Contextual dichotomy has been found to negatively impact and adversely affect learning. Situated in real-world contexts, on the other hand, has been found to positively impact learning and learner motivation reports Lunce (2006: 37). Although the article referenced below reports on research about simulations in classroom contexts, it contains important pointers that may apply to distance education.
Educational simulations are based on internal model of a real-world systems or phenomena. In order to facilitate learning certain elements, however, may have been simplified or omitted. Lunce (2006: 37) identifies three general types of models on which educational simulations are built:
- Continuous models which are constructed using calculus in order to represent systems with infinite numbers of states.
- Discrete models employing statistics and queuing theory to represent systems with quantitatively discrete states.
- Logical models making use of sets of heuristics, implemented through a high-level computer programming language.
The latter (logical models) are most often used in educational simulations; whereas continuous and discrete models are most often found in scientific and engineering simulations, says Lunce (2006: 37) who groups (p. 38) educational simulations into four categories:
- Physical simulations allow the learner to manipulate variables in an open-ended scenario and observe the results, for example weather patterns in which the student can manipulate certain parameters and observe the outcome.
- Iterative simulations allow for focussing on discovery learning not readily observable in real-time, for example, phenomena from biology, geology or economics; by providing the student with opportunities to conduct scientific research, build and test hypothesis and observe the results.
- Procedural simulations give students the opportunity to manipulate simulated objects with the goal of mastering the skills required to correctly and accurately manipulate physical objects in a real-world setting with the goal of preparing the student for working in a real-world setting.
- Situational simulations model for example human behaviour as a vehicle to allow students to explore different options and decision paths. Situational simulations often employ role playing and are usually designed to be run several times with each participant playing different roles in various iterations. Situational simulations tend to be the most difficult to design due to the open-ended design and complexity of modelling human behaviour and attitudes of individuals or groups in different settings.
The notion fidelity of simulation refers to the extent of accuracy with which the simulation models the real-world system or phenomena. It further refers to the realism of learner interaction facilitated by the simulation as well as the type and frequency of feedback provided. “A well designed simulation can maintain a high degree of fidelity while abstracting or omitting distracting elements that would otherwise be present in a real-world situation”, indicates Lunce (2006: 38).
Lunce L. M. 2006. Simulations: Bringing the benefits of situated learning to the traditional classroom. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 3(1), 37-45, Spring/Summer, 2006. Accessed via Internet on 18 May 2012 from: http://www.eduquery.com/jaet/JAET3-1_Lunce.pdf.