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Business Simulations and Merrill's First Principles

Engage with Real Examples and People Learn More

"What we learn to do, we learn by doing." ~ Aristotle

There's been a bit of a quality renaissance in learning, instructional design, and performance improvement lately. This rebirth seems to be focusing on research-based and evidence-based practices. I couldn't be happier. I mean, for too long our field has been dominated by bogus claims and scurrilous operators. We need stuff that actually works.


Business simulations work really, really well. I mean, they are extraordinary. They touch people in so many levels. Well designed simulations reach people at a personal level, at a job level, at a company level, and at a society level. They gain so many insights and skills. They build procedural knowledge (how to go about making a decision in business) and declarative knowledge (how it all fits together and how our company can compete). You can tell I'm really passionate about this. At least, I hope you can!


A few years ago, M. David Merrill began researching and compiling the essentials in current instructional design theory, practice, and results. He has named these findings "First Principles" since his work is preliminary. Nonetheless, the article and the findings are very helpful. They also show us why business simulations work really, really well.


The First Principles are: a) Learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems. (b) learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge. (c) Learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner. (d) Learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner. (e) Learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.


Our business simulations, and their professional facilitation, capitalize on these principles. We work to provide 'worked out ' examples for learners to activate their existing knowledge. We demonstrate the new knowledge in the learning experience, and the learners must apply their new knowledge in many and varied ways. Finally, we make the simulations relevant and realistic, thereby requiring the new knowledge to be integrated into the learner's world.


Yes, business simulations work really, really well. Now we have some insight into why.

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