Integrated Curriculum

Guidelines for Simulations

     A simulation is a computerized model of a real or imagined system that is designed to teach how the system works.  Unlike tutorials, in which the teaching structure is built into the package, learners using simulations usually must choose tasks to do and the order in which to do them.  Alessi and Trollip (2001) identify two types of simulations: those that teach about something and those that teach how to do something.  They further divide the "about" simulations into physical and iterative types and the "how to" simulations into procedural and situational types (Roblyer, 2010).

Simulations That Teach About Something

  • Physical simulations- These simulations allow users to manipulate things or processes represented on the screen.
  • Iterative simulations- These simulations speed up or slow down processes that usually happen either so slowly or so quickly that students cannot see the events unfold.

(Roblyer, 2010)

Simulations That Teach How To Do Something

  • Procedural simulations- These activities teach the appropriate sequences of steps to perform certain procedures.  These can include diagnostic programs, where students try to identify the sources of medical or mechanical problems and flight simulators.
  • Situational simulations- These simulations give students hypothetical problem situations and ask them to react.  Some allow for various successful strategies, such as letting students play the stock market or operate a businesss.  Others have the most and least desirable options, such as choices when encountering a potentially volatile classroom situation.

(Roblyer, 2010)

Benefits of Simulations

  • Compress time- This is an important feature when students need to study the growth or development of living things or othr processes that take a long time.
  • Slow down Processes- This simulation can also show processes normally invisible to the human eye because they happen so fast (slowed-down movement of muscles and limbs).
  • Get students involved- Can capture students' attention by placing them in charge of things and asking, "What would you do?"
  • Make experiments safe- If learning involves physical danger, simulations allow students to drive vehicles, handle toxic chemicals, and react to potentially dangerous situations.
  • Make the impossible possible- Simulations can show students what it would be like to walk on the moon, react to emergencies in a nuclear power plant, see cells mutating or hold countrywide elections.
  • Save money and other resources- Dissecting animals on a computer screen is much less expensive and just as instructional as using real animals.  (It is also easier on the animal population).
  • Allow repetition with variation- Lets students repeat events as many times as needed with unlimited variations.
  • Allow observation of complex processes- Real life events are often so complex that they can be confusing when seen for the first time.  Simulations make it easier for students to isolate parts of activities and control background noise.

(Roblyer, 2010)

Limitations and Problems Related to Simulations

  • Accuracy of models- Simplified versions of systems in controlled situations may create inaccurate or imprecise perspectives on the systems' complexity.  Young children at early stages of cognitive development should experience things first with their normal senses rather than on computer screens.
  • Misuse of simulations-  A negative effect can be when students master activities of simulations without actually developing effective problem-solving skills and can possibly encourage counterproductive behaviors such as trial and error guessing rather than systematic analysis of available information.(Roblyer, 2010)

How to Use Simulations in Teaching

  • In place of or as supplements to lab experiments
  • In place of or as supplements to role-playing
  • In place of or as supplements to field-trips
  • Introducing and/or clarifying a new topic
  • Fostering exploration and process learnding
  • Encouraging cooperation and group work



Roblyer, M.D.,Doering, A.H. (2010).  Integrating educational technology into teaching (5th ed.) Boston: Allyn & Bacon.