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7 Best Practices for Teaching Online Courses

Teaching online requires a change in teaching approach to effectively deliver learning outcomes and engage students. Business simulation games are the perfect teaching tool for the online learning environment. They provide students with an immediate application to theory, in a fun and engaging way. Students build confidence in business concepts and terms, and they create connection with the course, each other and their instructor.

Here are our seven best practices for using a business simulation in an online course:

1. Instructor Presence

Make your presence known to the students early and often.

“Post weekly words of encouragement to students throughout the simulation as it is keeps the work top of mind and keeps them focused on the work.”
– Des Moines Area Community College

You can regularly engage students through videos, initiating and participation in discussion boards through your learning management system (LMS). Also, make sure students are aware of how they can reach out to you when they need help.

2. Real-World Application

Business simulations give students real-world practice experience. So highlight these throughout the simulation.

“I love using a business simulation. Cases are usually obsolete, have students analyzing other people’s decisions, and don’t provide an opportunity for students to practice implementation, assessment, and adjustment of their strategic decisions. However, with a simulation, students are able to make decisions for their own firms, see the results of those decisions, and adjust accordingly, all within a dynamic (and fun) environment.”
– Scott Livengood (Arizona State University)

3. Clear Expectations

Provide students with a clear set of your expectations at the beginning of the course. This should include a detailed syllabus, outlining their assessments and deadlines.

“I have created a Beginner’s Guide where I essentially walk students through the first two years of decisions, using screen shots and references from the simulation itself. I have also created a video with my voiceover using the simulation while following the Beginner’s Guide. I also give some background regarding the purpose and learning objectives of the simulation.” –Scott Livengood (Arizona State University)

4. Make Use of Individual and Group Projects

A healthy mix of group and individual projects is an ideal way of ensuring success with online learning. Providing students with a variety of learning styles will improve their learning abilities and educate them on the importance of both teamwork and individual achievements.

Lisa Parrott from University of Saint Mary facilitates individual and group assessments in her online Strategic Management course. She shares these in the article, Teaching Strategic Management Online at USM.

5. Learning Objectives

Alignment is important. Ensure that your course content aligns with objectives and assessments.

Lisa Parrott from University of Saint Mary shares her syllabus to demonstrate how she aligns the simulation and assessments to the course’s learning objectives.

6. Provide Students with Prompt Feedback

Provide timely feedback students can apply during the course and to reinforce essential concepts, materials and skills.

Darl Kolb from the University of Auckland provides a “Stock Report” after every rollover to all his students during the Multi-Player phase. Through this report, he shares a summary of the teams’ performance and some advice to help them in the next rollover.

7. Engage Students

Engaged students is a sign of a successful class. Using tools such as business simulations provides students with an engaging, challenging and enriching learning environment, while also extending their academic abilities.

“The simulation brought some real life into the course and made it better (shocking but true). MikesBikes brought to life a variety of concepts that are discussed in the text and allowed students to work together making decisions for the upcoming year.Both my online as well as my face-to-face classroom students do the simulation and I could not be more pleased. Sure, some students get so frustrated they want to quit – but I tell them the key is to push forward, stay with it, preserve and never give up. When they see the light it is an amazing sight for me and a feeling of true success for them.” – Russell Holmes from Des Moines Area Community College

Learn from other instructors:

The instructors below have been gracious enough to share their experience teaching online with a Smartsims Business Simulation:

Find out more about Smartsims Business Simulations below:

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Teaching Strategic Management Online at Arizona State University

With many courses transitioning to online this year we thought it timely to interview Scott Livengood from Arizona State University. Scott has a great deal of experience using our MikesBikes Advanced Business Simulation in his capstone Strategic Management course which he teaches in both face-to-face and online formats.

How do you use MikesBikes in your course?

I use MikesBikes Advanced primarily for my capstone Strategic Management undergraduate course.

