Train soft skills by computer simulation

Guest contribution by | 22.08.2019

How important are the ability to work in a team, motivation, communication, empathy and sense of responsibility for your work? If you believe experts, then such soft skills become more and more important for companies and the common cooperation in organisations. Soft skills refer to people’s abilities in dealing with other people. Three areas of competence can be distinguished:

  • personal competence, e.g. self-confidence, self-discipline and self-reflection, motivation and commitment, curiosity, personal responsibility or resilience.
  • Social competence, e.g. the ability to work in a team, knowledge of human nature, empathy, manners, willingness to integrate, communication skills or the ability to criticise.
  • Methodical competence, e.g. analytical skills, problem-solving skills, organisation and working methods, time management, frustration resistance, dealing with new media or presentation techniques.1

For many years soft skills have been described as “soft factors” – in contrast to hard skills, i.e. professional qualifications and technical knowledge. In the meantime, several voices have come to view soft skills more as hard skills, without which companies will not be successful on the market in the long term. And so soft skills and the question of how they can be trained come into focus? We have the answer: by computer simulation.

What does simulation mean?

This is often the first question we have to answer if we want to introduce one of our game-based learning formats to a person interested in learning: “What exactly do you understand by simulation?” In our fast-moving society we are inundated with new technical terms and much of it is spongy at first until we fill it with life ourselves and give it a meaning of its own.

Of course, anyone who deals with the subject of continuing education knows that the term “simulation” is nothing new. There is, for example, the classic flight simulator, a computer software with which future pilots can get to know and try out all the functions of the aircraft without risk. Why such a simulator makes sense could be seen again in August 2019, when an Airbus aircraft with 230 people on board had to make an emergency landing in Russia shortly after take-off because both engines had failed due to collusion with seagulls. “The pilots had done exactly what they had been taught,” said a spokesperson for Ural Airlines.2

Today, simulations are also used for employee training in companies, for example to deepen skills in process management. However, there are often situations that depress the participants, because they cannot become really innovative if the program sets limits. And to train soft skills by simulation – that’s not possible at all!

Combining the skills of man and machine

If you combine simulation software with human interaction capabilities, things look quite different again: The result is an exciting game-based learning format that trains both process management and soft skills. And it is free of the constraints provided by the program, but free for individual optimisation strategies by the participants. The participants’ own problem solutions can be implemented and tested without risk. And, in addition, decision making and teamwork are trained.

I’m talking about the computer-aided simulation game Fort Fantastic.3 It provides an interactive simulation of a real-life situation, namely an amusement park. The participants compete against each other in competing teams and take over the operational control and result responsibility of their park. Since not everything runs smoothly in an amusement park – just like in the real working world – the teams have to act under stress and engage in conflict management. The participants take on different roles and make decisions with immediate effects. Through the mutual feedback and the feedback of the trainer regarding the results of their actions, the strengths and weaknesses of each individual, but also of the teams, crystallise quickly.

In addition to the continuous optimisation of processes and interfaces, the participants learn, for example, how they can work better as a team and communicate with each other, how they can act independently and at the same time assume leadership responsibility, how they can analyse situations and develop structured working methods. In other words, they develop personal, social and methodological skills.

The basis for training soft skills using computer simulation lies in promoting human interaction. The program forms the framework, the person is responsible for the content. And in addition to the learning experience, most participants enjoy it a lot. And fun is not to be underestimated when learning, because you and I, all of us, can better remember and internalise positive memories in the long run.

Emotions as a taboo subject

Perhaps you know or have heard of Prof. Dr. Eva-Maria Lewkowicz?4 Ms. Lewkowic regularly publishes in the context of leadership and teaches International Marketing, Strategy and Organisation at the Westphalian University. There she uses Fort Fantastic with the students of the penultimate semester in the course of studies business law. From her point of view, this offers students better opportunities than learning explicit content through reading and listening. The students are pushed directly into the situation, whereby realistic experiences are gained. Theory knowledge suddenly becomes tangible and understandable.

The effects that emotions have on company management become particularly clear through simulation. What is otherwise often a taboo topic in management circles becomes obvious and perceptible here. Ms. Lewkowic puts it this way: “This addresses two very important ego functions: 1. I recognise the difference between people and 2. I recognise my feelings instead of just acting out affects and can then use them constructively.”

An asset for training and continuing education

Prof. Dr. Eva-Maria Lewkowicz sees – just like us – not only advantages for career starters in training soft skills via computer simulation, but also believes that coaches and managers – for example in the course of training and continuing education – can benefit from this innovative approach. The participants’ own sense of stress, which they experience in a protected room, provides a very good basis for self-reflection. In addition, a window opens on empathy. Own and external observation are trained, a feeling for the discrepancy between self image and external image are waked and own strengths and weaknesses are pointed out – all characteristics, which are very important for high-level personnel and organisations, which want to be also successful in the future.


Notes (partly in German):

Would you like to try Fort Fantastic for yourself? Our trainer Marc Weißel will be happy to present the simulation to you free of charge in an online demo or come to your company for an in-house seminar. Simply contact BuGaSi without obligation.

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[1] Was sind Soft Skills?
[2] Airbus-Notlandung in Russland
[3] Fort Fantastic
[4] Prof. Dr. Eva-Maria Lewkowicz – Veröffentlichungen

Mareike Brensing
Mareike Brensing

Mareike Brensing is online editor of BuGaSi GmbH. She develops innovative learning formats such as company simulations, blended learning and e-learning formats. At BuGaSi, she is responsible for design tasks and all Internet channels. For example, she plunges into the social media landscape every day and blogs about topics related to digitisation and learning innovations.