ERIC Identifier: ED404583
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Cairns, Kathleen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., Canadian Guidance and
Counselling Foundation Ottawa (Ontario).
Using Simulations To Enhance Career Education. ERIC Digest.
Career educators and counselors have long recognized that factual information
about careers and employability skills, presented in traditional classroom
formats, is insufficiently prepares students to enter an increasingly complex
workplace (e.g., Crew, 1977). Various authors (e.g., Barth, 1984; Klausmeier
& Daresh, 1983) have suggested that a shift toward a stronger experiential
learning focus in career education could help students make the transition from
fact-based learning about employment to skilled job performance.
These suggestions have led to an increase in experiential career education
initiatives such as work experience, job shadowing, and co-op education. These
programs offer many advantages; however, they are extremely complex to manage,
are often difficult to access and may represent too large a leap from
traditional classroom instruction for students with special problems or poor
work histories (Price, 1991). The in-class employment simulation has been
proposed to provide either an intermediate step between classroom instruction
and work placement or a substitute for placement programs where these are not
available (or where the student is not ready for them) (Cairns & Woodward,
The fact that few such programs have been developed appears to result from
two factors: (1) an emphasis on computer-managed, information-based career
information programs has substantially improved and customized the delivery of
fact-based career education, and (2) such programs have done little to assist
students in translating career knowledge into skilled performance.
To be useful, a simulation must model all of the important skills necessary
for a successful transition to work and in subsequent employment maintenance. It
must be sufficiently complex to be credible to students, sufficiently
comprehensive to satisfy curriculum requirements, and sufficiently uncomplicated
to be used by teachers who may be unaccustomed to experiential approaches to
teaching and learning.
BENEFITS OF SIMULATIONS
Simulation development thus becomes
a lengthy process of designing, field testing, redesigning, and further testing,
which can tax the resources and the patience of all concerned. Counterbalancing
these difficulties, however, are the numerous potential benefits of simulations:
--Learners are provided with opportunities for active experimentation in
solving realistic problems which require the integration of knowledge, skills,
personal attitudes, and positive work values.
--The essential elements of the workplace are experienced, but without its
attendant hazards and inconveniences (Price, 1991).
--Students can formulate and test hypotheses, identify patterns in their own
and others' behavior, make decisions and observe consequences which might, on
the job, take weeks to transpire.
--They can then use these opportunities to modify their decisions and actions
and to observe the impact of such changes.
--Errors can be corrected more readily and without such high interpersonal
--Students learn that individual work effectiveness and the success of the
employer's business are a complex, interactive system.
--The connections between profitability, team success, and individual work
skills are clearly demonstrated (Corbeil, Laveault, & Saint-Germain, 1989).
Simulations are thought to be effective, in part, because they elicit higher
levels of arousal, motivation, task engagement, and quality of problem-solving
in students than that offered by traditional classroom methods (Funke, 1988). In
addition, they teach persistence, creativity, appropriate help seeking, and
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EFFECTIVE WORKPLACE SIMULATION
Effective work simulations offer the following features:
An accurate underlying model of the workplace, containing realistic
representations of the workplace, a high degree of similarity between decisions
in the simulation and those required in real-life, and realistic, real-life
Objectives which reflect desirable knowledge (facts, concepts, generalizations),
skills (literacy, numeracy, self-management, problem solving), and attitudes
(cooperation, leadership, initiative).
A method for assessing the learner's entering behaviors, skill levels, and
employment-related knowledge and attitudes.
Activities which engage and challenge the learner while providing opportunities
for frequent, overt learner responses to increasingly complex situations;
encountering the realistic consequences of personal decisions, evaluating these,
and predicting future outcomes: receiving personalized and immediate feedback;
reflective self-evaluation through student record keeping (journals or
equivalent); instructor review of student progress; multiple evaluation methods
built in to the work process, (e.g., teacher observation checklists, student
journal writing or 'lab' reports, structured group discussions, and the use of
videotaping; a positive record of extensive field testing, to allow potential
users to evaluate the validity of the simulation for their context; a well
designed and detailed instructor's manual; sufficient structural flexibility to
allow the simulation to be adjusted to meet the needs of particular teachers,
counselors, and learners and availability of teacher in-service or other forms
of support for teachers who are not familiar with the use of simulations in the
classroom or with the specifics of one particular program.
The effectiveness of a simulation in a specific context will also depend upon
a number of additional factors:
--Characteristics of the learning environment, such as the availability of
adequate resources (classroom time, appropriate space) and materials to allow
full use of the method.
--The goodness of fit between the larger curriculum learning objectives and
the simulation design.
--The particular learner's needs and characteristics.
--The teacher's or counselor's knowledge of, and willingness to use,
experiential methods, including adherence to program instructions and effective
WONDERTECH WORK SKILLS SIMULATION: ANILLUSTRATIVE CASE
The WonderTech Work Skills Simulation (WSS) (Cairns & Woodward, 1994) is a classroom simulation which is useful for assisting
adolescents and young adults to learn work transition skills. It incorporates
the requirements outlined above through the provision of a complex, interactive
structure that provides students with experience in completing job applications,
participating effectively in job interviews, and practicing job performance. The
simulation focuses on the development of five skill sets which are considered
essential by employers, counselors, and employees: basic academic skills
(literacy/numeracy), self-management skills, problem-solving skills,
co-operative action or teamwork skills, and leadership or initiative-taking
The WSS develops these skills through work in a simulated branch of an
imaginary manufacturing company. Students are 'hired' to fill all of the roles
in the company, including supervisory roles. The company has four departments
(Administration, Materials, Production, and Sales and Marketing) which offer a
wide range of positions. Each participant's job responsibilities are outlined
for each simulation 'day' in a work-role in-basket. The outcome indicators are
multi-dimensional, including, for example, the profitability of the company, the
completion of departmental tasks (such as the issuing of paychecks), and
individual performance appraisals carried out by supervisory staff. If the
company is to survive, all employees must fill their roles effectively,
recognizing that the quality and reliability of each person's work performance
affects the work of all other players. The simulation is available in paper and
pencil or computer-assisted versions.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
Educators are increasingly
suggesting that individuals, especially those in secondary and post-secondary
education, should have the opportunity to actively experiment with realistic
problems as a principal approach to learning (Thatcher, 1990). Some elements of
successful preparation for employment, such as resume writing and appropriate
interview behavior, have traditionally been taught, at least partially, through
the use of experiential activities in the classroom. However, a more
comprehensive approach is needed to teach students to combine discrete skills
into a smooth, personal work performance. A workplace simulation can be an
effective way to bridge the gap between students' initial cognitive
understanding of employability skills and their full engagement in the
workplace, with its attendant risks of failure and discouragement (Cairns & Woodward, 1994).
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Cairns, K. V. & Woodward, J. B. (1994). "Wondertech work skills
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Corbeil, P., Laveault, D. & Saint-Germain, M. (1989). "Games and
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Crew, A. (1977). "Experiential learning: Theory and applications in secondary
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Funke, J. (1988). "Using simulation to study complex problem solving: A
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Klausmeier, H. J. & Daresh, J. C. (1983). "Secondary school improvement
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Thatcher, D. C. (1990). "Promoting learning through games and simulations."
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