I have three “rounds” of play:

  • The first is the Practice Round, where students compete directly against a computer rival in two possible customer segments (Adventurer and Leisure). This round is not graded but gives the students some exposure to the simulation so they can learn about its mechanics and also so they can experiment with and fine tune their strategies.
  • Next comes the Solo Round, where the environment is exactly the same as the Practice Round (i.e. only one computer rival and two segments), except the rollovers occur on my schedule rather than giving the students the ability to roll forward, roll backward, or to reset the simulation. This occurs for five to six rollovers, depending on the length of the course.
  • Last comes the Competitive Round, where students are assigned to “worlds” of approximately eight firms and they compete head to head with other students in the course, also over five or six rollovers. The Competitive Round also introduces three other customer segments (Racer, Commuter, Kids) and a new distribution outlet.
How do you introduce MikesBikes to students?

I have created a Beginner’s Guide where I essentially walk students through the first two years of decisions, using screen shots and references from the simulation itself. I have also created a video with my voiceover using the simulation while following the Beginner’s Guide. I also give some background regarding the purpose and learning objectives of the simulation.

Do students use MikesBikes in teams or individually? If in teams, how do you facilitate teamwork in an online environment?

I’ve experimented with using groups of students, but have found that to be ineffective, mainly due to two reasons: coordination and effort (often students don’t respond to communication and one or two students end up doing all the work and making all the decisions) and learning (students usually use the “divide and conquer” method where one student is in charge of marketing, a different one in charge of new product development, etc. whereas the way I do it, every student has to learn about all the various parts of the organization and how they fit together, which I think enhances the benefit gained). Thankfully, MikesBikes Advanced is complex enough that students have to dive in and learn new things, but not so complex that an individual student can’t make all the decisions.

What simulation related assessments and/or activities do you use?

Students are required to write a paper on External Analysis (Porter’s Five Forces), another paper on Internal Analysis (Resource-based View of the Firm), and another paper on SWOT Analysis and Business-level Strategies during the Practice Round to create a Strategic Plan for their Solo Round.

After the Competitive Round, they write a longer Simulation Reflection Paper on lessons learned from the Solo Round, a Competitive Analysis based on their biggest rivals, challenges with Diversification, exploration of a Merger or Acquisition (why or why not to pursue), and their biggest takeaway from the simulation.

These assessments align with the course material on Business-level Strategies and Corporate-level strategies and count for approximately 35% of their overall grade for the course.

In addition, a small percentage of their grade (5% for Solo and 5% for Competitive, which is mandated by our course coordinator – I would prefer 10% for the Competitive Round) is based on their actual performance on the simulation itself, using final SHV as the measure.

I break the students into “quartiles” based on their final SHV and assign a grade accordingly (top 25% receive 50 points, next 25% receive 40 points, next 25% receive 30 points, and the bottom 25% receive 20 points). This helps to reward students who perform well but isn’t overly strict for those who struggle with the simulation.

I impose a 20% SHV penalty for students who are insolvent during the simulation after providing a cash infusion to help them continue to be able to participate.

What other applications do you use?

We use Canvas as our Learning Management System and I use that as an interface with students. I do use VoiceThread for students to give presentation, but that’s not directly related to the simulation itself.

Do you have any tips for using a business simulation in an online course?

I love using a business simulation, particularly over the typical case study method. Cases are usually obsolete, have students analyzing other people’s decisions, and don’t provide an opportunity for students to practice implementation, assessment, and adjustment of their strategic decisions. However, with a simulation, students are able to make decisions for their own firms, see the results of those decisions, and adjust accordingly, all within a dynamic (and fun) environment. It’s taken me a few years to tinker with different ways to use the simulation, but I like what I’m currently doing and feel the students gain a great experience.

Related Articles:

USM logo

Teaching Strategic Management Online at USM

The MikesBikes simulation has been extremely well received by students. Many enjoy the opportunity to work in groups and learn from others, while nearly all love the ability to apply what they are learning in a safe environment.

Lisa Parrott from the University of Saint Mary uses the MikesBikes Advanced Business Simulation in her online Strategic Management and Ethics course.

Lisa has kindly shared how MikesBikes is used at USM and provided tips to others implementing a business simulation in an online course.

Introducing the Simulation & Single-Player Phase

Week 1

Students are introduced to the Single-Player (practice phase) in the first week. They are also required to read the player’s manual and watch the tutorial videos.

