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What Links Team Performance, Cognitive Diversity and Business Simulations?

As we have covered in previous articles, business simulations are already a fantastic supplementary tool on their own in higher education learning. Today we talked to associate professor Anssi Tarkiainen at Lappeenranta University of Technology about how he is taking the use of simulations to the next level. Professor Tarkiainen has been using Cesim Global Challenge for 5 years in a capstone course for the internationally accredited (EPAS accreditation) Master’s in International Marketing Management program offered at the LUT School of Business and Management. Recently LUT was ranked as the best young university in the Nordic countries by Times Higher Education 100 under 50 rankings.

Why Global Challenge?

The aim of the course “International Business Strategies” is to tie together vast theoretical business literature with practical applications, and Dr. Tarkiainen decided initially to experiment with using a business simulation as the link between theory and practice. When asked about his experiences with using a game as a learning tool, Anssi says:

“The goal of bringing together theory and practice by using business simulation games has been achieved wonderfully. By engaging students through the use of a game reflecting real world business operations, we have achieved in building a course which inspires and motivates students to go above and beyond what is required to achieve the general learning objectives.

In particular, the simulated business environment allows for students to partake in direct competition with their peers, typically causing noticeable rivalries between teams, which in turn pushes team members to come up with clever ways to succeed. We have seen impressive Excel-based forecasting, detailed competitor analyses, and all in all the game appears to nurture a deep analytical mindset in students which would otherwise not be addressed.”

Students seem to agree with Dr. Tarkiainen, as the overwhelmingly positive feedback after the course tends to stress the positive learning implications of the simulation world, where students are allowed the freedom of their own creative approaches in tackling difficult competitive landscapes. Even teams who perform poorly relative to the competition enjoy the proactive learning provided by the game, saying that getting to apply their “book smarts” makes the learning points more memorable. And after all, as conventional wisdom tells us, we learn best through mistakes. And what better place to make mistakes, than a simulated game world?

Changing how we think about team diversity

Over the years, Dr. Tarkiainen has been thinking about the implications of team mindsets on performance. As a result, he has started a pilot project in cooperation with the LUT Department of Mathematics and Physics to analyze team dynamics. The goal is to build student specific cognitive maps, using the in-game winning criterion as the key component. At the start of the course, students are asked to select from a list of relevant terminology a number of terms, and then evaluate their relations to the Total Cumulative Shareholder Return used by the simulation as the winning criterion. As a result of the analysis, Dr. Tarkiainen is able to calculate the cognitive distances between the teams, and compare the success of teams with members who are like-minded to those where members have significant differences in perception of what is influential to creating value. Preliminary results of the pilot project have provided interesting data, and in the future professor Tarkiainen hopes to utilize this approach to maximize the diversity within teams for optimal learning. Cognitive diversity, he says, could potentially provide more value in learning than ethnic and cultural diversity in teams alone can.

Key benefits of simulations in learning

To wrap up our interview with professor Tarkiainen, we asked what have been the most beneficial aspects of using Global Challenge as a learning tool.

“On the background, the simulation provides me (as an educator) a motivating tool to use, which ensures there is always an element of change in the same course. It is extremely rewarding to observe and monitor the team work and dynamics of group work which occurs during the game: how strategies are formulated, what teams do when things go wrong, and indeed how teams are run on the whole.

Certainly the simulations’ student engaging elements are great for unlocking the potential of different types of learners, and based on feedback the students also feel the practicality of the simulation enhance their learning. The greatest benefit, in my opinion, is that the game provides a complete cycle of the strategic process in business, from planning to executing and analyzing. Further, the simulated environment forces students to view the firm as a whole: marketing students have to implement their understanding of finance, finance students must gain understanding on production and logistics, and students of strategy must learn the impact of ground level sales strategies the impact of pricing. Everything effects everything, and that provides a platform rich with diverse learning opportunities.”

We hope this article provided some thought stimulating material as to the use of educational simulation games in learning. Are you using simulations in new and innovative ways? We would be pleased to hear how in the comments below


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