The use of simulation learning tools to educate employees is growing rapidly due to the decisive success rates of their targeted commercial content. Increasingly they are teaching management teams improved business acumen and decision making in a risk-free real-world setting.

These simulation tools will often take two forms; either a manual business game – often requiring business decisions to be repeatedly made and providing learning measures alongside the exercise
or using electronic media to provide business simulations (either fictional or realistic) dependent on the skill sets being targeted. These simulations are increasingly being referred to as 'Serious Games' which can sometimes be misleading however this reflect the growing awareness of the simulation tool in the training market.

Today's simulations should actively engage and respond to the trainee, creating an effective and lasting learning experience, reducing the resources needed to create training materials and improving the impact (and often depth) of the training budget.

Simulation is one of the most effective ways to teach high-level skills with off-the-shelf training materiel no longer being perceived as the most effective method in teaching skills– most effective when building awareness ie you can outline new legislation well with traditional training however to develop improved commercial decision making involves developing and mastering new skills, and that requires practice, and often time that a commercial undertaking or a senior level post holder cannot afford. Simulation is the most effective way to do that.

Business simulation games have a high level of user interaction that work faster than traditional training or e-learning methods and are increasingly becoming a solution of choice amongst discerning training purchasers.

Simulation content can easily get out of hand though so it's important to know the key organizational requirements before purchasing a business simulation;

– Who is the target audience?

– What are the objectives of the training to be undertaken?

– How do I plan out what this user experience is going to be?

– Where is the learning going to take place?

Simulations are built step by step whether it be a manual game or an electronic simulation so you must have a process that builds content page by page, so you wind up with a high-quality simulation that's well thought out from start to finish.

For instance, recently we were asked to develop training for customer call-center agents on the complexities of call flow segmentation and how to use tools in the call flow to handle customer scenario interactions. To develop the traditional training material involved several weeks of complex Instructional Design with the end result needing train the trainer material, and all of the associated hand outs, overheads / power points, exercises and knowledge base articles and at the end of this process you have spent a fortune and have developed a laborious process to pass on the required knowledge.

Surely better to develop a electronic simulation product that creates an interactive environment exactly as a real call would take place, perhaps with a coaching module inside the simulation so that when you make a mistake, there's a coach that comes on screen, and hints at improvements in your response. Or, if something simpler is required a coach that takes you out of the training session and puts you into a learning center where the trainee can be exposed to the necessary information about the situation they are currently handling.

Simulation training guarantees the same quality of interaction from incident to incident and from person to person so when you talk about the ROI of simulation training you should be evaluating against improved customer satisfaction, up selling of new products and services, and establishing customer service best practices for an organization. The trainer / coach can tell trainees exactly what they have done right and what they have done wrong during the simulation and will also be able to listen to all of their questions and answers and grade their performance.

Simulation training is not meant to replace the function of a training department; but is intended to make training much more efficient and completely immersion-based so that the trainee can leave saying, 'I understand.' Simulations engage users emotionally so that the impact of training is internalised more completely than in other training methods and allows repeated attempts until performance levels have improved to the required standard.

The inherent value of simulation training is that learners can practice strategic and commercial business skills and apply them in a risk-free training environment. This kind of efficiency- and performance-focused theme means that simulations are starting to heat up the commercial learning arena with buyers of training recognizing how it's better to create custom-based simulations that deliver skills to the workforce. Business performance depends on workforce performance and the most efficient way to increase workforce performance is with simulations tailored to your market and its customers.

The future of business training may include widespread deployment of simulations as simulation-training becomes more commonplace. Already we are starting to see a huge impact in some of the less traditional training areas like customer service and sales because if you say "Let's work through this sales situation and I'll coach you as you go", it resonates with the employees and they start to rapidly take on board the learning. Employees are increasingly becoming more and more discriminating in their choice of employers and look for organizations where the training meets their needs as employees – so that they can join a new business with confidence that they will receive effective and time efficient training support.

So for the employer then the key to success is all about the content. If we can be clear about the training needs of our teams and use skilled personnel to develop suitable business simulations and games then we're going to open it up to all sorts of tasks, and we'll truly see it become a significant portion of the training mix.

When costs are tight, overheads being watched and every penny of the margin being monitored and you want to invest in people development then why would you opt for traditional lecture type training – you're going to put them in simulations
You can have a choice of off-the-shelf simulations or custom simulations each with their benefits and drawbacks; off-the-shelf is cheap, immediate and if you are clever in selecting the right publisher you will get extended use from their licenses.

If you opt for custom-made then you will pay more but you will get simulations with your metrics, your market and your business model.

If you want to get serious about your management development so they understand what levers and knobs they can pull in the company to drive profitability and shareholder value, then simulation training offers a vital solution to discerning employers.

Ezine by John M. Stuart