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In simulation-based learning, students interact either virtually, or in a facetoface environment, with a simulation of a real-world event. The simulation creates a safe environment through which mistakes can be made, without consequence, to allow students to understand the implications of decisions they make in effecting future events. 

To understand when best to use simulation-based learning, its best to run some focus groups with students and explore any common issues in their understanding of a topic. Two places this approach can be used are when either: 

  • Students identify that they are unfamiliar with an approach or equipment 


  • Students find it hard to visualise and engage with a particular interaction that is critical to their learning. 

Two good examples of this can be found in the disparate disciplines of Physics and Law.  

In experimental Physics, students often struggle to understand concepts such as Newtonian Force or electron flow in circuits. This is because these concepts are invisible, with only their outcomes being visible (e.g. the motion of a thrown ball, or the light coming on when you turn the light switch). Simulations can help with this, by utilising videobased approaches where students can interact and change the parameters of the interaction and through introducing a layer which makes visible the invisible. In these simulations, students can see what happens if they change the current within a circuit or change the angle at which a ball is thrown.  

In law education, ‘mooting’ is the use of a simulated court, with students taking roles such as judge, juror, lawyers, witness and the plaintiff. The moot is presided over by at least one judge, who delivers a judgment at the end of the moot on the law and on the result of the moot itself. Moot sessions take typically 15-20 minutes and participants are required to use the professional language that would be used in a courtroom situation. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Simulationbased learning works best when you can identify a particular issue, which may be a lack of student understanding or the need to prepare students for realworld scenarios they may encounter.  
  • Virtual approaches work well when you have the involvement of an instructional designer who you can work with to storyboard the ideas and develop the virtual content. Summer students are often good at doing this.  
  • Facetoface approaches work well when there is a human environment where certain rules and practices apply, such as in courtroom or when pitching a business. Here, students know in advance the rules and etiquette required. but may not have experienced it themselves directly.  


Open Educational Resources (PhET). 

Project funding from DCAD. 

Further Reading

Lean, Jonathan, et al. “Simulations and games: Use and barriers in higher education.” Active learning in higher education 7.3 (2006): 227-242. 

Lynch, Andrew. “Why Do We Moot-Exploring the Role of Mooting in Legal Education.” Legal Educ. Rev. 7 (1996): 67. 

Nolan, Sam J., Simon Rees, and Carole Rushall. “Breaking Barriers: Overcoming Anxieties in Practical Science.” Widening Participation, Higher Education and Non-Traditional Students. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016. 73-88. 

Oxford University Press – What is ‘mooting’?