The beginning of a new year is a time of reflection and planning. Many of us reflect on what we have learned and plan what we will do differently. In that spirit, this post sums up some of our favorite a-ha moments from 2014. We hope you discover a few pearls of wisdom that can help you develop engaging and effective simulations in 2015!

#1: Define your process for working with SMEs.

Work with one, or a small group of SME’s, and ensure that one expert has final decision-making authority. A large group of SME’s can extend your design timeline since it can be difficult to reach consensus with too many divergent viewpoints. Begin a brainstorming session by asking your SME to describe the optimal learning path. Say: “What’s the first thing you would do? What is the best decision and outcome? What happens next?” Create a flowchart with each optimal decision and outcome. Then say: “Now tell me about some decisions that are suboptimal. Describe the decisions learners would make if they did not master your primary learning objective.”

#2: A well-designed case map enhances the development process.

Color-coding and organizing nodes adds visual structure to your simulation and depicts the paths learners can take. Numbering the nodes properly allows you to generate a Simulation Content Report that is useful for reviewing your simulation. Inserting orphan nodes on your case map describing the different screen types in your case creates a legend for the simulation. Using an orphan node to create a “Summary of the Rules” screen documents the rules and counters so that everyone can understand how the simulation functions.

#3: Creating a robust story can be easier than you think…and supports learning.

Effective storytelling significantly improves training outcomes by providing context and supporting emotional engagement. To craft your story, set the stage by describing your setting, develop your characters by letting them speak for themselves, and create a plot by developing different learning paths. When possible, use graphics, video and audio to give your characters a face and voice.

#4: Words matter…so choose them carefully.

Keep your simulation title simple and intriguing. Don’t give away your learning objectives. For example, one client developed a simulation to determine how effectively physicians diagnose Shift Work Disorder. Instead of titling their simulation “Diagnosing Shift Work Disorder” which would have given away the “answer,” they titled it “Diagnostic Challenge: I’m Tired all the Time – Christina, age 45.” Rephrase your learning objectives so they are general statements informing learners what they can achieve by completing your simulation. Title your screens consistently so that learners understand the screen’s purpose. For example, the heading for each mentor screen could begin with the word, “Coaching.”

#5: Discovery learning enables your learners to form their own insights...and can tell you a thing or two about your learners.

To do this, ask your learners questions and allow them to make choices rather than presenting information didactically. When learners make decisions, enable them to experience the consequences of their decisions—rather than providing corrective feedback and putting them back on the “right” path. This approach can yield interesting data about your learners and the choices they made.