Implementing Business Simulation 101: Individualized Learning

Business Simulations & Individualized Learning

Continuing our series on the key pedagogical elements and benefits of business simulations, today we explore Individualized Learning – why its important for students of business, and how simulation-based learning can encourage this important educational trend.

Individualized learning

Individualized or Personalized learning is another concept that is very much part of the educational zeitgeist, but it defies a simple definition. All learning takes place on a spectrum from completely learner controlled / self-directed to completely teacher controlled / curriculum mandated. Personalized learning lies between the two, and is a concept that emerged from the realization that self-directed learning leads to better fact and skill retention.

Individualized learning requires a motivated student, an instructor who understands the power of ‘learner directed’ study, and a curriculum and course content with flexibility baked into it.

Rather like mastery learning that we discussed in a previous article, individualized learning at its most prosaic, might be an online guided learning pathway that responds to the scores students obtain as they cover different topics. Whereas basic mastery learning demands that students obtain a certain score before moving on to the next topic, personalized learning would redirect students to more fundamental topics if they score poorly, or more advanced topics if they score well.

However, a more sophisticated and nuanced take on individualized learning has been championed by educational psychologist Alfie Kohn. He emphasizes the difference between personalization that is done FOR the student, and personalization that is done BY the student. He advocates true personalization that moves the instructional paradigm away from the transmission of facts to creating an experience where learners can construct their own meaning, nourish their curiosity, and learn from their colleagues as much as the instructor.


Individualized learning and Business simulations

Business simulations are the perfect tool for facilitating individualized learning.

As with mastery learning, more routine ‘personalization’ can be conducted by more ‘linear’ Business Simulations, where students play a game with a  predetermined outcome. In such games, it will generally be possible to create bespoke learning pathways based on how close to the ideal a student’s decisions are for any given part of the game.

However, for an individualized learning experience more aligned with Kohn’s vision, a more sophisticated business simulation game that reflects the real-world truth that there is no ‘one right answer’ is more appropriate. Advanced students will generally be more comfortable tackling an amorphous challenge, learning from colleagues and ‘figuring it out’ on their own – the definition of individualized learning. Equally, these simulations can be concluded with student self-reflective papers and presentations, which deepen their understanding of the topic being taught and increase retention of key learning points.

However, even the high-end simulations with no ‘one right answer’ can be adapted to follow a more mechanistic form of personalized learning. If a simulation requires that the student analyze accounts to make effective decisions in the simulation for example, a basic accounting test early in the course curriculum could direct students to a more accounting intensive learning pathway if needed.



Below is a 5 step process to ensure that your business simulation delivery is optimized for personalized learning:

Step 1: Diagnose Learning needs

In the academic context, much can be assumed by the previous studies, curriculum pre-requisites and any professional experience that the student may have. However, some kind of baseline testing can be very useful before the simulation is delivered. Almost all simulations require some kind of understanding of accounting and excel for example, and a baseline test could help a teacher design a remedial pathway for students whose skills fall short.

Step 2: Setting Learning objectives

Learning objectives and assessment methods should be clearly outlined at the beginning – in the academic context, this will be determined by the course curriculum.

Step 3: Identifying Resources for Learning.

Self-directed learning requires access to relevant books, videos and case studies, as well as time to interact and learn from other students. In addition, simulations are grounded in a starting ‘scenario’ and the scenario manual is an important source of not just the simulation’s ‘rules’ but also insights into the typical challenges faced by business leaders.

Step 4: Designing Learning Experiences and Strategies

In the corporate context, business simulations work very well as stand-alone training tools. In the academic context on the other hand, they are typically used as an instructional tool in service to the curriculum of a taught module. It takes thought and planning to ensure that the course content, the simulation, supplementary exercises and assessments provide an opportunity for the student to explore the topic freely while adhering to curriculum requirements.

Step 5: Providing Self-feedback

More advanced simulations lend themselves to self-feedback – the open-ended nature of such simulations End of game peer comparisons and peer reviews helps drive effective self-feedback


Creating a learner-directed environment with simulations is relatively easy – the nature of simulations make it so. However, there are some things that need to be in place for an ‘Individualized learning’ optimized business simulation can be effective.

First, logistics – best practice is to use a cloud-based, mobile-friendly simulation that students can access where ever and whenever. Second, motivation – personalized learning and effective use of simulations require motivated students. The competitive element of simulations can help motivate many students, but not always! Third, there needs to be a mechanism for checking the effectiveness of individualized learning. Normally this will be done with supplementary exercises and assignments. Finally, it is important that the students have space in the context of their overall commitments to explore the topic area – a simulation needs room to breathe and shouldn’t be shoehorned into an already saturated curriculum.


Business simulations are an excellent tool to support the individualized learning paradigm. However, it requires planning on the part of the instructor to ensure that simulations are intelligently integrated into a course, and provide learners freedom while ensuring they adhere to any curriculum requirements.