By: Yossi Friedman  | 

Are Competitive Simulation Exercises the Future of Learning?

With great rapidity, digital technology has incorporated itself into all aspects of modern life. College students are all but required to purchase a connected device to complete their classwork, take their tests and check their grades. In addition, many educational systems are moving online, yet the archaic teaching methods limit the professors' ability to engage students in a classroom. As a result, a new creative method of education has risen in many college courses across the United States. I have participated in three online educational simulations in the past few college semesters as part of a course's curriculum. Based on my previous experiences, I will prove why this increasingly available and innovative educational alternative should become a permanent fixture in future curriculums.

At the start of the Spring 2021 semester at Yeshiva University, my professor introduced the class to an online simulation as part of a social media marketing course. Our professor instructed each student to purchase the Stukent Simulation for $120. In this simulation, the student's objective was to score highly on several key performance indicators (KPIs) and outwit their classmates in a race to generate extensive brand awareness, engagement and conversions as CMO (chief marketing officer) for a company called BUHI Bags. The simulation captivated the students, engaging them in a fierce competition filled with banter, trash talk and a desire to outwork each other. This genuine competition was far more engaging than playing versus a bot. In addition, because Stukent's software would process the data entered each week and spit out a leaderboard, students had something to look forward to at the beginning of each week.

There are many judgments a student would be required to make throughout the simulation which directly determine their overall performance. For example, one decision could be finding a reasonable percentage of their weekly budget to spend on a specific social media platform. Another is whether to pay for an influencer to promote their brand online or hire a photographer to generate original content, enabling the student to pair higher quality photos with their original captions and relevant hashtags on the official BUHI Bags social media pages. The quality, relevance and amount of money spent on promoting posts could directly lead to an increase in the number of likes/comments on posts and clicks to the website, resulting in greater sales revenue and a higher leaderboard ranking. Similar to real-world situations, students may use data to discover better ways to position themselves to prospective consumers. For example, they may do this by scheduling posts directed at the brand's target market with promotions for products that would fit their lifestyle when the consumer is active on social media. I experienced firsthand how Stukent's simulation effectively encouraged its participants to test their social media marketing abilities, operate strategically and learn quickly from their mistakes. 

While there are clear benefits to incorporating a simulation into a college curriculum, it is crucial to assess the potential downsides to this educational methodology. Firstly, all simulations require students to pay an initial fee to participate. On top of already expensive books and tuition, additional costs will hardly elicit positive reactions from the typical college student on a budget. Secondly, the Stukent simulation has recently shown signs of age as the marketing industry enters a new paradigm — specifically, the nascent outbreak of TikTok and a potential metaverse revolution. Another issue is that the formula for which the simulation determines KPI results and crowns a winner must be constantly tweaked to represent the industry accurately. Occasionally, the simulation would appear outdated due to its ranking of popular social media platforms, its failure to incorporate Tik Tok and its exclusion of short-form content. Lastly, the simulation can be time-consuming and thus requires professors to devote their precious class time to work on it. This leaves less time for the students to learn through lectures and other case studies. Therefore, the professor should work with the administration to determine a simulation's costs and benefits to see if it suits their specific educational requirements.

A few weeks ago, I led my team to a first-place finish in my class's "Marketplace Simulation," an integral part of my marketing capstone college course. As CEO of a crew of four, I led my team to make strategic decisions regarding the pricing, promotion and distribution of a portfolio of brands by targeting popular consumer segments based on various factors such as unmet needs, market potential, budgets and competitive forces. As the group leader, I asked my team to reflect on the lessons we had learned during our time together. One of the lessons I learned is that a leader's ability to delegate is essential to optimizing the workflow and efficiency of their team. At the start of the marketing simulation, there were times when our entire team would work solely on one specific task. However, I recognized that trusting my group members to complete particular tasks and avoiding micromanaging them would be essential to our team's success. As Richard Branson says, "Success comes from delegating, risk-taking and having a good TEAM!" 

Higher education is constantly seeking to infuse engaging technologies into its curriculum and teaching styles to match the ever-changing professional landscape. Implementing online competitive simulations into the classroom represents a tremendous opportunity for students to test their knowledge and gain authentic experience in their field of interest. In addition, if implemented and encouraged correctly, simulation education can provide students with exciting opportunities to test their skills and win awards which demonstrate to potential employers their work ethic, talents and desire to learn.

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