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:
“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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
All of Smartsims Business Simulations are available through Wiley as a bundle with their physical and digital books.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A free demonstration is available to all faculty members. Contact us to arrange your access.
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.
The [MikesBikes] business simulation does a superb job of teaching students to link concepts with experience and motivating them toward their future studies in business.
COLBY, A., EHRLICH, T., SULLIVAN, W. & DOLLE, J. (2011) RETHINKING UNDERGRADUATE BUSINESS EDUCATION: LIBERAL LEARNING FOR THE PROFESSION
Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession Textbook
What the book covers: Business is the largest undergraduate major in the United States and still growing. This reality, along with the immense power of the business sector and its significance for national and global well-being, makes quality education critical not only for the students themselves but also for the public good.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s national study of undergraduate business education found that most undergraduate programs are too narrow, failing to challenge students to question assumptions, think creatively, or understand the place of business in larger institutional contexts. Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education examines these limitations and describes the efforts of a diverse set of institutions to address them by integrating the best elements of liberal arts learning with business curriculum to help students develop wise, ethically grounded professional judgment. (Google Books)
MikesBikes at Santa Clara University
The textbook covered MikesBikes in Chapter 3 on “The Challenges of Undergraduate Business Education.” They interviewed a Santa Clara University instructor on how MikesBikes is currently used in the Contemporary American Business Course – a course that is required for all entering business majors at the Leavy School of Business.
MikesBikes in Contemporary American Business Course
[MikesBikes] provides a “liberal arts” experience in that it gives the “broad exposure” that is the aim of a survey course. And certainly we were impressed with students’ level of engagement, intellectual energy, and seriousness – qualities one wants to see in all aspects of a college education.
INSTRUCTOR FROM SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY
Santa Clara University has been using MikesBikes for many years now. The course is designed to provide an overview of business as a field.
The course includes standard classroom presentations, multiple choice examinations and one-third of the students final grade is dependent on their performance in the MikesBikes simulation. They run the simulation for the whole semester.
The first half of the semester allows the students to get familiar with the simulation and concepts through the Single-Player, practice phase. In the second half, they work in teams and compete against other teams in the course to achieve the highest Shareholder Value.
In MikesBikes, students are given an opportunity to work in marketing, production, product development, finance and accounting. Each member of the team are responsible in making decisions in these functions, allowing them to develop and make complex strategic decisions.
The course through the use of the MikesBikes business simulation provides students with an experiential learning environment, allowing them to take on realistic roles in a manufacturing bike company. They learn how to think critically and coordinate a management strategy. They experience the highs and lows of running a business, the excitement and risks all in a fun, and safe learning environment. In addition, working in teams allow them to learn about the importance of trustworthiness and integrity.
Reference: Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., Sullivan, W. & Dolle, J. (2011) Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession, Stanford, CA: Wiley.
Ready to take your course to the next level?
Increase student engagement and motivation with Smartsims Business Simulations. Contact us to learn more.
Making mistakes simply means you are learning faster.
Who likes making mistakes? Majority of us probably don’t like making one or try our best to avoid it.
In school, we always thrive to do the best we can to avoid making mistakes in our exams or essays to avoid failing.
At work, would you hire someone who says they often make mistakes or promote someone who constantly does? Majority of employers probably wouldn’t.
Here at Smartsims Business Simulations, we believe that we often learn best and the most when we fail, and make mistakes. This allows us to look back, analyze what and where we have gone wrong and restart. If there’s an opportunity, we can also get feedback from our mistakes. This gives us a brand new start to take action and hopefully never make the same mistake again.
However, realistically, we seldom get a second shot to do all these, right? Professors in universities will rarely allow you to redo an exam you already failed. You won’t get another shot of winning that soccer match you already lost. You would lost an opportunity to get promoted if you missed your quota.
Good news is with Smartsims Business Simulations, failure and mistakes are encouraged!
The foundation of simulation-based learning is that we learn by doing. Our objective is to give students an opportunity to have their own business experience, and mirror what it’s like in the real world. This allows them to take responsibility over their own learning and become personally engaged with the content. They get to manage their own company in a fun and safe environment, while allowing them to learn through trial and error, testing different decisions and strategies.
