Teaching with Simulations to Impact the Learning Environment

Written by JC Gonzalez

Teaching with simulations can be a way to get students’ attention during class. There is more to simulations than getting attention, however. Great simulation experiences require preparation, engagement, and a period of discussion after the event. Without this high level of attention, a simulation won’t have the desired effect. 

What Is a Simulation? 

A simulation is a planned experience designed to mimic a real-life event. According to University XP, simulations are often used to represent or replicate a complex reality. In teaching, it’s any re-creation of something students are likely to face when they enter the workforce. 

For instance, medical students may practice on a prosthetic arm. This experience is meant to prepare them for the common task of drawing blood and administering intravenous fluids. In addition to role-play, simulations can often include gamification


Simulations don’t have to take place in a real-life environment. Thanks to virtual and augmented reality, simulations are being created in the metaverse. Edstutia modules all feature simulations in VR. 


SimInsights is a player within desktop simulations. They’ve created museum experiences, escape rooms for corporate team building, medical simulations, and much more. As listed on their website, SimInsights believes “simulations are the most impactful way to learn.” 

Types of Simulations

Low Fidelity vs. High Fidelity

Simulations can go from introductory to expert, which is how these two categories can be separated. Low fidelity simulations are designed to introduce an experience. They tend to offer little to no deviation from the goal so students feel guided to make the correct choices. 

Low-fidelity simulations focus on individual tasks and high-fidelity simulations emphasize realistic situations
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A low fidelity simulation on difficult conversations may give the learner two choices when the person in the digital environment comes to them with a question. If the student understands the material, they’ll provide the right answer and the simulation can continue to the next part of the conversation. 

High fidelity simulations, in some cases driven more by AI, are designed to help students who already understand the basic concepts and are ready to move on to more realistic situations. 

In keeping with the soft skills example, a high fidelity simulation won’t have multiple choice questions but instead rely only on the learner’s spoken answers. This example of a high fidelity simulation may look for keywords to assess the person’s understanding of the material. 


Mursion’s mission is to use VR to improve the way people communicate with each other in professional environments. According to their website, they put learners in immersive training simulations to practice difficult and high stakes conversations.

Simulations used to train teachers include realistic classes or conversations with students
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Discrete Event Simulation

A discrete event simulation is similar to a production line. The idea is to review only one event as it occurs in time. This can be the practice of turning an emergency valve or tightening a specific piece in a product. These simulations are highly specific and best used in procedural training. 

Dynamic Simulation

Dynamic simulations involve more steps of the same system. A dynamic simulation may take a student through the process of putting together a product prototype. The simulation itself includes several steps rather than focusing, and repeating, a single step. 

Process Simulation

A process simulation is the most involved simulation you can build for your students. It brings together two or more systems, showing students a more realistic view of what the concepts of the course you teach.

Simulation Phases

It’s important to point out that a simulation cannot be given as a separate exercise where students complete the experience, get a grade, and move on. Simulations require involvement from instructors in order to be successful. 

Teaching with simulations requires a high level of preparation from instructors
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Plan for the Simulation

The preparation phase begins when you are planning the course curriculum. It’s at this point you should be thinking of areas that can benefit from a simulation. Lilian Ajayi-Ore of Columbia University explains, “I typically run my simulation about halfway through the semester because the students have acquired a lot of knowledge and it’s a great way for me to assess that knowledge.” 

You know where you want simulations and now you must determine the goal of each one. You don’t want to go through the simulation process without having a clear goal in mind. If you are teaching a business class and your goal is to have students learn about selling to potential customers, you want a simulation focused on that topic and capable of tracking how students handled that part of the conversation. 

Now that you know what you want to accomplish, it’s time to make the simulation. Edstutia’s ICXR program will walk you through creating simulations for your students if you are looking to create your own. There are also companies like Labster that specialize in providing simulations for schools.


Labster specializes in simulations for science students. They promise to eliminate the limitations of your average school lab by putting students in virtual labs equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. By signing up with them, you gain access to over 250 simulations. 

Their website promises to make “an educator’s job easier, integrating with the most popular LMS (learning management system) platforms and freeing up their time by automatically grading quiz questions and providing them with a dashboard of student performance data.” 

Explain the Simulation

Once you know when it will take place, you want to mention the simulation early to ensure students know they must be available. If your class is in person, they must be present. If it’s asynchronous, they should know the deadline to participate well in advance. Provide this information when going through the class introduction and requirements to prevent surprises. 

Students should know in advance that a simulation will take place so they too feel prepared
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As you get closer to the time of the simulation or when you are covering the material on which the simulation is based, be sure to dedicate some time to explaining how the simulation will take place and what students should try to accomplish when they participate. Include handouts with instructions and expectations. Save some time for students to ask any questions prior to the simulation. 


The day of the simulation, that should be the top priority. Let students get lost in this process. Don’t give them a new assignment or expect to collect one. If you provided clear instructions, your students have been preparing for this day and are hopefully looking forward to it. A simulation serves as an escape from the routine of the class and can help students who struggle with theory when they put it to action. 

Group Simulations

If the simulation occurs as a group, your students can all be in the room during the experience. The simulation may require multiple members of the team doing different things at the same time to get a machine to work or complete an experiment or procedure.

Group simulations are valuable because they keep the entire class engaged and interactive
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Private Simulations

Private simulations, on the other hand, may be more common in the current VR space. Students can stay home and access the simulation from their own VR headset. In this case, you must again reiterate the deadlines so students know when the simulation must be completed. 

