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Simulation Game, Business Game or Case Study?

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There are so many different methods to teach out there. It can be a challenge for instructors to choose which ones to employ in their curriculum to acheive the learning outcomes they desire in their courses. Here, we compare 3 specific teaching tools for business and management instructors: simulation games, like Markstrat, business games and case studies, showing some of the particular benefits to using the former. 

Simulation Games 

How do simulation games incorporate into a training curriculum ? These sequences develop new skills for students, who learn from doing, and are therefore good additions to traditional teaching methods such as case studies, explains Jean-Claude Larréché, professor of marketing at INSEAD and creator of Markstrat, a simulation game centered around strategic marketing.

At the core: learning by doing

Markstrat’s primary function is to place students in various situations. The game allows them to observe a market and its players, make them take strategic actions, and observe the results. Indeed, the most important lessons are learned from experience. In the 90’s, researchers formalized the model «70/20/10», well known in the corporate training world. According to this paradigm, 70% of what people learn comes from experience, 20% from social interactions, and 10% purely from training. "We allow students to learn as if they were positioned in a company, except that their potential mistakes won’t have any costly consequences to the business", summarizes Jean-Claude Larréché. "It’s an effective way to educate. It alters the attitudes and behaviors of students facing a situation. Markstrat works similarly to training ‘on the job’ – even if it is not the only tool for learning this way.

Collaborative projects, working with a community, and internships are other forms of experiential training.

A realistic simulation, but in accelerated time

The effectiveness of Markstrat in a word : its realism. "It’s the basis of Markstrat, insists Jean-Claude Larréché. The whole of the process is to begin with a real and complex situation, glean the essentials from it, and recreate it in a simulation. Professors who have never set foot in a company can’t make these simulations. The workflow is very detailed, the developers make a good number of adjustments and test them against corporate environments. The game is a success when our testers are unable to detect whether a situation was created for the game or is from a real business."

That being said, if Markstrat does realistically reproduce a market and its players, the game has its proper timeline. The evolution is simulated over several months, in order for students to comprehend the effects of their decisions in the medium and long term.

"Compared to a real business situation, it’s very useful for the students, because it shortens the learning time by immediately showing the consequences of a decision in the future", Jean-Claude Larréché points out. Also unlike a real business: time is limited. "Students don’t have five hours to make a decision, but just one. This forces them to think quickly, and so the decision-making processes are better absorbed in their minds. This also teaches them how to make faster decisions."

Simulation game vs. case study

Thus, case studies and simulation games do not have the same outcomes. "These two things are complementary, just as the conceptual courses are", states Jean-Claude Larréché. "Case studies are precious tools, because they give unique insight into the workings of a business. The disadvantage is that they only show how things work in one way. We don’t know what would have happened if other choices had been made. Also, the students are involved as analysts, and not actors", points out Jean-Claude Larréché.

Conversely, simulation games put students in charge. They are in a position to make decisions, make choices, test their ideas… And understand when they are on the wrong track.

"One has to make mistakes to get better. Failure is an excellent education", affirms Jean-Claude Larréché.

Simulation games vs. business games

The philosophy of business games, developed by businesses for management students, are similar to simulation games like Markstrat. Both organize a form of competition between students and create an emulation, which motivates the teams and involves them in an apprenticeship. "However, what simulation games like Markstrat do, and what most business games don’t do, is simulate the market in detail and in a realistic manor. It’s the most difficult part to simulate and Markstrat’s great strength. Business games focus on the inner logic of management (accounting, finance, production…) and simulate the market in a simplistic way", assesses Jean-Claude Larréché.

In Markstrat, the development is less "mechanical" than in a business game, and there are many more pathways that can be taken. "Business games are less realistic because they are an extreme simplification of the corporate environment », Jean-Claude Larréché goes on.

Also, unlike in case studies or classic business games, a simulation like Markstrat remains relevant when played a second, even third time. The workflow never has the same effect, and « one always discovers something », notes Jean-Claude Larréché. "I met a student who played it five times in all! Ideally professionals would gain from doing it regularly, to update their knowledge and call their practices into question."

A tailor-made game

Another difference: Markstrat can adapt to the types of participants. The professor can vary the difficulty, the level of details and type of information he wishes to use according to whomever is in front of him: undergraduate students, Masters students, executives in continuing education... And also based on their profile (students with a scientific or social science background, managers, research analysts, marketing specialists...) "We make a very good engine, but the car has to adapt itself to the client", sums up Jean-Claude Larréché.

What matters most is that the professor in question knows exactly what the participants’ objective is, so they can focus on acquiring this or that skill. A common culture In the end, unlike case studies or business games, Markstrat has the advantage of creating a common culture among the participants. 

Boosting productivity

"Markstrat teaches people to speak the same language. After having played, the students share the same competitive values, and spend less time on the details, allowing them to work more quickly. "This game is an excellent antidote against what I call business theatrics, the non-essential debates and politics", says Jean-Claude Larréché.

He recalls a speech by the CEO of a big company, who had 2,000 of his employees play Markstrat. "He said that after Markstrat, decisions that had taken six months and dozens of exchanges and meetings were settled in one week and a few phone calls."

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