Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study

Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme

What can I do?

  • Design and embed simulated learning activities into subjects and classes where there is a focus on developing technical skills, problem-solving skills, diagnostic skills, and situation management.

What is this about?

Simulation in higher education refers to the use of simulated or virtual environments to help students learn and practice new skills and knowledge. This can involve using computer-based simulations, mock-up models, or other types of replicas or simulations of real-world situations or scenarios. The goal of simulation in education is to provide students with the opportunity to apply and practice new concepts and skills in a safe and controlled setting, without the risks or consequences of working with real patients or clients. Simulation can be used in a variety of fields, including healthcare, business, engineering, and more, and can be an effective way to facilitate experiential learning and promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

What's the evidence say?

Mimicking real-life situations creates a safe space for learning. Simulation is an educational tool or device with which the learner physically interacts to mimic real life. This representation of a real-life situation or event allows learners to alter or adjust aspects of reality in a way that facilitates learning and practice. Examples of simulation include: role play, standardised patients and immersive interactions with virtual objects.

Simulated experiences help students develop complex skills including:

  • Simulations are great for improving
  • Technical performance (e.g., taking blood pressure)
  • General problem-solving skills (e.g., helping patients manage competing priorities)
  • Diagnostic skills (e.g., assessing and interpreting mobility)
  • Situation management (e.g., responding to a cardiac arrest)

All simulation is effective

Simulation works when you use:

  • Live models
  • Mannequins
  • Models
  • Role play
  • Virtual objects
  • Examples and prompts to scaffold learning
  • Paper-based case studies (these only had a small effect)
  • Learning in simulated experiences is improved when:
  • Coupled with technology (e.g., using virtual reality technology so that paramedic students can explore a car accident and make decisions about how they will act)
  • The duration of the experience is >1 hour (although <1 hour is also effective)

Simulation supports the development of expertise through scaffolded learning tasks.

The development of expertise is thought to be a result of a large amount of experiential practice. Ideally, this practice takes place in the real world, but for a lot of higher education degrees, this isn't tenable, safe, or realistic. Simulation allows students to engage in practice-based experiences in safe, iterative, and scaffolded ways.

What's the underlying theory?

Experiential learning theory is a psychological theory that explains how people learn from hands-on experiences and actively reflecting on those experiences. According to the theory, learning through direct experience is more effective than learning through passive observation because it allows the learner to actively engage with the material, make connections to their prior knowledge, and apply new concepts in a meaningful way. In the context of higher education, simulation can be an effective way to facilitate experiential learning because it allows students to practice and apply new skills and knowledge in a safe and controlled setting. By providing opportunities for students to actively engage with the material and reflect on their experiences, simulated learning environments can help facilitate more meaningful and effective learning. Other factors that can impact the effectiveness of simulated learning include the realism of the simulation, the level of support and guidance provided to the learner, and the opportunity for reflection and feedback.

Where does the evidence come from?

High confidence in evidence presented for the effectiveness of simulation.

In Chernikova et al. (2020) the primary studies were assessed for publication bias. The number of studies analysed is high and confidence intervals are acceptable. There is high heterogeneity, however, the effect size is massive (g = 0.85) meaning any kind of bias doesn't really change the story. Three different domains of literature were assessed, so the result is generalisable.

The more you do simulation the more massive the effect is.


Chernikova, O., Heitzmann, N., Stadler, M., Holzberger, D., Seidel, T., & Fischer, F. (2020). Simulation-Based Learning in Higher Education: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 90(4), 499–541.

Cook, D. A., Hatala, R., Brydges, R., Zendejas, B., Szostek, J. H., Wang, A. T., Erwin, P. J., & Hamstra, S. J. (2011). Technology-enhanced simulation for health professions education: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 306(9), 978–988.

Additional Resources