Every business simulation includes a practice and competitive application. Once students are familiar with the simulation format, their teams develop strategy and make key decisions for their organization. Students use real-time market and business reports to effectively analyze market conditions; develop strategy; and, evaluate the impact of their choices.
All our business simulations provide students with a platform to develop an understanding of business concepts, make strategic and critical decisions, and allow them to see the immediate impact of their decisions.
Here, failure is encouraged and allowed, so that they can try better approaches and methods.
Provide your students with a unique learning opportunity and take your course to the next level with Smartsims. Contact us to learn more.
Disruptor Daily featured Smartsims’ CEO, Dennis Gain to understand how Smartsims is using AI to transform education, and what the future of the education industry holds.
Smartsims began as we wanted to provide students with an experiential learning environment to bridge theories and concepts taught in class with real-life experience (you can read more about our history here).
We use Artificial Intelligence in our simulations through our use of robot competitors to replicate human competitors. This is most especially helpful in online courses that want to replicate a similar experience to students in campus.
One of the benefits of this for students is they are able to demonstrate working in team environments, exemplify an understanding of business problem-solving and fully represent themselves as capable professional candidates.
Devon Palmer (pictured above), a student of Professor Harold Lowe from Nova Scotia Community College has previously used our MikesBikes Introduction simulation in his Business course. Upon completion, he was asked by Professor Lowe to also trial both Music2Go Marketing and AdSim Advertising simulations for his work placement.
The review below is written by Devon. He shares his point of view on the AdSim Advertising simulation and some advice on how to do well in the simulation. He also created a few videos on both Music2Go and AdSim business simulations, which you can watch at the end of his review.
“AdSim is a computer-based Advertising Simulation of the Digital Camera division of a Consumer Electronics Corporation. You get the opportunity to experience and understand many of the key decision required to plan and implement an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Plan.
AdSim will give you the opportunity to have practical hands on experience at making critical advertising decisions and seeing the outcome in a live, interactive case study.”
The goal of the AdSim simulation is to maximize your Cumulative Net Marketing Contribution.
How do you do this?
The first step is renaming your firm. This is available to you both in Single-Player as well as Multi-Player. Being able to make this decision gives the simulation a personal feel, rather than just being “Company #12452”. Your two market segments that you get to advertise and sell your product to are the Existing and New markets. Unlike other simulations that allow you to have multiple products in multiple market segments, AdSim only has the one camera that goes into the two segments.
As this is the advertising simulation, your main contribution is the Advertising Plan. Your main goal is to set your advertising budget and allocate it among the five areas; TV, Radio, Magazines, Newspapers, and Interactive Digital Media. While other simulations, like MikesBikes or Music2Go, also give you this option, AdSim goes a step further allowing you to allocate within those five areas. This is more in-depth and a great addition, especially for an advertising class.
Within the TV advertising you may allocate to four segments, Network TV, National TV, Local Spot TV, and Cable TV. Even further, you can allocate your budget into the Network TV segment into six more segments. These range from Early Morning to Late Fringe times of day.
Newspapers have four segments as well, which include, General, Business, Tabloid, and Sunday.
You can also further allocate within the General segment to five geographical regions such as North and South East, North and South West, and Central.
Magazines have five categories that you can advertise in, Women’s Lifestyle, Men’s Lifestyle, Entertainment, Family, and News.
The Women’s and Men’s Lifestyle choice further breaks down into four more choices based on the age of the customer. These are, Youth 12-17, Adults 18-34, Adults 35-55, and Adults 55+.
Radio gives you six station formats to choose from, these are, Contemporary Hit Radio, Urban, Country, Rock, Adult Contemporary, and Newstalk.
The Country Station gives you the option of allocating your budget between the five geographical regions.
The Adult Contemporary Stations allocated between various peak listening times ranging from Morning Drive to Nighttime.
Finally, the Interactive segment is new and unknown in this simulation. It gives you two choices of allocation, Direct Mail and Internet. They recommend experimenting within this segment to see how effective it is.
After doing multiple simulations and seeing how the advertising plan selections work, I find that AdSim does it best out of all other Smartsims simulations I have used. The option to further allocate my budget into different areas is a great choice and would greatly benefit any other simulation. It is also very easy to use and understand as you just need to make sure your “pie-chart” equals 100%. Reading the reports for Chapter 2 of the Player’s Manual will put you in the right direction on how to effectively use each segment to their absolute best.
