Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Simulations – Part 1

Post by Capsim
March 1, 2017

You’ve decided to make your next program more experiential by adding a business simulation.  Congratulations, you’ve taken a huge step in the right direction! Business simulations give your leaders a chance to practice making real world business decisions in a safe environment. But what’s the next step?

To begin, find the right learning company to partner with. This goes beyond simply finding a company that sells or designs a simulation. You’ll need to work with a company that understands your learning objectives and designs a program or simulation around those objectives, whether it’s a custom or off-the-shelf simulation.

I’ve been lucky enough in my career to work for a company that made completely custom simulations and another company that builds custom learning programs around off-the-shelf simulations. They are two very different approaches to great experiential learning programs.

First let’s better define custom versus off-the-shelf learning programs, and then in Part 2 of this blog we’ll look at the pros and cons of each approach.

  • Custom Simulations – A custom simulation is built from the beginning to completely represent your business model and industry. There is a balance between simplicity and realism, but the key business drivers in your business are represented in the simulation. Custom simulations often match the branding of the company including colors and fonts.
  • Off-the-Shelf Simulations – An already built simulation that represents one company in a certain industry, usually manufacturing. The simulation is used across different industries and many learning objectives.

Many companies believe that they need to build a custom simulation to drive the learning in their programs and that an off-the-shelf simulation will only work for manufacturing companies. They feel their participants won’t be able to translate the lessons in the simulation to what is happening back at their jobs in the real world. This is where partnering with a company to develop a complete learning program is key. The right simulation company will work with you to develop a completely customized program around off-the-shelf simulations and assessments. They will work with your department to pull the key learnings through to your industry and specifically your company.

This is where many off-the-shelf simulation companies fail. You don’t just want to buy a simulation, run participants through it, and send them back to their jobs. You need to personalize the learning and create additional exercises or activities to drive the learning through to the participants. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your development dollars, and you won’t see the Kirkpatrick Level 3 and 4 changes that improve your leaders, their direct reports, and the business. For more information on the levels in Kirkpatrick read Joe LiVigni’s blog Flipping Kirkpatrick in Learning Program Designs

Please check out my next blog post to learn about the pros and cons of custom and off-the-shelf-simulations, Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Simulations – Part 2.

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