Although students have been vocal in recent years about their desire for digital advancements in higher education – lobbying in the past two decades for online lectures and interactive teaching tools – progress in Higher Education has been slow.
The much-needed paradigm shift was eventually delivered by the global pandemic in 2020, prompting universities and academics to embrace themselves in a new era of online teaching and learning as courses shifted online overnight. Today, while campuses return to face-to-face delivery, the question arises: which digital innovations should be maintained, and which should be phased out?
Traditional management education at universities often revolves around theory-based lectures and practical case study discussions that train students to apply theoretical concepts to real-world managerial scenarios. While lectures and seminar discussions have shifted online in the last three years, addressing the digitalisation demands at least partially, online delivery does not mean innovation in teaching and learning.
Yet, Generation Z students demand innovation and digitalisation not only in terms of how the content is delivered but also in how it is designed and integrated into the curriculum.
Today’s students prefer to learn by doing. While the traditional Higher Education approaches to management education are unquestionably beneficial, students often long for more active experiential learning experiences in which their inherent desire for new impulses, fun and interaction can be coupled with their thirst for theoretical knowledge
How do students learn, and why does it matter?
Gen Z like to learn in social settings, collaboratively, where they can take part directly in the learning process. As digital natives, today’s students expect technology to play a pivotal role in their educational experience. They desire to be challenged, to be able to make their own decisions, and to be empowered to do so.
While the Millennial generation was tech-savvy, Gen Z students now enrolling in higher education are a whole new tribe. Generation Z students refuse to be passive learners. They aren’t interested in simply attending classes and sitting through lectures; it does not matter whether they are in-person or online. They want to gain the practical skills that will be necessary to navigate their future careers.
Management students today expect to be fully engaged and to actively participate in their learning process, preferring to engage with the materials in collaborative and pragmatic ways through hands-on experiences. Gen Z students flourish in any learning environment where they can flex their aptitude for self-reliance and their ability to self-educate.
Gamification of management education through simulation games
Gamification of the learning process has become increasingly important in this context to prepare students for managing the constant and complex changes they will face as future business leaders and to keep them engaged and enthusiastic about their learning. Simulation games recreate real-world situations, allowing students to make decisions, observe the consequences, and learn from their mistakes. This hands-on approach engages multiple senses, making learning more memorable, impactful, and fun.
Business simulation games are one of the most effective but often unexplored tools for motivating and actively engaging students in the learning process. The interactive and immersive experiences of online simulations not only revolutionise management teaching by bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, but also allow students to develop essential managerial skills in a risk-free context.
However, university professors are generally hesitant to include simulation games in their management courses as incorporating a game into the curriculum may appear digitally complicated and challenging to manage.
Yet, this method of ‘learning by playing’ helps students:
- To better grasp theoretical concepts
- Be prepared to handle the complexities of the working world
- To improve their perception of the ‘practical usefulness’ of their management courses
Research shows that within management and business subjects, the benefits of simulation games:
- Outweigh possible drawbacks
- Lead to the improvement of students’ academic experience
- Help teachers facilitate knowledge transfer in a fun and informative way
How to integrate gamification into teaching management?
My experience incorporating digital simulation games into the curriculum of Organisational Change Management at the LSE’s Department of Management was not only a rewarding journey for me as an educator but also provided an opportunity to integrate individual and team-based skill development into the curriculum.
Undergraduate vs. Postgraduate courses
Simulation games can benefit both undergraduate and postgraduate students as they learn different skills. Undergraduate students who often get their first taste of the professional business world through these interactive games, understand how the theoretical knowledge they learn in lectures can be practically applied when making decisions in a real-life business situation.
In contrast, postgraduate students, who often have some prior work experience, gain practical insights into how to make effective decisions in various positions of the corporate hierarchy, such as middle or top management. They learn to evaluate and compare their approaches in individual and group settings, and they may experiment with how to deal with the impacts of their inevitable bad decisions.
In-class vs. Out-of-class
Simulations can be integrated as ‘in-class’ or ‘out-of-class’ activities depending on what suits the course design best.
Running the games as an extra-curricular activity outside the classroom:
- Encourages students to engage with the course materials in a way that suits their own pace and learning style.
- Fosters a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
- Allows for unlimited experimentation within the game itself.
In contrast, when incorporating the game into the class schedule, teachers can offer guidance and assistance in real time, although, in this case, the learning window is limited to the duration of the lesson.
Individual vs. Teams
Games can be played individually or in teams, but if the course structure permits, blending these two approaches together can truly take the experience to the next level. While in individual games students experience the advantages and disadvantages of being the only responsible decision-maker, when playing in a team, they practice negotiating their next steps, finding solutions together, and sharing their ideas. By contrasting their experiences between individual and team games students gain insights into the advantages of teamwork while they also develop their communication and problem-solving skills.
The Benefit of Simulation Games
Simulation exercises in management education address students’ demand for more interactive learning experiences, while preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead in their careers as future leaders and managers.
By integrating gamification and active learning in management education through simulation games, universities can lead the way in innovation while also equipping students with the necessary soft skills that are required by future employers who are looking for graduates with up-to-date and practical management skills that allow them to hit the ground running.
Read about LSE students’ real experiences and reflections on learning with simulation games in the blog, Leading Organisational Change: Teaching and Learning with Simulation Games