The Next Big Thing in Professional Development

July 13, 2022

By Danielle Miller

Simulated work-based learning allows users to practice the skills obtained in the classroom in a “real-world setting” without ever having to leave their seats. Imagine yourself as an aspiring educational leader needing the practice to face everyday challenges that will be presented to you in the workplace; there is a simulation for that. 

Simulations are a rapidly growing tool used frequently in education, nursing, and corporate settings. “Simulations replicate workplace experiences by allowing users to immerse themselves in a realistic worksite activity without leaving their desk. They help enhance programs of study with real-world experiences, expanding opportunities for learners that are geographically disconnected from employers or face barriers such as lack of resources, transportation, and insurance to participate in worksite experiences. States like Alabama, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia are leading the field in the use of simulation as an instructional tool” (“Simulated Work-Based Learning: Instructional Approaches and Noteworthy Practices | Advance CTE”). Because of the benefits of simulations, more and more industries are taking advantage of this newer technology and using it in the workplace as a learning tool.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, simulations used in program development, such as in Higher Education or professional development, have shown lasting impacts on learning. The study conducted nine interviews and concluded that students using simulations were more engaged and enthusiastic about learning. Instructors found that simulations helped prepare students for the workplace by giving career awareness and job preparation, and the serving institutions found simulations were the most effective tool to offer workplace experiences to more students than they could otherwise serve. Interestingly enough, simulations are even being used at the state level and are seen as a tool for promoting economic development, particularly in instances where the adoption occurred statewide.

Ginger S. Watson, Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Instructional Technology/Learning Sciences/Simulation Curriculum, Instruction, & Special Education, School of Education & Human Development at the University of Virginia is someone who has both used and studied simulations and has found outcomes similar to the study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. “Simulations provide opportunities for experiential learning, skills practice, repetition, and reflection in a safe environment. They often provide a critical transition between content knowledge and real-world application, allowing the learner to practice and experience critical scenarios in an instructional context before encountering those scenarios in a work setting. 

The most frequent comment from students is that no matter how much they have read about a situation or response, they could not imagine how stressful it is to experience authentic scenarios where the stakes are higher and the decisions more complex. Students often report that they could not imagine developing their competency without first practicing extensively in a simulation.”

With its true-to-life scenarios, simulations are the next big thing in professional development and higher education curriculum. Simulated experiences provide a manufactured experience in a safe place. They allow you to hear why peers make certain decisions and discuss the outcomes. Simulations build your Experience Portfolio and essentially accelerate your growth as a leader. Experience Is the Best Teacher!

Moyer, Rebecca, et al. “Simulated Work-Based Learning Instructional Approaches and Noteworthy Practices.” United States Department of Education, Aug. 2017, Accessed 2022.

“Simulated Work-Based Learning: Instructional Approaches and Noteworthy Practices | Advance CTE.”, 2017, Accessed 7 July 2022.