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Using Simulations in Corporate Training: The Missing Piece

So you’re starting to plan your next corporate training or leadership event. Some of the questions that may be going through your head include:

  • What are the learning objectives for this training?
  • How can I make it fun and engaging for everyone?
  • How can I make sure our training events reflect and enhance our corporate culture?

In many cases, introducing a simulation to your corporate training is the missing piece to making your event effective, engaging, and memorable. This is because simulations allow your corporate learners to simultaneously:

  • Learn the required material through active participation
  • Learn additional, crucial ‘soft’ skills
  • Create a network for continued learning

Learn the Required Material through Active Participation

Simulations are highly effective teaching tools, and have been used successfully for years in industries like healthcare and aviation. Now simulations are becoming more common in corporate training environments as well. They’re popular because they provide realtime feedback and help learners translate what they know into what they do, while being enjoyable and engaging at the same time. In particular, this active participation and engagement helps make simulations — and their key learning objectives — memorable.

Simulations provide realtime feedback.

Simulations are responsive, and provide realtime feedback about our behavior.

When learners interact with simulations they create scenarios and can analyze a range of decisions and outcomes linked to those decisions. For example, rather than receiving a simple ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer from an instructor or online training tool, learners working through a simulation can input decisions and see both direct and indirect results of their actions modeled. “Good simulations offer immediate opportunities for feedback and reflection in a way that traditional classroom or online training can’t,” explains leadership development and research firm Discovery Learning.

And because the feedback loop is built-in and immediate, learning through simulation can actually be more effective than traditional training, even when the traditional training is hands-on:

In a cohort study on medical students from five institutions…the simulation group performed at twice as well as the ward [traditional training] group, with only half the training time. Simulation-based learning: Just like the real thing”, Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock

Simulations help us translate what we know into what we do.

Most corporate training sessions effectively present material, but there remains a significant gap between understanding concepts in the classroom and applying them on the job.

[T]raditional, passive training approaches drill us on certain narrow procedures, and then evaluate us on our memory of what we were told. Even when we successfully retain the lesson’s facts and procedures, our behavior in true-to-life situations remains untested…In game-based environments, we learn not only the facts, but also the important, underlying hows and whys. “Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Work, and Where it’s Going,” New Media Institute

This is especially true for training on leadership, innovation, management, and other topics with multiple paths to success. Simulations can supply the connection between ‘book knowledge,’ for example management theory, and how those theories may play out in an actual, competitive organization. The ability to practice what you’re learning — and to describe, share, and analyze those results with other learners — is crucial to evaluating the pros and cons of different approaches.

Simulations are well-recognized as learning tools.

Not surprisingly, many of the reasons that simulations are effective in higher education are also applicable for corporate trainings:

  • Corporate learners want an enjoyable, interactive experience
  • Corporate learners want to learn something relevant, important, and meaningful
  • Corporate learners have limited preparation time before playing simulation

In our experience, the more engaging a simulation is, the more memorable it is for everyone involved. And while it may seem like simulations are the ‘next big thing,’ they’ve actually been around for years — just ask Forio! We’ve been building online custom simulations for professional development for nearly 15 years. For an additional review of literature on training simulations, see our previous blog post on the effectiveness of training simulations.

Learn Additional, Crucial ‘Soft’ Skills

It’s easy to focus on the particular topics or industry-specific material in your corporate training. But don’t underestimate the importance of using your event to build relationships and engage with colleagues. The team-building aspect of training events, while sometimes overlooked, is considered by many corporate learners to be of primary importance:

  • 63%

    of respondents thought the simulation provided an opportunity for "adjusting strategies in response to obstacles or changing priorities"

  • 75%

    agreed that the simulation was effective practice in "gathering the views of others when making decisions"

  • 74%

    of respondents felt the simulation provided them with "understanding of the importance of collaborative decision-making"

Follow up survey to learners using Forio-built custom simulation

Using a simulation, particularly a multiplayer or team-based simulation, requires that learners engage not only with the material but also with each other. This may occur within the simulation itself — for example, through ‘chat’ features or other in-game communication methods — or it may require learners to communicate with each other in person.

