Using digital game based learning within business faculties to develop work-place readiness

by Miriam Edwards


It is commonly acknowledged that universities face uncertain times. Increased competition means faculties must now market the promise of employment to their potential students. Technology allowing study to occur ‘anytime and anywhere’ has resulted in increased percentages of online students. At the same time, academic rigour, theory and research must remain at the core of each discipline.

Business faculties are precariously placed within this conversation. Involving disciplines such as financial planning, management and marketing, their students do not require specialist equipment or laboratories; making them ideal candidates for online study. Yet these professions do call for ‘soft skills’ such as leadership, interpersonal communications and teamwork; the skills traditionally developed in face-to-face settings.

Jackson and Chapman’s 2012 study comparing the views of academics and employers suggest just such skill gaps are present within business graduates. Broadly speaking, they found business faculties are not meeting required industry outcomes in certain areas. While students performed well in terms of personal ethics, drive, organisational awareness and self confidence, they are lacking in the areas of critical thinking and decision making, leadership and conflict resolution (Jackson & Chapman, 2012, p. 104). These findings suggest that curriculum and pedagogical approaches must be updated.

This chapter invites business faculties to strategically integrate digital game based learning into the curriculum. In particular, the use of games, role play and simulations. This will allow them to better meet the expectations of employers by providing students with relevant professional skills while also promoting an aptitude for lifelong learning. It is suggested that Wills’ Simulations Triad provide a conceptual framework. This is to be complemented with a professional development program so academics might apply their own theoretical perspectives (Turkay, Hoffman, Kinzer, Chantes, & Vicari, 2015, p. 14) towards game-based learning.


Learn  about Higher Ed student numbers

Higher Ed student numbers

What Business courses are offered at Charles Sturt University?

Business courses at CSU?

Read more of Dr Jackson’s work

Read Dr Jackson’s work

Triad (2012) paper is available from UoW

Triad (2012) paper from UoW

Reinventing education to address the widening skills gap (Forbes 35 min video)

This US panel discuss ways in which industry and education can partner to create job-ready graduates

Why business faculties need to get real about authentic learning.

In 2002, CSU had 34,755 students. 25,048 studied by distance while 9,707 studied on-campus. At that time ‘distance’ mode referred to print-based study materials posted to each student. Although participation in higher education across Australia increased by 25% from 2005 to 2010 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013) student numbers within CSU have not changed that dramatically. In 2013, CSU had 40,315 enrolments: 24,194 distance students*, 9,683 on-campus and 5,438 students considered ‘mixed mode’, meaning they select a combination of online and on-campus subjects. Business is currently the largest faculty with 10,254 students, of which nearly 25% are internationals studying through partner institutions (CSU, 2013).

This illustrates the point that universities must compete to hold market share as well as cater to cohorts which are becoming more diverse. They must leverage the affordances of technologies to reach these students. At the same time universities must produce graduates who are ready for the professions and, as noted by Jackson and Chapman (2012) possess critical thinking and interpersonal skills (p. 105). As a result the provision of authentic learning is not only more important than ever, it presents universities with new challenges.

What does authentic learning look like within a business faculty today? Many universities address professional authenticity through work placements or community based projects. But not all students can participate in such initiatives. It seems only natural that these students should then take on a different, yet equivalent assessment regime. Within the Faculty of Business, CSU such students enter into the Stream 3 option (Faculty of Business, 2015) which sees them completing traditional types of assessments such as reports and essays relating to workplace practices. Stream 3includes all international students. It would be fair to imagine that some domestic students enter into Stream 3 as well. With this in mind one could assume that on average 25% of CSU Business students are not experiencing work placements within their undergraduate studies.

With the goal of ensuring all students experience work-based learning, alternatives to placements must become more authentic. Implementing an authentic e-learning model encompassing online games, role-plays and simulations will ensure all students have professionally relevant learning and assessments. Discussions around authentic learning and authentic e-learning must be held across the faculty to ensure academics understand the opportunities as well as challenges.