If you prefer to be present at the simulation, you can assign slots so you can join the simulation as a guest. Keep in mind, however, that a simulation should allow students to experiment and make mistakes. You shouldn’t be there to stop them from making the wrong decision or correct them when they do it. 

Your role during the simulation is mostly to observe so they can learn by going through the simulation themselves. While the simulation is running, ask yourself questions such as: 

  • Does this simulation offer an appropriate measure of realism?
  • Does the student demonstrate an understanding of their role?
  • Are students cooperating to reach the common goal? 
A successful simulation should include a discussion to gather feedback from students
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Feedback Discussion

It is impossible to overstate the importance of having a discussion with your students after the simulation. This may take place with each student after they complete it or in a class setting with everyone included. You can also do both as some students will prefer one over the other option and you may get more engagement that way. 

Discussing the results of the simulation gives you direction and understanding. You may find your whole class struggled with a specific area of the simulation. Was that section relevant to the course? If it was, you may need to do some additional review and adjust the time you spent on specific lessons. 

Repeat the Process

One way to measure the growth of the students is by repeating the simulation. Using the data and feedback you receive the first time, you can run the simulation again toward the end of the class. If the first simulation happened around the halfway point of the course, you can run it again at the end and compare the growth of your students. This measure may prove more valuable than the results of the first simulation. 

Advantages of Teaching with Simulations

Safety First

There are certain industries where it would be impossible to train personnel without using simulations. The classic example is flight training. 

Pilots begin their practice in flight simulations. This is for their own safety as they prepare for a dangerous job. In a simulation, they can crash without causing any damage to themselves or others. 

The classic VR simulation is the flight simulator for pilots in training
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Another example of simulations in dangerous industries include fire fighting as well as working in power plants or oil rigs. At the higher education level, simulations enable students to work with volatile substances or offer emergency treatment without putting a real life at risk. 

Mistakes Are Encouraged

Similar to safety, is the attachment students have to making mistakes. Students are shown from early on in education to avoid mistakes and failure. In reality, mistakes and failure are among the best teachers available. 

“Students don’t want to stop playing. They play very differently. Some crash ahead, make mistakes, run through a scenario many times quickly. Others move much more slowly, deliberately, thinking carefully, studying what happens.”

Professor Robert D. Austin, Ivey Business School

Simulations, unlike a multiple choice exam, encourage students to make mistakes. Do you remember the first time you sat down at a machine with many controls? Perhaps it was a DJ turntable, your first computer, or a remote control with more buttons than the average remote. 

Learning by doing is not only more fun but more engaging and leads to higher material retention
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Your first instinct was most likely to push or tweak something to know what it did. You may have even asked the classic childhood question, “what does this button do?” 

Even if you did ask the question, you were well already on your way to pushing the button. This is because we are hardwired to learn by trying things out. Simulations let your students push the buttons and pull the levers to see what happens. 

Theory Only Goes So Far

Books are critical to learning and that should not be denied. And while it is true that reading imparts knowledge, it’s practice that cements what you learn. We can read countless books on these and other topics but you can’t really be an expert until you put what you read to use. 

This article from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences lays out the difference between reading about administering CPR and running a CPR simulation: 

“Using a CPR manikin aids students in learning the technical skill of chest compressions. A textbook can explain how to do chest compressions, but practice is essential.”

You Learn from the Data

While students learn from going through the simulation, you as their professor learn from everything that comes after it. Virtual reality simulations capture excellent data to help you determine the success of each simulation. 

You can use eye tracking to identify distractions in your simulation or other areas where your students’ gaze wandered. You can evaluate how much time students spent on the activity, how many times they tried, and much more. 

In addition to the data from the simulation, your discussions with students will also serve as valuable feedback for future simulations and lessons. You may even adjust the next section of your class if you find students continue to struggle with a concept of the course you thought was behind you. 

Cognitive 3D

Cognitive 3D is focused on collecting valuable data from immersive simulations. Combined with the feedback you collect from your students after simulations, you’ll have all the necessary data to improve your simulations over time and ensure students get the most of the experience. 

Cognitive 3D captures where participants engage throughout a simulation
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Examples of Teaching with Simulations


Michael M. Jessup of Taylor University uses simulations to discuss poverty. He believes simulations enable students to grasp concepts that may otherwise be foreign to them. 

According to Jessup, “simulations are also more effective than conventional teaching methods at emphasizing abstract concepts over factual information, engendering empathy, and serving as a reference for ongoing discussions regarding social inequality”


While simulations are themselves pedagogical tools, they are also used in the training of new teachers. The University of Virginia uses simulations that include scenarios on providing student feedback and engaging with parents and guardians. 


Students at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain use simulations as part of the Aeronautical Management program. One simulation they’ve run models a simple baggage handling system. The simulation adjusts over time and students must in turn assess the process and assign resources accordingly. 

A baggage handling simulation shows training management personnel how to properly allocate resources
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Teaching with Simulations: Wrap-Up

As education continues to adopt experiential learning, adding simulations seems like a logical step. There are several advantages to simulations but they also require a high level of dedication from teachers and professors to be successful. In addition, simulations should enhance key concepts, not add foreign ones to the course. 

Edstutia’s Instructor Certification in XR (ICXR) program includes lessons in creating simulations and best practices when teaching with them. Learn more about how Edstutia can help you provide an immersive, engaging experience for your students.