In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education published findings from a meta-analysis study on the effectiveness of online learning. This project reviewed 176 experimental research studies conducted between 1996 and 2008. Their findings are particularly interesting to DecisionSim authors because a majority of learners within these studies were adult learners in medical education.

Here are some interesting insights that you might want to keep in mind while creating your DecisionSim simulations. The main finding is that increasing learner control, engagement, self-assessment and reflection improves learning outcomes. Specifically, effective online learning strategies include using simulation, encouraging experimentation, and generating learning content based upon each learner’s choices. This is far more effective than adding media or multiple-choice quizzes.

This study presents a model with three types of online learning experiences:  expository, active and interactive. (See Exhibit 1.) With the lowest level of learner control, expository online learning, content is transmitted to a passive learner. This is often what we think of as the boring “page turning” online learning programs. It could also be a “talking head” with someone narrating a PPT presentation. Active learning engages the learners in “an inquiry–based manipulation of digital artifacts” through simulations and games. Interactive learning involves learners in a collaborative process to build their own knowledge as they interact with peers and experts.

How does this relate to DecisionSim? Well, an expository DecisionSim simulation would be a linear case with only one learning path. Typically, these are used to share information rather than improve learning. One way to improve interactivity within a linear path would be to give learners choices over the media they want to review. Learners respond better when they have choices, so if you can’t give them a different learning path, give them choices about how they will review information. This could include watching a video, reading an article, or listening to an audio track.

Most DecisionSim simulations would fall into the active learning category. In this approach, create alternate branches for primary learning objectives. In some situations, you may choose to allow learners to return to an earlier screen and make a different choice. Try giving your learner choices about where in the case they would like to return. In other situations, lead learners to an alternate end point and suggest they try the simulation again. The key is to allow learners to experiment and discover where their choices lead them. Then encourage them to reflect and come to their own insights.

Some of our clients are creating simulations that would fit into the interactive online learning category. In this approach, learners work in teams to create their own DecisionSim simulation. This approach requires the most engagement from a learning perspective and can have the highest learning outcomes. However, it takes time to facilitate and is not suited to all learning environments.

To learn more read, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.