In some simulations, engagement with other learners means making decisions collectively, and involves compromise and sharing of information. (In many simulations, not all learners on a team have access to the same information, so they must communicate their expertise to the group in order for the team to be effective.) In other simulations, engagement with other learners means negotiating with other teams, either directly or indirectly, in order to gain an advantage. Both collaboration and competition can increase learner engagement in simulations.

Besides the competitive aspect, interpersonal interactions make the simulation more enjoyable and open additional modalities for learning. Simulations can serve as a rare opportunity for learners to practice key skills related to collaboration and communication in a memorable but low-risk environment. This active learning, or learning-by-doing, is highly engaging and effective.

To take one example, three years ago Forio built a corporate training simulation for a global mining company. In the simulation, teams of five learners from around the world work together to run a major mining operation for eight simulated years, making decisions collaboratively over the course of several days. Teams compete to accumulate the highest score — a combination of company key performance indicators (KPIs), including profit, employee engagement, and environmental stewardship. The simulation is used 2-3 times a year to train over 400 learners. In a survey conducted following the conclusion of the simulation:

  • 63% of respondents thought the simulation provided an opportunity for “adjusting strategies in response to obstacles or changing priorities”
  • 75% agreed that the simulation was effective practice in “gathering the views of others when making decisions”
  • 74% of respondents felt the simulation provided them with “understanding of the importance of collaborative decision-making” Follow up survey to learners using Forio-built custom simulation

Create a Network for Continued Learning

Simulations also provide a powerful shared experience. This shared experience is valuable not only because it increases learner engagement in the classroom, improving retention, but also because it provides a shared language and reference point from which to draw as the learners go back to their ‘day jobs.’

Whether a simulation is collaborative, competitive, or both,

A simulation not only create[s] a team environment within the classroom but…also create[s] a network for use outside of the classroom. “Using Simulations in Corporate Training,” CapitalWave Technology Enabled Learning

Forio has been building customized simulations since 2001, so we’ve had a chance to experience first-hand the power of simulations to create networks for continued learning within organizations. For example:

  • We’ve followed along while health professionals use a simulation to craft scenarios that save lives through HIV treatment and prevention — and we’ve seen how working with the simulation provides a shared experience and shared language on which to draw as the policy ideas move from “what if” scenarios to “what next” implementation plans.

  • We’ve watched a multinational corporation use our simulation to introduce thousands of emerging leaders to the challenges of cross-national and cross-cultural collaborative decision-making.

  • We’re currently working with a major aerospace manufacturer to redesign and automate an existing simulation around supply chain management. The simulation serves as a right of passage in the organization, and everyone we talk to remembers their week-long experience vividly. The simulation creates a fraternal network of shared experience on which project managers can draw as they work together throughout their careers.

  • We’ve listened while nearly half of our inbound sales calls are from learners who introduce themselves saying, “I’ve played one of your simulations and am looking forward to sharing it with my colleagues…”

Next Steps

Simulations in corporate training events provide an effective, engaging, and memorable environment for learning-by-doing — both for required material and for crucial soft skills like collaboration, negotiation, and team-building. If you’re interested in using simulations in your next corporate training or leadership event, Forio can help.

  • Forio has a library of ready-made simulations: Developed collaboratively with top-tier institutions like Harvard Business School, these simulations focus on common corporate training themes including leadership, innovation, management, and other topics. Our specialists can talk you through how the process works and what you can expect to facilitate your next event.

  • Forio provides assistance building customized simulations. Examples of some of our work can be found at:

  • Forio provides a platform for building and hosting online simulations called Forio Epicenter. You can learn more about Forio Epicenter at:

Other questions? Contact us today.