To ensure they have completed these tasks they take a 20-question introductory quiz where they must achieve at least 80% to pass. They are given three opportunities to obtain a passing grade, otherwise they must work with the instructor to determine if they can continue in the course. It is critical students understand how to participate in the simulation before they are put into a team environment.

Students are also asked a brief strategy questionnaire to help the instructor formulate groups.

Finally, students are asked to translate their learning into an individual analysis that looks at the lessons learned, elements of the simulation that are still unclear, and reports used to evaluate performance.

Multi-Player Phase and Assessments

Week 2

The second week moves students from the individual experience into teams. Teams are free to use any means to work virtually; Google Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, etc.

Students first complete a team contract to establish methods of communication, meeting frequency, workload, steps for resolving conflict, and deadlines.

Before starting Multi-Player phase they create a strategic plan. This includes building a mission statement, vision, values, performance objectives, and a plan for weekly evaluation of results and decisions.

Week 3 to Week 6

Rollovers (decision deadlines) begin in week three, with two rollovers per week until week six.

Each week students conduct an individual analysis examining the decisions made by their team, explaining their performance using data from reports within the simulation and to apply the weekly learning objectives to their team performance. This presents a knowledge check at an individual level each week.

After Rollover 4 a consultation meeting is held between each team and their instructor. This provides teams the opportunity to discuss their strategic implementation and evaluate progress to determine if change is needed. Teams can also use this time to ask questions.

Week 7

Teams prepare a video presentation covering elements from their strategic plan, a SWOT analysis, best practices, analysis of overall performance, and recommendations for future directions of the company.

Week 8

The video presentation from week 7 provide the opportunity for students to see “behind the curtain” of the other companies. In response, they are required to evaluate the strategy of their competitors.

Students also complete an individual evaluation of the performance of each of their team members and how they will use skills learned in their next group experience.

The final assignment for the course asks students to write an individual analysis of the entire experience. They are asked to evaluate team performance, consider whether they would expand globally (and where) and reflect on the entire experience. The paper also addresses the ethical performance of their team, effectiveness of their strategy, and highlights three lessons learned. Students are asked to incorporate scholarly articles into this assignment to support their assessment.

Tips for using a business simulation in an online course:

  • The first few weeks are often more time consuming than normal, and it may require multiple reminders to read the manual and watch the videos!
  • When introducing the simulation, it is best to focus on one area of development at a time, and build on concepts each week. Students get overwhelmed in the first few weeks using a simulation, especially if this is their first experience. As they become more familiar with how their decisions impact multiple elements of the business they will begin developing more complicated analysis of their performance.
  • Team design is extremely valuable for a successful Multi-Player experience. Too many risk adverse students will create problems with overall performance and this should be avoided.
  • The ideal team size is three. Two will often result in group-think and passive agreement, four often yields social loafing by at least one member who may not feel they have a voice. With three there is a tie breaker for any decisions when the team is split on how to move forward.
  • The more students know how to read the reports available to evaluate the effectiveness of their decisions, the better their team will perform and often understand how different areas are connected.
  • Each team will develop at a different pace, be sure to push them forward based on their unique needs. Some may reach a higher level of understanding faster than others.

View the course syllabus: Strategic Management and Ethics Syllabus

Related Articles:

Teaching Intro to Business Online at DMACC

Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) use our MikesBikes Introduction Simulation in their Introduction to Business course. The course is run in both face-to-face and online formats.

How do you use the MikesBikes Simulation in BUS102?

MikesBikes is used as a supplement to the material that we cover in class. The students are given approximately 45 minutes in class during the week (in face-to-face classes) to meet with their team and review their possible decisions. In an online class, the students compete individually.

How do you introduce MikesBikes to students?

MikesBikes is introduced to students in multiple announcements during the first week of the online class. These announcements direct students to folders in the online class containing Smartsims’ introductory videos and tutorials. In addition, after watching the videos, students must complete a quiz showing that they have a basic understanding of the simulation.

Do students use MikesBikes in teams or individually? If in teams, how do you facilitate teamwork in an online environment?

