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Simulations & Learning e-Games
By Marcia L. Conner

People learn best by doing. Simulations and learning games that use technology to create real-world feel-like-you're-there actions provide the opportunity to engage, have fun, and truly learn. Much of this work is rooted in experiential learning now with a techno-twist.

A recent IDC survey stated that "by 2008 the use of simulations will quadruple.... Simulations provide a parallel universe in which employees hone their skills... Innovative companies have realized this, and others will follow."

This article reviews the field of simulation and games-based learning and the tools you might want to employ given your objectives, budget, and industry.

bulletOverview of learning simulations
bulletGood Books
bulletUseful Magazines
bulletHelpful Articles
bulletOrganizations that focus on this stuff
bulletWho's building simulation tools and games?
bulletWhat types of games are being created?


Simulations have been used to help people learn for decades in pilot education and firefighting.  Online simulations run the gamut from complicated mathematical models to people-skills development tools. Some simulations are all online and others mix in real-world in-person rehearsals that follow your time online. You'll find a little bit of everything here—and the field still have light years to grow.

Good books

Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games by Clark N. Quinn, forward by Marcia Conner. (Pfeiffer, 2005)

Learning by Doing: A Comprehensive Guide to Simulations, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in e-Learning and Other Educational Experiences by Clark Aldrich. (John Wiley & Sons, 2005)

Simulations and the Future of Learning by Clark Aldrich "fits between chapters 19 and 20 of Learning by Doing." While each supports the other, they can be read independently or in either order.

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee

Lessons in Learning, e-Learning, and Training: Perspectives and Guidance for the Enlightened Trainer by Roger C. Schank

75 e-Learning Activities: Making Online Learning Interactive by Ryan Watkins

Digital Game-Based Learning by Marc Prensky (McGraw-Hill, 2004)

Flash MX for Interactive Simulation: How to Construct & Use Device Simulations by Jonathan Kaye, PhD and David Castillo (Delmar Learning, 2002) Companion CD-ROM with full source code.

Got Game by John C. Beck, Mitchell Wade

A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster

Book review: Advanced Web-based Training Strategies

Michael Schrage's book Serious Play focuses on the value of prototypes and simulations in business. Outstanding!

Useful magazines & journals

Simulation & Gaming: An International Journal of Theory, Practice, and Research

Helpful articles

"Performance-Based Simulations: Customizable Tool" by Kellye Whitney. Chief Learning Officer Magazine, October 2004. The use of performance-based simulation learning tools to educate the enterprise is growing rapidly due to the decisive success rates of specialized, interactive content that teaches leaders high-level business acumen in a real-world, risk-free setting. Companies like Accenture, IBM, SimuLearn and OutStart have expanded performance testing from mildly interactive e-learning programs into full-fledged training development software and content-authoring tools, which may be customized to fit any organization’s needs.

Natural Funativity: Why Games are Fun by Noah Falstein. Gamasutra, November 10, 2004. What makes a game fun? It's a question that seems central to the process of making good games. But it's an elusive and subjective question. The dictionary defines 'fun' as a source of amusement or enjoyment, but that's not very helpful. And yet somehow, for years we have been creating games without really understanding why we human beings find some activities to be fun and others boring, pointless or worse. It's not too surprising, since humans have also been creating art for at least 30,000 years and we're still arguing about how to define it. To paraphrase the old saying, we may not be able to describe fun, but we know it when we have it. But game designers are an inquisitive lot, and in recent years there has finally been some significant progress in getting close to the answer of just what fun is all about. (This article requires you to join the Gamasutra online community -- free).

"Start up your own start-up: Business simulation game is a little too much like work" by Liane Gouthro. PC World, June 9, 2000

"Impact: Shocking the Legacy Mindset" Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 31, 2004. "This paper presents business professionals with a primer on Internet business strategy and serves as a design guide for future Internet business simulation efforts. It introduces the obstacles that simulation designers face when codifying a business model that is grounded in unproven theory. By using strategic frameworks and viable metrics found in the literature, the Impact Internet simulation design achieves face validity and offers business managers a realistic surrogate for experience. Just as information technology progress has been slowed by the need to integrate with legacy systems, the new business opportunities available on the Internet have been slowed by the legacy mindsets of traditionally trained managers.

[There are many more articles written about simulations but I haven't had a chance to do an exhaustive search. As I find them, I will post them here. If you know of an article that can be read online please let me know.]

