Business simulation games can be put to use to achieve a wide range of learning outcomes. In this week’s blog post, we will explore and consider the benefits of using business simulations in teaching in modern education. We interviewed Senior Lecturer Jukka Sirkiä from Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Finland, who has accumulated over a decade of experience in business simulator games, both as a learner and user, as well as an educator. As an enthusiastic adopter of technology in his role as a Lecturer, Jukka has adapted a portfolio approach to the use of business educational games, utilizing different simulations for a variety courses which he is lecturing.
As an administrator, Mr. Sirkiä strives to create an inspirational learning environment right from the start of his courses by encouraging teams to form their own “steering groups”, and to develop a solid team identity. In his experience, early team-building efforts have resulted in highly motivated teams who compete seriously. A typical course utilizing business management simulation games as a learning tool will run the game for up to 10-weeks, and while grading certainly is influenced by the end results (a better result gives some extra points for evaluation), a special emphasis is also placed on the learning process. To facilitate this, Mr. Sirkiä generally expects his students to contribute in the following areas:
Proof of strategic planning and pre-meditation
A potential problem of assessment in many business games' scenarios is the element of so-called “dumb luck”. While ideally the risk of succeeding when making somewhat random decisions should be low due to the complexity of business management games' logic, the chance does exist. To mitigate the impact of random success, Jukka encourages his students to thoroughly plan their top-level strategy prior to beginning to game, and delivering it in written form. Having a written plan prior to starting not only proves that a winning strategy was not made up completely on a reactive basis (though often winning strategies are not exactly as originally planned out!), but it also gives teams the advantage of having some generally agreed upon guideline to which they can fall back on in the case of strategic disputes later in the game.
Analysis of competitive landscape
A popular mid-term engagement method is to have a session where teams analyze the current situation on the market, as well as the strategies of their perceived close competitors. In Jukka’s experience, it is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn from each other, and the different viewpoints coming from students with diverse backgrounds are an enriching experience.
Insight through keeping a personal learning diary
A preliminary strategic plan can help students in keeping their eye on the big picture throughout the business strategy game, while keeping a regular learning diary will aid in documenting the successes and failures which students come across over the gameplay experience. Periodic introspection of progress creates a wonderful platform for insightful learning, despite actual success or lack-there-of in the business game itself, and as such is something Mr. Sirkiä values also in terms of grading a student.
Final thoughts for learning opportunities
As a recurring pattern for educational efficiency, insightful reflection and analysis are keys to greater learning. Just as initial planning provides a platform for learning through predicting and forecasting, and ongoing analysis of occurring events allows students to not easily discount their success or failure as a result of luck, retrospective reflection after the business strategy game is over requires students to objectively view their long-term strategies and pivotal moments over the course of the simulation. Requiring a post-game evaluation of the entire game period gives a great platform for students to ponder what they did right, what were the mistakes that caused failures, and most importantly, to discuss the key learning points.
Mr. Sirkiä points out that some students get so excited about the competitive business game, that they start modeling their own demand estimations. As an enthusiastic spreadsheet user himself, he finds it gratifying to see students putting in the thought-work to understand what is happening in the market, and do their best to make informed and professional decisions. Indeed, many students have later described the continuous bench marking and forecasting process as the single greatest determinant of their success.
Pushing the limits of the learning-by-playing concept, Mr. Sirkiä has also initiated international cooperation among universities in Europe. One such example is the cooperation with German universities Westfälische Hochschule and Hochschule Karlsruhe, where students and teachers from the universities competed in a very international setting. Another example of a somewhat unusual business simulation learning is the intensive one-day workshop approach Mr. Sirkiä implemented as a guest lecturer at Saxion University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. The business simulation workshop lasted for a full day, and included two rounds of play along with intensive coaching.
Portfolio of Cesim Business Simulations in use by Mr. Sirkiä:
- International Business Simulation course
- Professional studies on the “Going Global” study track
- Business Simulation course
- Advanced professional studies for business administration students
- Offered for Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management students
- Strategic Management and Business Simulation course on the “Management and Organisations” study path
- Advanced courses for Hotel and Restaurant Management students
- Hotel Management Simulation course on the “Profitable Entrepreneurship” study path