With the online course offering, students compete individually. If I were to offer the simulation in teams, as opposed to individually, I would encourage students to use free online meeting software such as Zoom Meetings or Microsoft Teams, and to meet at least once a week online.

Do you implement any simulation related assessments?

Primarily, the students are graded on their final shareholder value. There aren’t really many graded assessments in my online class. I have colleagues who have students present a final MikesBikes presentation at the end of the simulation.

What other applications do you use to help deliver your online course?

My college utilizes the Blackboard Learning Management System as the online platform to present classes.

What advice can you offer to others using a business simulation in their online courses?

It is critical to get students to practice with the Single-Player simulation prior to moving to the Multi-Player phase. Checking student login and online activity is important to ensure that there is a basic understanding of the simulation at the end of the Single-Player phase.

One piece of advice I would give would be to post weekly words of encouragement to students throughout the simulation as it keeps the work top of mind and keeps them focused on the work.

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online learning

Instructional Strategies in Teaching Online for Higher Education: A Case Study

As the new US academic year begins the coronavirus (COVID‐19) pandemic has forced business schools across the country to transition all their courses to online learning only. However, universities in China were the first to face this challenge with government mandated closures of schools early in 2020. This new paper in Wiley’s Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies Journal by Wei Bao, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Peking University, offers sound advice to colleagues beyond China on how to deliver effective teaching in the online environment.

hbe textbook cover
Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies Journal by Wei Bao, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Peking University

The paper classifies six instructional strategies to improve students’ learning concentration and engagement:

1. Make emergency plans for unexpected problems;
2. Divide the teaching content into smaller units to help students focus;
3. Emphasize the use of “voice” in teaching;
4. Work with teaching assistants and gain online support from them;
5. Strengthen students’ active learning ability outside of class; and
6. Combine online learning and offline self‐learning effectively.

To read more about these strategies see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hbe2.191


All of Smartsims Business Simulations are available through Wiley as a bundle with their physical and digital books.

Product Logo and Image for MikesBikes Intro

MikesBikes Introduction to Business features a unique experience that builds confidence by gradually introducing business terms, concepts and decision-making. This introduction to business gives students a taste of making sales, marketing, and operations decisions in a safe and fun learning environment.

Product Logo and Imagery for MikesBikes Advanced

MikesBikes Advanced is a strategic management simulation. Students conduct market research, formulate strategy and make critical company decisions in this challenging addition to any business course. Commonly used in management, strategy and capstone courses.

Product imagery and logo for music2go marketing

The Music2Go Marketing Simulation provides an opportunity for students to develop and implement their own Strategic Marketing Plan in a reflective learning environment. This Marketing Simulation gradually introduces core marketing concepts and sales & marketing management.

Product Logo and Imagery for AdSim

AdSim Advertising Simulation illustrates the core advertising terms and principles. Students have an opportunity to develop their own Strategic Advertising Plan, with a realistic scenario including a fixed budget. This simulation is particularly useful for sales promotion management, advertising management and integrated marking communications (IMC) courses.

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A free demonstration is available to all faculty members. Contact us to arrange your access.

Teaching Online Through COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID‐19) pandemic has forced instructors to quickly transition their traditional face‐to‐face courses to an online format. In the USA alone, 43 states have either mandated or strongly recommended school closures through to at least the 2020 fall semester. These unprecedented measures creates unique challenges to faculty in delivering their course content, especially given over 70% of America’s 1.5 million college faculty are new to online teaching.

Smartsims’ own Camille Canuto features in a recent blog post by Worthington Direct on “How Teachers are Adapting to the COVID-19 Classroom.”

For other instructors looking for activities to actively engage their students in a distance learning environment, then we would strongly recommend using a business simulation. The setup process is very easy, and students would only need internet connection to use the simulation. It can be accessed in any device and the range of resources available in the website would help guide students on what they need to do. This allows students to be in charge of their own learning and the best way to learn independently.

– Camille Canuto


For the full article with more advice and tips on online teaching see: https://blog.worthingtondirect.com/school-furniture/how-teachers-are-adapting-to-the-covid-19-classroom-our-experts-weigh-in/