill practice” framework. This better connected a simple story with a single practice task. My clients appreciated the simplicity of this new approach, which I called the 5-Step Simulation™ Method.


Each Simulation is One Scene

The overall design process for this kind of skill practice simulation starts with the intent—or Strategy—of the training. Then, details of successful Skill use are determined. A specific Scenario is chosen, and a Simulation written in which the Skill and Scenario can be combined for the learners. Additional simulations can be written for the same skill, using different scenarios to give more practice with a good variety of work-related situations.

STRATEGY: Figure out the business purpose and intent for the learning.

SKILL: Determine what skill the learners will practice, and what success looks like.

SCENARIO: Choose a relevant situation in which learners can apply the skill.

SIMULATION: Design a 5-Step Simulation™ and turn it into an interactive story for the learners. The five steps of the simulation are:

  • Step 1. Set the stage.
  • Step 2. Start the action.
  • Step 3. Handle the challenge.
  • Step 4. Close the scene
  • Step 5. Reveal the result.

The trainer or e-learning course presents the setup (Step 1). The learners then act their way through the opening (Step 2), main decision or challenge (Step 3), and next steps or closing (Step 4). They receive additional prompts and information at each step. The results of their actions and decisions are evaluated and feedback presented as the result (Step 5)


Two Examples

Here are two side-by-side examples. One is fanciful and one is more like a realistic work training simulation. Just the barest hints of what happens in each step are shown. You can imagine the rest. (Or you can contact me or see more at

Step 1. Set the stage.

  • Fanciful: “Once upon a time…”
  • Realistic: “It was the end of the shift when the rush order came in…”

Step 2. Start the action.

  • Fanciful: Climb the mountain
  • Realistic: Receive the order and set up the job

Step 3. Handle the challenge.

  • Fanciful: Defeat the dragon
  • Realistic: Run the non-standard job safely

Step 4. Close the scene

  • Fanciful: Rescue the villagers
  • Realistic: Shut down the machine properly and get the order prepped for delivery

Step 5. Reveal the result.

  • Fanciful: “And there was great peace in the land.”
  • Realistic: “The customer got the overnight rush order, safely and with quality.”



This method makes it easier to build and deliver effective simulation-based learning, whether for classroom, OJT, or e-learning. It also helps training professionals focus on the need: What is the situation? What skills have to be used? What does success look like in that scenario? It makes the practice active and puts the learners right in the middle of the action so they can get the training benefit of engaging with their own realistic work situations. That leads to more engagement and better back-on-the-job training transfer, which are the kind of results we want to deliver for all of our clients.

Take a look. Try it out. See it at As always, contact me with questions and suggestions!