Publications and reports regarding CSU student cohorts may be accessed through the Office of Planning and Audit – CSU password required for some information Publications and reports regarding CSU student cohorts
may be accessed through the Office of Planning and Audit
– CSU password required for some information
Find out more about work placements at CSU – Faculty of Business Find out more about work placements at CSU – Faculty of Business

Jan Herrington discusses what is NOT authentic learning – Youtube 7min. First in a series

Herrington, Reeves and Oliver describe nine key elements of an authentic learning approach. They are:

  1. Provide authentic contents that reflect the way knowledge will be used in real life
  2. Provide authentic tasks
  3. Provide access to support performance and the modelling of processes
  4. Provide multiple roles and perspective
  5. Support collaborative construction of knowledge
  6. Promote reflection to enable abstraction s to be formed
  7. Promote articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be made explicit
  8. Provide coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times
  9. Provide for authentic assessment of learning within the tasks

(Herrington et al., 2009, p. 18)

Moving from a face-to-face authentic learning model as in the traditional work placements to an authentic e-learning model need not be complicated. Academics and educational designers may work together in defining the tasks, roles and assessments. They would then select appropriate technologies and resources.

Herrington et al., (2009) argue that ‘the aim of authentic e-learning is to prompt ‘cognitive realism’ (p. 85).  Meaning that these types of activities are realistic enough to allow students opportunities to apply knowledge and practice skills needed in real life. Online games, role play and simulations can do exactly that but within a safe, risk-free environment. Students may run a virtual business without the danger of bankruptcy or perhaps take on the persona of ‘financial advisor’ to discuss issues such as estate planning or taxation. By participating in such learning activities students demonstrate their understanding of theory. These types of learning activities also allow students to acquire ‘more usable, transferable knowledge’ leading to deep learning (Cybulski, Holt, Segrave, O’Brien, Munro, Corbitt, Smith, Dick, Searle, Hossein, Sarkar, Keppell, Murdoch & Bradley. 2010, p. 36).


Learn more about Harvard Business Publications: simulations & games

Learn more about Harvard Business Publications: simulations & games

Becker provides a definition of ‘Serious games’ as “digital games designed for purposes other than pure entertainment (Becker, 2011, p. 75). As noted by O’Connell such games may help facilitate positive outcomes for students. Some games may promote competition while others provide simulations. Computer-based games can imitate environments that would be too expensive, dangerous or impossible to reproduce (O’Connell, 2015) making them ideal tools for training and work-related learning in general. O’Connell goes on to argue that games provide attractive features for educators including:

  • The new information and communication technologies are interactive systems|
  • The learners themselves are placed in control of what and how they learn.
  • The computer can model real situations and complex systems and simulate their behaviour.
  • The learners can receive immediate feedback on their activities
  • The computer can execute complex (or dangerous) operations (e.g., simulations) which cannot be executed by other media.

(O’Connell, 2015)

Possibilities for digital games within Business courses are endless. This could involve off-the-shelf solutions provided by companies such as Harvard Business Publications or perhaps be developed in-house using academics as content experts with university production services providing the technical expertise. Games could be used as ‘ice-breakers’ starting discussions around particular areas or to illustrate certain concepts. Games could also be used throughout a teaching semester to mimic professional practice.  Running a small business would be one such example. Students could develop a virtual product, market and sell that product with the aim of being more profitable than their classmates.


Project EnRole: Encouraging Role-based Online Learning Environments, Blue Report is available online.

Project EnRole: Encouraging Role-based Online Learning Environments, Blue Report is available online.

Role plays are situations in which learners take on the profiles of specific characters or representatives in a contrived setting. Role plays are designed primarily to build first-person experiences within safe environments (Wills, Leigh, Ip & Albert, 2011, p. 17). By providing students with realistic scenarios similar to those they may experience in the workplace, students are able to solve problems and consider different perspectives while collaborating with classmates. This is consistent with Herrington’s description of ‘cognitive reality’ (Herrington et al., 2009, p. 45). In such situations, students are able to apply new knowledge and develop skills needed for the real world. Role play is widely acknowledged to be a powerful teaching technique in face-to-face, blended and online settings and has been singled out as an example of good practice by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (UoW, 2003).

Role plays may be conducted online or modified for face-to-face teaching making them an ideal teaching strategy for faculty-wide delivery. International students enrolled in on-campus subjects may work through a role play during tutorials. Other cohorts may experience the role play entirely online or in a blended mode.

See details of INR503 in CSU Courses Handbook

See details of INR503 in CSU Courses Handbook

One example of online role play currently used within the CSU Business Faculty is that of post-graduates studying industrial relations – INR503: Industrial Relations Practice. Students assume the roles of HR managers, union representatives, employees and employers to re-negotiate an enterprise bargaining agreement.  The academic who developed this subject and subsequently taught it, finds the teaching to be more time-consuming than the previous ‘print-based, two essays’ model of teaching, but describes the role play model as engaging and highly effective.  Students have also been very positive in their evaluations of this subject.


Learn more about Second Life within education

Learn more about Second Life within education

Simulation is the imitation of some real thing, state of affair or process. A simulator will present outcomes of choices made by the student based upon the rules built into the model of simulation (Wills et al., 2011).

Drake-Bridges, Streizoff & Sulbaran present a relevant example in their 2011 study detailing the experiences of marketing students. By using Secondlife, the university students assumed either the role of buyer or product developer. Both groups were given assignments corresponding to their roles in the simulation. Drake et al., argue that the virtual shopping centre helped students make connections between textbook knowledge and its application. They also felt the ‘complexity of this virtual world matched that of the real world and was beneficial for expediting marketing plan projects which in turn, heightening students’ engagement in course content and promoted personal growth’. Students reported a greater depth of learning as a result of participating in the virtual simulation (Drake et al., 2011).

INR503: IR Practice. Students used project sites to act out roles and share resources

INR503: IR Practice. Students used project sites to act out roles and share resources

The Simulation Triad

Will’s Simulation Triad focuses on roles, rules and the given problem

Will’s Simulation Triad focuses on roles, rules and the given problem

Will’s Simulation Triad provides a theoretical framework for discussing relationships between games, role plays and simulations (Wills, 2012, p. 23). Differences between these three teaching strategies are often times blurred due to the complexities of technologies used. Both asynchronous and synchronous communication tools now enable students to engage in games, assume roles and experience simulations in varying ways. TheSimulation Triad presents a continuum between these three strategies by starting with the premise that all simulations involve roles, rules and a problem. Individual learning designs fall somewhere within this continuum based on the amount of emphasis placed on rules, the problem or roles (Wills, 2012, p. 31).

By visualising the learning design in this way, designers can approach authentic e-learning by asking academics questions such as:

  • What problem (case study, scenario, real-world situation) might your students find themselves in?
  • What roles must the student(s) assume tp resolve the problem?
  • What rules apply, and to whom?
  • What theories do your students need to understand before engaging in this problem?
  • What skills will the students be demonstrating?
  • How will the students be encouraged to reflect upon this activity?

The Simulation Triad presents a simplistic representation of learning designs which can be quite complex. In doing so it not only allows academics and designers to develop a dialogue around authentic e-learning, it provides a premise for professional development. Regular professional development sessions could be structured around each of these key areas. Once learning designs are created they could be positioned within the triad and exemplars showcased.

Listen to Sandra Wills talk about simulations, role play and other trends in higher education – Youtube 5min


Universities have the opportunity to reach their students in ways not imaginable 5 years ago. Academics within the Business disciplines understand the importance of authentic learning, with systems already in place to support traditional work-based learning. As such these faculties are well placed to implement a model of authentic e-learning. In doing so, students would have more opportunities to practice professional skills while also developing important interpersonal skills. Such skills, generally referred to as ‘soft-skills’ are often overshadowed when teaching semesters struggle to accommodate discipline related information. Yet they reflect the mindset many universities hope to see evidenced within their graduates. This includes characteristics such as global citizenship, ethical practice, sustainability and digital literacies (CSU, 2014)

It is suggested that strategies involving games, role play and simulations be used to assist academics as they re-conceptualise work-based learning for online delivery. By doing so they will move from authentic learning to authentic e-learning. It is also suggested that Will’s 2012 Simulation Triad be used to guide discussions with academics and frame a professional development programme. This will provide academics with the opportunity to explore the nature and affordances of these teaching strategies and their relationships to curriculum areas (Beavis, Rowan, Dezuanni, McGillivary, O’Mara, Prestridge, … Zagami 2014).

There is no doubt that student cohorts will become more diverse or that the university sector will continue to face accelerated change, but these challenges can be met with creativity and teamwork.

‘Role-based simulations with an emphasis on student-to-student interaction and group work to research authentic problems is a learning design for transforming university teaching and learning’ (Wills, 2012, p. 23)

* Distance education referred to students not studying on-campus.  Prior to 2008, when CSU implemented Interact as an LMS the vast major of students received study materials in print via the Post.  In 2014 CSU stopped printing study materials for distance students.  This mode of study is now commonly referred to as ‘online study ‘.



Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Year Book Australia, 2012: Education and training: Higher Education . Canberra: Author.

Beavis, C., Rowan, L., Dezuanni, M., McGillivary, C., O’Mara, J., Prestridge, S., … Zagami, J. (2014). Teachers’ beliefs about the possibilities and limitations of digital games in classrooms. E-Learning and Digital Media 11(6), 569-581.

Becker, K. (2011). Distinctions Between Games and Learning: A Review of Current Literature on Games in Education. In Gaming and simulations: Concepts, methodologies, tools and applications (pp. 75-107). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-195-9.ch105

Charles Sturt University (2013) Division of Planning and Audit Pocket Statistics [fact sheet]. Retrieved from

Charles Sturt University (2014). Learning and teaching at CSU: Curriculum renewal. Retrieved from

Cybulski, J., Holt, D., Segrave, S., O’Brien, D., Munro, J., Corbitt, B., Smith, R., Dick, M., Searle, I., Hossein, Z., Sarkar, P., Keppell, M., Murdoch, D. & Bradley, B. (2010). Building academic staff capacity for using esimulations in professional education for experience transfer, Office for Learning & Teaching. Retrieved from:

Drake-Bridges, E., Streizoff, & Sulbaran, T. (2011). Teaching marketing through a micro-economy in virtual reality. Journal of Marketing Education 33(3) 295-311

Faculty of Business Charles Sturt University (2015).Workplace learning information for current and future students.[information card]. Retrieved from

Herrington, J., Reeves, T., & Oliver, R. (2009). A practical guide to authentic e-learning. Retrieved from EBL collection

Jackson, D. & Chapman, E. (2012). Non-technical skills gaps in Australian business graduates. Education + Training, 54 (2-3), 95-113. doi: 10.1108/00400911211210224

Jackson, D. & Chapman, E. (2012). Empirically derived competency profiles for Australian business graduates and their implications for industry and business schools. The International Journal of Management Education, 10, 112-128.

O’Connell, J. (2015). What is a game? [INF541 Module 1.2] Retrieved May 20, 2015, from Charles Sturt University website:

O’Connell, J. (2015). Game and curriculum [INF541 Module 6.1] Retrieved May 24, 2015, from Charles Sturt University website: INF541_201530_W_D/module6/6_1_Game_and_curriculum.html

Turkay, S., Hoffman, D., Kinzer, C. K., Chantes, P., & Vicari, C. (2015). Toward understanding the potential of games for learning: Learning theory, game design characteristics, and situating video games in classrooms. Computers in the Schools: Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory and Applied Research 31(1-2), 2–22. doi:10.1080/07380569.2015.890879

University of Wollongong (2003) Learning designs: Information communication technologies and their role in flexible learning Retrieved from

University of Wollongong. (n.d.) enRole: Encouraging role based online learning environments

Wills, S. (2012). The Simulation Triad. In C. Nygaard, N. Courtney & E. Leigh (Eds.), Simulations, Games and Role Play in University Education (pp. 23-40). Faringdon, UK: Libri.

Wills, S., Leigh, S. & Ip, A. (2011) Games, simulation and role plays. In The power of role-based elearning: Designing and moderating Retrieved from EBL collection

Wills, S. Rosser, E., Devonshire, E., Leigh, E., Russell, C. & Shepherd, J. (2009).Encouraging role based online learning environments by Building, Linking, Understanding, Extending: The BLUE Report, Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Retrieved from University of Wollongong website:

Part 3: Invitation

Part 3: Invitation

Inviting organisations, systems or workplaces to meet, respond & adopt the challenge of game-based learning.

In this section:

Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation).
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