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Press Release

ATD Research: Use of Simulations, Scenario-Based Learning Is Rising

Published Tue Jan 12 2021


More organizations are incorporating simulations and scenario-based learning into talent development programs than in the past.

(Alexandria, VA) January 12, 2021—The number of organizations using simulations and scenario-based learning as well as the proportion of talent development programs that incorporate these techniques has increased, according to new ATD research.


Just five years ago, 48 percent of organizations used technology-based simulations in talent development programs, 75 percent used nontechnology-based simulations, and 88 percent used scenario-based learning. Those numbers have dramatically increased and stand at 75 percent, 87 percent, and 98 percent, respectively, according to Simulations and Scenarios: Realistic, Effective, and Engaging Learning, which is sponsored by OverDrive Professional.

In 2015, the median organization did not use technology-based simulations in its TD programs. It incorporated nontechnology-based simulations and scenario-based learning in between 1 and 20 percent of its TD programs. Today, the median organization uses technology-based simulations in between 1 and 20 percent of its TD programs, nontechnology-based simulations in between 21 and 40 percent of its TD programs, and scenario-based learning in between 41 and 60 percent of its TD programs.

“High-performing organizations were significantly more likely than other organizations to include technology-based simulations or scenario-based learning in a greater proportion of their TD programs than the median organization,” according to the report.

The top drivers for using technology-based and nontechnology-based simulations were better knowledge retention and application after training (72 percent), followed by better learner engagement during training (65 percent) and the chance for employees to learn from failure in a safe environment (61 percent). The top drivers for using scenario-based learning were better learner engagement during training (60 percent), followed by better knowledge retention and application after training (57 percent) and the promotion of critical thinking and problem-solving skills (56 percent).

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Three quarters of organizations (75 percent) include technology-based simulations in their TD programs, 87 percent include nontechnology-based simulations, and 98 percent include scenario-based learning.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic inspired half of organizations (50 percent) to choose technology-based simulations rather than nontechnology-based simulations to reduce travel or in-person gatherings.

  • The primary technology tools for creating the environments of technology-based simulations are video-enabled virtual meeting rooms (77 percent).

  • A quarter of organizations that used nontechnology-based simulations (26 percent) provided specialized noncomputer equipment or technology, such as practice machinery, for these experiences.

One trend to watch among organizations that include simulations in a high percentage of TD programs is the use of quicker, simpler simulations.

“We’re getting away from the idea that every simulation has to be a massive production. We’re moving past our obsession with production value and refocusing simulations on putting people in compelling situations with compelling questions in a sustainable way,” said Clark Aldrich, author of Short Sims: A Game Changer and several other books on simulation, who is quoted in the report. “People are trying to find what is the least we can do to make an incredible pedagogy around the essence of interesting situations,” he added.

A free webcast detailing the report data will take place February 16 at 2 p.m. ET.

About ATD

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees, improve performance, and help to achieve results for the organizations they serve. Established in 1943, the association was previously known as the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD).


ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD supports talent development professionals who gather locally in volunteer-led US chapters and international member networks, and with international strategic partners.

For more information, visit td.org.

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