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A simulation exercise might be ideal, although learners must be well supported in a way that is visible – yet discreet – and easily accessible.

Simulation in Virtual Environments

As well as learning through simulation in virtual environments, learning can happen through role-play and face-to-face scenario planning. Or, bridging notions of ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ simulation, it can be used in the narrow sense of trying out a proposed solution to a problem before actually producing a prototype – whether on paper or through computer simulation.

In an academic context, we can discuss the ways in which learners familiarise themselves with (scientific) concepts through the use of drama, mime, imagination, or role-play simulations to create dynamic models of phenomena (such as electric circuits or neurons) (1). This approach allows learners to draw on their own experience and to co-construct conceptual models.

Simulation is a Well-established Way of Learning

Use of simulation is a well-established way of learning and assessing skill development in vocational disciplines. In nursing, for example, simulations of real-life scenarios provide opportunities for learners to practise problem-solving and clinical decision-making in a ‘safe’ environment (2) where outcomes can be controlled as part of the learning experience.

Simon Mclean’s (3) paper about the design of an industrial simulation for final year BSc Building Surveying students illustrates the use of simulation in a vocational context. It argues that simulation can mimic real-world scenarios in order to impart useful work skills. Use of simulation in this sense is likened to ‘enquiry-based learning’ (EBL), which occurs when learners ‘own’ the process of enquiry, identifying issues and questions and undergoing enquiry supported by facilitators and resources. Mclean claims that the use of EBL is considered by many educationalists to be superior to traditional teaching for vocational learning because things that the learner discovers through experience are more likely to be retained. Mclean suggests that a simulation exercise might be ideal ‘when stated outcomes are the embodiment of key vocational skills’ (3), although learners must be well supported or ‘scaffolded’ in a way that is visible – yet discreet – and easily accessible.

The Requirements for Simulation in Learning

In terms of the learning afforded by a simulation exercise:

“it reinforces past learning as the learner can test knowledge against a real-life scenario. By using the knowledge to resolve problems the learner is afforded access to a whole new canvas for that knowledge, which gives it a greater value. It introduces the concept that learning is not purely restricted to the classroom or within an educational establishment site.” (3)

The simulation should meet certain requirements (3):

  1. Learners must have full support before, during, and after the simulated activity.
  2. The tutor’s role must not become diminished through the change to simulation ‘facilitator’.
  3. The simulation must be realistic and the roles capable of conceptualisation.
  4. Learners must have adequate prior learning, basic underpinning skills, and access to the required information.


  • Dorion, K. (2011). A Learner’s Tactic: How secondary students’ anthropomorphic language may support learning of abstract science concepts. Electronic Journal of Science Education [Online], 12(2) Retrieved on Sep.17, 2012, from http://ejse.southwestern.edu/article/view/8552.
  • Rush, S., Acton, L., Tolley, K., Marks-Maran, D. & Burke, L. (2010). Using Simulation in a Vocational Programme: Does the method support the theory? Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 62(4), 467-479.
  • Mclean, S. (2012). Imparting Work-Based Skills on Vocational Courses, Pedagogy of Using Industrial Simulation in Surveying Education. Student Engagement and Experience Journal [Online], 1(1) Retrieved on Jul. 30, 2012, from http://bit.ly/OhZFnj

Lucubrate Magazine October 2019

The photo on the top: auremar at Adobe Stock

The article is from the report “How to teach vocational education: A theory of vocational pedagogy” by Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, The City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (December 2012)

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Lucubrate Magazine
Lucubrate Magazine

Lucubrate Magazine highlights trends in education and development. Development in this context can be technological, educational, individual, social or global, and everything related to education.
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