Articles that require you to be a paid subscriber

"Simulations: The Next Generation of E-Learning" by Sarah Boehle. Training, January 2005

"From Visual Simulation to Virtual Reality to Games" by Michael Zayda. IEEE Computer, September 2005, pp. 25-32.

Websites & Related Resources

Purdue University on their Simulation environment

The e-Learning Guild has published the Soft Skills Simulations Report for its associates and members This report follows up on our report on usage and best practices of simulations in e-Learning, The e-Learning Simulations Report published in February 2005, and it focuses on e-Learning simulations. This report follows up on our report on usage and best practices of simulations in e-Learning, The e-Learning Simulations Report published in February 2005, and it focuses on e-Learning simulations that teach "soft skills." According to Stephen Alessi and Stanley Trollip in their book, Multimedia for Learning, these types of simulations are often referred to as situational. Their primary objective is to teach the student how to deal with behaviors and attitudes of people. Situational simulations can include Role Play, Sales Processes, and Business decision-making and analysis.

Serious Games Initiative

Jeremy Hall's Simulations Site

The Simulation Encyclopedia

Simulation: Virtual Business Experience

Sim Resource is a mega-source of simulations to buy and sell.


ACM Special Interest Group on Simulation (SIGSIM)

Association for Business Simulations & Experiential Learning (ABSEL) is an American based association "whose purpose is to develop and promote the use of experiential techniques, simulations and assessment in the field of business education and development." It focuses on business simulation and especially computerized simulations with a strong academic bias.

Australian Simulation and Games Association (OzSAGA)

Context is a National Centre and Network for promoting the use of case materials and simulations in higher education and employment. They are funded by The Partnership Trust and coordinated by The University of Leeds with the Careers Research Advisory Centre. Context has been established with the aim of promoting the use of case materials in higher education and employment. Case materials are designed to meet the needs of students for group working, decision making and experience of work. They are based as closely as possible on real work situations and issues (in business, government and the voluntary sector). They look towards employers to help them develop materials and promote their use.

Federation of Europrean Simulation Societies (EUROSIM)

International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) is a virtual international organization for scientists and practitioners developing and using gaming, simulations and related methodologies (computerized simulation, policy exercises, role-play, experiential exercises, play, case studies, structured experiences, game theory, operational gaming). The aim of the association is to enhance and stimulate the development, application and use of these methods in the social, human and technological domains throughout the world.

Internet Clearinghouse for Simulation/Gaming Resources

Japan Association of Simulation and Gaming (JASAG)

North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA)

Operational Research Society (ORS)

Simulation/Gaming eXchange (SGX)

Società Italiana dei Giochi di Simulazione (SIGIS)

Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT)

Society for Computer Simulation (SCS)

Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR)

Society for the Advancement of Games and Simulations in Education and Training (SAGSET)

Who's building simulation tools and e-games?

Listed below are companies creating online simulations today. This list isn't yet ordered or sorted in any way... and not all of the links actually work yet, but over time we'll qualify and describe each organization in our words (rather than their own). Currently it's a list of what we know about.

CLO Magazine provides a thorough list of companies providing simulations.


Allen Communication

ASK International's e-Learning Arcade

Atlas Island Media, Inc. 

BizWorld Online

Blueline SimulationsIn the printing business, a blueline is a final check to verify camera work, folding, or trimming and is almost “invisible” to the camera. We at Blueline Simulations also work in the background to provide a unique service to organizations exploring training through simulations. The Blueline process is very straightforward. First, we utilize our extensive industry expertise to assess prospective clients' needs and opportunities. Second, we determine which simulation solution(s) - either within our network of innovative strategic partners or elsewhere in the market -- can deliver the most on-target, on-budget result. Third, we assume accountability for the implementation process as an extension of the client to ensure success for all stakeholders. In short, Blueline delivers expertise, selection and accountability.

BrandGamesis a New York-based youth marketing company that uses broadband digital media to build brand relationships with today's digital consumers. BrandGames pioneered the use of videogames as a media platform, and the strategy of Convergence Marketing™: developing sustainable relationships with consumers by layering and linking convergent communications throughout their daily experience in an integrated campaign. GAP, General Mills, and Reebok are BrandGames clients who recognize that for an entire generation, videogame dynamics inform virtually every aspect of their world, from graphics to music to language and fashion.


Capsim: Business simulations being used by 250+ universities and corporations.

