Simulation education: a realistic, safe learning environment

Do you want to offer students opportunities to learn from real-life situations? Do you want to make this possible in a safe learning environment? Then working with simulations is a good option! 

What is simulation education? 

In simulation education, you mimic a realistic context to give students the opportunity to act as if they were in a real-life situation. During a simulation, complex scenarios are created based on a reality. Simulation education can also be used as a teaching method as well as an assessment method. 

Medical and paramedical programmes make extensive use of simulation exercises. But also  in other educational contexts, including teacher training and economic programmes, simulations are being used more and more.   

The advantage of simulation education is that the complexity of the situation is introduced realistically and that the learning situation is safe. Making mistakes in a simulation exercise does not threaten lives and the consequences of errors compared to a similar scenario in reality are limited. Students do experience the consequences of their actions and how the elements of the simulation relate to each other. 

How do you use simulation education? 

  • Determine the objectives you pursue with your simulation education: what should students achieve by doing the simulation exercises? 
  • Determine the time you want to spend on the simulation exercises: do you want to spend one period on the exercise or do you see the simulation exercises as a continuous theme throughout the semester? 
  • Find out which location is suitable for the simulation exercises: will the exercise take place in an ordinary classroom or do you have the option to practise in a real-life setting? 
  • Consider the number of students: how many students can participate in the exercise? Are they all participating in the scenario or do some students take up the role of observers? Ideally, let them work in groups of two to five people. 
  • Work out the simulation exercises: think about the complexity of the exercise in function of the predetermined learning goals. Working out simulation scenarios is time-consuming. If necessary, work with standardised roles that can be filled by actors. In a standardised role, the actor always reacts the same way in the same scenario and does not improvise, or very little. 
  • Prebriefing: it is important that you properly prepare the students for the simulation and that you are clear about your expectations. 
  • Debriefing: it is crucial to spend a moment after the simulation exercise to allow students to thoroughly reflect and receive feedback (from each other) on the exercise they have carried out. 

How do you use technology in simulation education? 

De fast digital (r)evolution allows to use technology during simulation education. For example, the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is making a huge advance in education. In addition, various apps and games are available for students to work with simulations. Just think of practising a foreign language or conversation skills. 


Simulation education is already applied in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Register for the Ufora course ''Leerpaden skillslab faculteit geneeskunde en gezondheidswetenschappen' for more inforamtie, this course is open for everyone at UGent.

Want to know more? 

  • Valcke, M. (2018). Onderwijskunde als ontwerpwetenschap: van leren naar instructie. Leuven: Uitgeverij Acco. 
  • Arteveldehogeschool, Hogeschool Gent, Hogeschool PXL, Thomas More Hogeschool, Universiteit Gent, Universiteit Hassel, … VUB. (2015). Spelvormen. Retrieved August 20, 2019, from
  • Pedagogy in action. (2018). Teaching with simulations. Retrieved August, 20, 2019 form

UGent Practices

Last modified Jan. 13, 2021, 11:03 a.m.