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Becoming a great simulation designer

Page history last edited by Dave Lee 17 years, 10 months ago

Becoming a Great Simulation Designer

Topic begun by Peter Shea



Hi I'm Peter Shea.


As an instructional designer, I'm in love with simulations.


I'm interested in a discussion about the path to becoming a great simulation designer (as a non-programmer). Suggestions can include reading lists, organizations to join, projects to tackle, etc. I look forward to hearing what other people think.


Answer 1: Skills and suggested books


Richard Clark, occasional LCB contributor, says:


Hi Peter,


As a simulation developer myself (having built several highly effective industrial-strength simulations in Flash), let's start with the skills every good simulation designer needs:


  • Determining whether a simulation is relevant for a particular problem
  • Selecting the appropriate type of simulation (knowing each types relative strengths and weaknesses)
  • Modeling the system under simulation
  • Making design decisions based on a well-developed model of how people learn
  • Mapping skills/practices to be learned to scenarios in the simulation
  • Choosing linear media vs. simulation scenarios
  • Structuring the experience for maximum engagement


I'd suggest 5 books initially:


  1. Learning by Doing, Clark Aldrich -- Gives you an overview of the world of simulation and practical advice on talking to the people who control the purse-strings.
  2. Virtual Learning, Roger Schank -- Gives you a solid foundation for thinking about how people learn from simulations. Also contains many case studies of practical simulation designs.
  3. Engaging Learning, Clark Quinn -- Clark lays his brilliant mind out in print, helping you design engaging games and simulations.
  4. The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge -- The best book on modeling business problems (and the world at large).
  5. Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, Chris Crawford -- Breaks down how you design the interface for games, simulations, and interactive stories. This also helps you think about turning points in a story (and in a simulation, which is sort of the ultimate reader-controlled story.) Chris is one of the world's best game designers and writes with wonderful clarity.


I could suggest many more, but these will give you the most value for your money. There are other books I can recommend depending on the subject area, whether you start shading into the development and programming side, doing user testing, quality assurance, etc.


A sample problem


How about we work on a problem (as a community) here in the Wiki. We can design it, maybe get a little programming done. Hey, it's a 21st-century workshop! (I'll check in every few days to keep the conversation going.)


Randy Roadster is the Senior Director of Traffic in Bustown. The city is having a terrible problem with traffic jams and smog all day long. There's no money to build new roads, but the government has given us money for education. We have noticed that when people drive politely, good things happen: traffic flows faster, people save gas, and smog goes down. When they drive aggressively, we have traffic jams. Can you teach them to drive better?



Let's come up with a driving simulation. Roughly speaking:

  1. What instructional objectives would you pursue?
  2. What parts of driving do you need to include in the simulation?
  3. What would you leave out in the simulation?
  4. __Extra challenge__: If you were going to model cars on the road, what would you include in a model? (Hint: Start with speed and think about other things under the driver's control.)




Traffic psychology article,

Wikipedia entry,

A traffic simulator  (non-instructional)

Safe driving tips 


Peter Shea, LCB contributor, says:




Thank you so much for the suggested readings. I'm still a novice & all the guidance offered is gratefully appreciated.


Did you start your career in education or as a programmer?

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