Feature Story: An Interview with the Authors of ILS Simulations

Innovative Learning Solutions boasts three incredible authors of our simulations families. Dr. Dale Achabal is the author of the Retail Management Game. Achabal is currently the L.J. Skaggs Distinguished Professor and Executive Director of the Retail Management Institute and Co-Chair of the Department of Marketing at Santa Clara University. Dr. Ernie Cadotte is the author of the Marketplace and Marketplace Live families of simulations. He currently serves as the John W. Fisher Professor of Innovative Learning at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Joe Wolfe is the author of the Global Business Basics Game. He is also the president of Experiential Adventures LLC, a game development company.

 

How do you think simulations have contributed to your classroom?

Dale: Simulations provide a dynamic learning environment that engages students in making real decisions and seeing the results versus cases that don’t really allow one’s decisions to be tested.

Ernie: Simulations have enabled me to be much more effective and efficient in helping people learn important and difficult concepts, as well as new ways of thinking. Effective with the amount of learning and efficient in the amount of work required for the instructor. Lectures, projects, and case studies are all consolidated into an interactive experience.

Joe: The learning is active with almost immediate feedback. They are also good test of knowledge already possessed and what are the players’ weak spots that need to be corrected if they are to be a “complete” business student. Based on that feedback, the instructor and the player can work together to improve their decision-making skills.

 

Where did you get the idea to start a simulation?

Dale: The seed was planted over 20 years ago when I was looking for new, innovative ways to engage students in what retail professionals faced on a daily basis; that is, making decisions under uncertainty.

Ernie: When I first started at the University of Tennessee, I taught a course on channels of distribution. I found that students did not have experience with wholesalers, distributors, rack jobbers or ideas like channel power, influence and conflict. To the students, the ideas, which I was trying to convey, were very distant and abstract. They had faith that they needed to know this material, but they could not yet see how to apply it. I concluded that students need a better way to understand and internalize what I wanted them to learn. I decided to create a simulation of a channel environment to give them the first-hand experience they needed.

Joe: Henshaw and Jackson’s pioneering The Executive Game was shown to me when I was a teaching assistant at New York University. After doing much research on why games teach, and how to make them better, I began to develop a series of internationally-based games in the late-1990s.

 

Give us a brief description of your simulation.

Dale: The simulation focuses on taking over a struggling retailer and bringing in a new management team to turn it around.  The initial focus for the students is on identifying a target market to serve and strategy (positioning) to serve it.  Importantly, these decisions need to be based on the data and information provided.

The students are faced with many standard retail decisions, including forecasting seasonal demand, buying, allocating, pricing, merchandise promotion, and managing in-store operations.  Over time, additional factors are introduced, adding to the complexity. These decisions focus on merchandise mix, media mix, opening new stores, and e-commerce business.

All of these decisions are made in a dynamic environment where competitors are also making decisions that impact the firm’s success.  Market Research reports provide information on competitive decisions (e.g. shop the competition, promotion analysis), and quarterly reports are provided (Merchandising Statement, Income Statement, Balance Sheet).  Overall team performance is reported for each decision period (quarter) via a Balanced Scorecard.

Ernie: I am a strong believer in learning both strategic and tactical decision-making. I try to differentiate my simulations from many others by having students make real-life decisions, decisions that they will face when they go into the business world.

For example, many simulations have participants design a brand. For some games, the task is to decide on improving ease of use or comfort without actually getting into the detail of how these benefits will be delivered. In Marketplace, students must pick components that individually or in combination deliver the desired benefit. The number of buttons on a keyboard or the use of a touch screen might determine “Ease of use”. It is the intersection of components and benefits that students need to work to be successful in business.

Another example is our use of business plans, a venture capital fair, and a stockholders’ report. We simulate the experience of asking strangers to invest in our ideas and then being accountable to them. It is a very sobering, but lifelike experience.

Joe: It has been designed for novice, beginning users. The game simulates the motor scooter industry with scooters sold in any two of the world’s continental markets. The player is engaged in every element in the running of a large manufacturer at a very fundamental level.

 

How do your students respond to your simulation?

Dale: A wide range of responses …. initial excitement; sometimes frustration with the realization that making these decisions requires a lot of thought; recognition of the importance of building a team and allocating responsibilities; and excitement of seeing how their performance compares to peers, etc.

Ernie: There’s a real transformation over time. When students begin, they are like deer in the headlights. They are hesitant like any entrepreneur starting a business. You always wish you had more information, but you have to move ahead and start making business decisions; there is a lot of risk and uncertainty.

The students are naturally very talented. As they get experience, their confidence grows. Over time, they gain experience and learn from their mistakes. They learn to use the tools of management. The thought processes that they have already been taught begin to take hold. By the time we are finished, they feel good about themselves and what they can do. The vast majority finds the exercise to be a valuable experience.

Joe: They are initially very difficult, but students learn a lot from them as they gain experience with the environment created by the game, and they learn more about themselves as decision makers.

 

What are some of the benefits of your simulations?

Dale: Simulations really allow students to apply the key concepts they are learning in the classroom; the simulation “makes it all real.”  The simulation reinforces learning in a way that is simply not possible from a textbook or lectures.

Ernie: With Marketplace Live, we have tried to bring together four different ways of learning. Our simulation lives at the intersection of lectures, textbooks, games, and movies. We combine four different media to come up with a new and improved way of learning. Simulations have always been good at helping people internalize business ideas and principles, but we have added new dimensions that elevate that learning to a much higher level.

Joe: Global Business Basics provides an introduction to the field of business. It can help players understand how a firm operates.

 

 

About Marketplace Simulations
Marketplace Simulations is a family of over 30 marketing and business simulations designed for university business courses and executive business programs. Our business simulation games allow students to experiment with business strategies, test business ideas, and experience the consequences of their actions in a virtual business environment. With a purpose to create business education tools that are both engaging and transformative, our most popular and best simulation games include Introduction to Marketing, Venture Strategy, Strategic Marketing, and Business Fundamentals. Other top selling games include, Introduction to Business and Strategy, Conscious Capitalism, and International Corporate Management. For more information or to schedule a personal tour of an online simulation game, please contact one of our Product Specialists at +1-865-522-1946.

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