Preparing the Next Generation of High School Graduates

from Educators' eZine

Not many educators would argue that teaching business concepts is challenging. Teaching business to teens, particularly at the high school level, is even more so. With business leaders voicing concerns that students are not well-enough prepared for today's competitive environment and globalization increasing the competitive pressure on US business, educators are responding by adopting teaching methods that pair technology with solid business principles.

Today's students are tech-savvy. Traditional teaching methods that rely on lectures and textbook reading applications are not as effective as they once were. In addition, while chunking the information into individual job skills makes sense from a teaching perspective, it does not provide a holistic understanding, and business can, quite frankly, seem pretty boring.

Computer business simulations put technology to work in the classroom by addressing both the "old style" lecture and textbook models of teaching and the resulting "boredom" effect. Computer simulations provide working, hands-on understanding of the complexities of running a business, and engage the students into a competitive environment that makes the subject fun. They like to feel that they are "driving" – as when controlling a computer game. Simulations are by nature learning-based computer games. They fulfill the need for control, and they make learning fun.

Business simulations work by dividing high school business classes into teams that each manage a simulated company. These companies, and subsequently the entire class, compete for market share and profits by making business decisions (from finance to marketing) that impact bottom lines.

In business simulations, students learn how to interpret financial statements and examine the competitive market. They devise business plans and make decisions in marketing. They design products and manage production schedules. They hire and fire personnel and negotiate labor contacts. And, they see how each choice affects the profitability of their simulated company.

Business simulations enable students to comprehensively understand a complex subject. They shift emphasis from depth of material to breadth of material, and they free educators from having to become experts in every business subject. Instead, educators must simply understand the purpose of each business function and how they fit together so that students see the whole picture. Business simulations support this approach because integration among disciplines is an innate quality.

As noted in their study "Developing Managerial Effectiveness: Assessing and Comparing the Impact of Development Programs Using a Management Simulation or a Management Game," researchers John Kenworthy and Annie Wong found that simulations and games are more effective at transferring learning to students than case studies and other traditional methods of teaching. A business simulation provides a trial-and-error learning environment, allowing today's students the opportunity to jump right into the decision-making process, whether they are familiar with business concepts or not. Thus, high school teachers are able to introduce the same business principles taught in advanced business courses—from research and development to finance, marketing and production—while educating students about how those principles work together.

Not only do business simulations engage and excite students about learning, they also provide students with basic business acumen that better prepares them for college and/or the workplace.

An MBA student at DePaul University recently told me a story about his older brother who transferred out of the school of business simply because he couldn't grasp the concepts being taught in an Introduction to Accounting course. Even more surprising is that the brothers' father is an accountant. Had this student entered college with a foundation, by taking high school business or accounting courses, he would have gained an early introduction to the same principles and, perhaps, been able to succeed.

Learning business must be fun, competitive and engaging. After all, today's students have grown up with technology at their fingertips, and they require engagement, interactivity and relevancy.

Dan Smith, president of Capsim Management Simulations, Inc. and adjunct professor of business at DePaul University, is a leading expert in the field of simulation. With more than 20 years experience in developing interactive business models, Dan condensed his broad knowledge of many different industries to create the world's leading business simulation, Capstone®. Dan can be reached at