Another part of the AdSim simulation is the Agency Selection. Here you decide on either trusting yourself to choose your media selections in a custom plan. This is a high-risk, high-reward option in my opinion. As you may select the right numbers in the right segments, but if you don’t do that it can be disastrous. I recommend only using a Internal Plan if you do the research beforehand. The other three options for your agency include TV Magic, Print Works, and Radio Can. These have their obvious strengths in one area, or two in the case for Print Works, but are still better than the default plans for each segment. I recommend picking one of these three agencies as they will give you good results when used correctly.
This is where you pick how you want your digital camera to appear on the market, as well as who you want to target. You have four decisions to make in each of the four categories, Target, Benefit, Proof, and Personality.
To make these decisions all you have to do is click the one you want and then click “Apply.” Target is who you are targeting to sell your camera to – Professional, Amateur, Recreational, or Family. Then you select the Benefit of your camera, Simplicity, Small Size, Picture Quality, or Feature Packed. After selecting your Benefit, you will need to select the Proof, which are, Lens, Focus, Digital Chip, or Direct Printing. The final message you will convey to your customers is the Personality of your camera. The options include Simple and Reliable, Fun and Exciting, Precise and Efficient, or Thoughtful and Nostalgic.
There are reports you can read that give you an insight on which choices to make to maximize in your desired market. Like the other choices you are able to make, these are extremely easy to make and understand as its just a simple click to decide.
Customer Relationships is another feature made available during the simulation. The options for these screens are: CRM System, Warranty, Support, and Loyalty. When choosing your CRM System, you are given four options, to not have one at all, an Entry-Level, a Mid-Level, or a Custom system. These decisions require a bit more research than others, but by reading the chapter section about CRM, as well as the reports about it, will help you in making your CRM, if you choose to have one.
The Warranty selection give you the choice of what kind of warranty you’d like to offer to your customers: 90 days, 180 days, 1 year, or 2 years. Support is how your customers will go about fixing any issues with the product. This is offered by a manual, a website tool, an email helpdesk, or a telephone helpdesk. The last option is the Loyalty program. You can choose not to have one, having a regular newsletter, a regular photo contest, or offering a Photo School. Information on making these decisions are available in various market research reports.
Later in the simulation, you will be given the opportunity to make the Marketing Communications decisions. This gives you the option of four choices, Sales Promotions, Trade Promotions, Sponsorships, and Public Relations.
Sales Promotions give the customer something a little extra when purchasing your product over the competitors, for example a bonus memory card. Trade Promotions are similar to Sales Promotions but give benefits to a Retailer instead. Sponsorships are a way to boost exposure for your product at a specific event. Public Relations is hiring PR consultants to attempt to promote towards journalist interest into writing reviews about your product. Again, there are reports you can read to give insight into which options to choose and when choosing the options, they are straightforward and simple to make.
Market Research reports are available to purchase every year, with new and updated reports available every year. The price of these reports vary from $25,000 to $50,000 and can give you very valuable information that can help you win. Some reports are more important to buy than others, while some are not worth buying at all, so make sure you know what you’re looking for before purchasing.
I feel the price for these reports are very worth it, especially if you were to purchase a report you didn’t need or felt didn’t give you the right information. There are reports that the Player’s Manual recommends purchasing, and I completely agree as the information that is given is highly useful in dominating the market, especially early on.
In conclusion, I highly recommend the AdSim simulation by Smartsims for any class or business looking for business simulations that have a focus on Advertising. It gives you the right amount of content where it feels complete and spreads it out evenly throughout the rollovers.
For me personally, my class at NSCC Pictou would have greatly appreciated using this simulation during our first semester in our second year, as we had both an Advertising class as well as a Market Research class. It would have fit perfectly in our schedule as well as setting us up for our final semester where we challenged our Management counterparts to the MikesBikes simulation.
I give this simulation a 9.5/10 and again, highly recommend it to any classes or business that would like to use a business simulation to teach the fundamentals of advertising and its affect on the business.
Here are the videos that Devon created for both AdSim and Music2Go: