Custom vs Off-the-Shelf Simulations – Part 2

In Part 1 of Custom versus Off-the-Shelf Simulations, I talked about why it is important to partner with a learning provider rather than just purchase a simulation for your next experiential learning program. Now it’s time to look at the strengths and weaknesses of custom versus off-the-shelf simulations. This blog post turned out to be so long, that I’m going to divide into two smaller bite sized chunks.

General Thoughts

  • Several companies that claim to be custom simulation companies don’t build truly customized sims. They may have a shell already built, and then simply input your specific company’s information and learning goals. They often charge you for building a completely customized simulation when they are basically just plugging your information into a simulation that already exists.
  • Businesses and industries have more similarities than differences. A service, retail, and manufacturing company all need to create business plans that include Research and Development, competitor analysis, marketing, inventory/supply chain capability, HR, and finance. All of these departments should be included in a high quality off-the-shelf simulation.

Learning Objectives

  • Usually a custom simulation is built for one program with very specific learning objectives. This means the program can’t be scaled out to other departments.
  • The exact same off-the-shelf simulation can be used to deliver different learning objectives. A good off-the-shelf simulation company will develop customizable activities around the simulation to help drive the learning objectives. These activities can be updated or changed to adapt to new learning objectives. You don’t need to develop a whole new simulation.

Price

  • Typically, custom simulations are very expensive. There are usually charges for the development, additional charges for a pilot, and then more charges to roll out the program. If you want any updates to the program, you usually need to pay extra for those also.
  • Off-the-shelf simulations are usually much more affordable since there are no simulation development charges. Program fees usually include facilitators, licenses, and development of any other materials or activities to support your program.

Testing

  • If you are building a custom simulation, make sure to ask about the company’s Quality Assurance (QA) testing regime. You want to make sure all the bugs are found before your pilot program. Many companies skimp on their QA testing since it is expensive to have a dedicated QA department. I would also discuss a back-up plan. What happens if they run into bugs or issues on-site during the pilot? Is there a developer on hand to fix it in person or does the on-site staff need to reach out to someone in a different location or country?
  • When you use an off-the-shelf simulation, the exact same simulation has been used by hundreds or thousands of other users. The tires have been checked and the wheels kicked. This hugely reduces the chances of any bugs during your learning program.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I’ll tackle a few other things to think about for custom and off-the-shelf simulations.

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