Change at work (custom)

CognitiveArts, a division of NIIT (founded by Roger Schank)



Digitec Interactive

Enspire Learning

Equipment Simulations LLC develops e-Learning to teach and assess equipment operation skills using a 'learn by doing' approach, which replicates on-the-job experience, but in a safe and measurable way. Also visit the site to find out in detail about our efficient simulation methodologies, our free simulation newsletter

Experience Builders Experience Builders LLC (EBL) believes that simulations should be a central component of any e-learning strategy. “Our whole crux for existence is this notion that simulations are a very effective way to train in many different contexts,” said John Cleave, co-founder, Experience Builders LLC.

Games 2 Learn

Institute for Learning Sciences (Roger Schank's department at NWU)

Interpretive Software

Jerald Smith's Business Simulations

Kaplan Professional, a division of Kaplan, Inc., has acquired the assets of Software Training Technology, Ltd. (STT)



Knowledge Dynamics Inc. (KDI) creates educational simulations that engage cognitive skills to teach complex systems or processes to help the user quickly advance on-the-job reaction time and gain knowledge.

Kurtz Ferbhout software (Garden with Insight)

Leapfrog Innovations

Learning Insights (mostly finance-related, case-based learning)

Learning Productions

Management By Experience

Micro Business Publications (Management Accounting Simulations)

Ngrain Corp.

Ninth House Network is a company we've followed for several years because of their innovative approach to simulation-based professional and leadership development. See a demonstration simulation for yourself. See a demo

OnDemand Software

Optimal Negotiator


Persuasive Games 

PowerSim (creator of the Beer Game)

Prendo accelerates executive learning, improves performance, and trains successful behavior by simulating human behavior in complex, everyday managerial situations.

PriSim Business War Games Inc. has 2-3 day business training courses designed to develop mid- to senior-level management's strategic, financial and general business acumen. Their simulation software models the operations of a working, growing business and allows course attendees to run their simulated company as "CEO for the Day" in competition with other teams at your company. In addition, during the 2-3 days they cement core business principles in a series of lectures and discussions between competitive rounds. Our courses stress the need to align the different elements involved in managing and running a company to produce profit. As competitors make strategic moves and as customer's values change in the marketplace, course attendees must quickly make decisions across several functional areas. These functional decisions play out in the overall business performance of the simulated company. PriSim's courses provide managers with a proving-ground where new ideas can be tested and new strategies practiced.

ProfitAbility Business Simulations is a global company with 17 years experience, dedicated to designing learning material and experiential simulations that produce immediate practical results. Their expertise lies in helping all employees learn through experience and making sure that they can apply their learning directly to their jobs.



Root Learning

Sigma Interactive

Simulations International is a global simulation outsourcing provider and consultancy. We focus solely on the simulation industry by providing upfront simulation consulting, education, assessments, simulation vendor matching, evaluations and analysis so organizations can reduce time, man hours and costs for implementation of simulation projects. SI has developed SimMATCH, the largest "simulation library" on the market to provide a single point of access to the ever-growing simulation industry. SI’s experts work with clients to determine applicability of simulations as well as the requirements necessary to match the best simulation to their initiative. The SimMATCH library encompasses all types of simulations in all industries and includes vendors, simulations (off-the-shelf and custom), software tools and developers. SimSTART is a one day educational workshop dedicated to helping employees build a foundation and increase their understanding and utilization of simulations.


SIVOX Technologies Inc. has a suite of application tools and simulation products. Each uses an engine with voice-recognition software to actually listen to the user and provide immediate, interactive feedback to train employees on products and services or screen potential employees for appropriate skill sets in the call center or customer service industry.

Spark Learning

Stock Market Game (for kids)

Strategic Management Group (SMG)

Strategic Management Group,


Tata Interactive

Team Development Simulations


The Shared Vision Alliance created the Equine Business Experience

Thinkingtools. Think2000 is a business risk management simulation that uses what they call Agent Based Adaptive Simulation technology. Pretty interesting!

Vstep BV

Water Cooler Games

Will Interactive


XStream Software

Know of other simulation resources? Let us know.

What types of games are being created?

·        Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs)

·        Military Applications

·        Massively Multiplayer Simulation (MMP)

·        Agent-Based gaming, Avatars, and Distributed environments

·        Game based Learning

·        Simulations and Games for Strategy and Policy Planning

·        Business Gaming Using Expert Systems

·        Simulations Utilizing Problem Solving Tools

·        Customizable, Computer-based Interactive Simulations

·        Simulation gaming for Management Training



If you reference this page in a report or article, the citation should read:

Conner, M. L. "Simulations and Learning e-Games." Ageless Learner, 1997-2006. 


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Last Updated:
March 29, 2006