Takeaways & Insights: AOM 2019

With over 11,000 attendees from around the globe, the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM) provides a truly unique experience to engage with the world of management education, training, and scholarship. This year’s event in Boston certainly lived up to the hype, and we walked away not just with new ideas and connections, but also a “big picture” view of the management training and education landscape.

As a training technology provider, we view this big picture with an eye on what’s on the Ed-Tech horizon. Specifically, our team was interested in the needs and challenges facing professors who want to use business simulation technology in their classrooms. We wanted to learn more about the barriers – real and perceived – to adopting (and adapting) simulations that in some cases can steer instructors away from these incredibly effective teaching tools entirely.

So we asked! We surveyed conference attendees, asking them to identify the biggest challenges they’ve encountered when using simulations. Below, we reveal what they said, why these challenges in particular are standouts for instructors, and how to navigate them.

VOTE: Biggest Simulation Challenges?

What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced when using business simulations?

“Learning Curve to Teach the Simulation”

The time and energy demands of learning to teach a simulation and extract value from it can be enough to turn some instructors away, we learned.  Administrative overwhelm and headaches can serve as a huge deterrent for both professors and students alike, and without an easy (and fast) way around them, adopting a simulation simply doesn’t feel worth it. Instructors should look for simulation providers who offer integrated support with scalable assistance models: from traditional “train the trainer” workshops or webinars to online or in-person “co-instruction” where the simulation provider assists in planning and delivering the simulation, all the way to in-game direct-to-student support.

“Technical Issues with the Simulation”

Classroom technologies, old and new, will always be met with at least some degree of pushback from those wanting to avoid technical issues while teaching. For simulations, professors often complain about technical issues both on the student-facing side as well as in terms of the administrative backend of games. In addition to integrated support, instructors should ask for a simulation demo to get a sense of the UX/UI design and ease of navigating the simulation portal – as well as any design or technical elements that seem too complex, unreliable, or prone to malfunction.

“Too Complicated for my Teaching Needs & Students”

Any educational technology is only worth as much as its usefulness to practical teaching goals, and this seems to be one of the major challenges with simulations. Too often, professors find that their chosen simulation offers so much detail and complexity – both in terms of the theoretical concepts it is designed to teach and in the design of the platform itself – that the connection to relevant teaching content and goals is lost.  The most positive feedback we heard comes from professors who have experience with games that don’t attempt to “boil the ocean” in terms of detail, and value simplicity over complexity.

“Not Enough Customizability”

Like we said above, if a teaching tool can’t be adequately adapted to the specific teaching goals at hand, its utility and relevancy run short pretty quickly. While in some cases, relevancy is lost from too much complexity, it is equally at risk in games that are too generic and unadaptable, and therefore fail to adequately model discipline-specific skills and learning material.

“Cost of the Simulation”

In addition to direct cost, lack of buy-in and financial support from other faculty members and program leadership can have a major impact on what is seen as a reasonable when it comes to adopting supplementary educational tools and technology. Cost and perception of ROI is a dynamic element in simulation-use in business schools, because while the instructor is the purchase decision-maker, it’s the students who actually do the purchasing in many cases. The value of the simulation must be clear, understood, and desired by not just instructors and administration, but by the learners themselves.

“LMS Integration & Data Issues”

The least common type of challenge faced by the professors we surveyed involved LMS integration and data issues, though still some indicated that this could be an area for concern – particularly when simulation providers don’t offer services such as third-party LMS integrations or student data importing. This is something to ask providers about during the shopping phase, and compare different offerings with your program or instituions’ specific needs.

“Lack of Provider Support”

Inadequate or ineffective support from simulation providers was another significant concern of the professors we spoke with. As mentioned above, instructors should shop for simulation providers that offer what we call “integrated support” – that is, by-your-side assistance as you plan and deliver a simulation-based course, as opposed to perfunctory chat bots and support@ email addresses that never seem to be checked.

“No Scalability or White Labeling”

And finally, perhaps more nuanced than some of the other challenges professors experience, is the issue of scalability. For rare instances where institutions require that the use of classroom technology be adopted program-wide, a lack of scalibilty can steer instructors away from some simulation providers.


Simulation Roadblocks: What we learned

In general, we found that most implementation roadblocks can be categorized into three groups: Roadblocks for students, for instructors, and for program administrators.

Experiencing these roadblocks at any level can leave a lasting impression on teachers who have used simulations in the past, which means avoiding them from the onset is crucial. We used our conversations with AOM attendees to inform a conference session on how to navigate these challenges when selecting and implementing any simulation technology in the classroom. For full access to the slide deck from our conference session, contact us today.