A. Devitt1, M. Brady1, M. Lamest1, G. Dalton1, N. Newman2, S. Gomez3

1Trinity College Dublin (IRELAND)
2University of Sheffield (UNITED KINGDOM)
This study set out to explore the use of an online simulated marketing experience, designed as a serious game (Zyda, 2005), for student learning in an undergraduate introductory marketing module. The simulation game aimed to address both hard and soft skills (Andrews and Higson, 2008) in the area of marketing.

In particular, the study aimed to address the following research questions:
• Does using an online simulation game engage students higher order cognitive skills, specifically in the application and analysis of marketing concepts?
• Does the group activity required in the simulation game develop students’ communication and interaction skills?
• What are the specific affordances of the online simulation that promote this kind of learning?

The study took place during the second semester of the 2013-14 academic year on an introductory marketing module at level 5 in the UK which was delivered face-to-face lectures and tutorials and introduced the use of an online group-based simulation game (MMX) for the purposes of assessment. It requires students in teams to steer their own company, competing against other teams in a given marketplace, and design a marketing plan based on core marketing concepts to maximize company key performance indicators. This study is a qualitative case study.

A thematic analysis was conducted based on reflective essays written by 126 students and on the basis of 3 sets of a priori themes related identified in the relevant literature:
• 6 levels of the cognitive domain of Blooms taxomony: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation (Bloom et al, 1956);
• 5 principles of Cooperative Learning (Johnson et al, 2008): positive interdependence; promotive interaction; group and individual accountability; interpersonal and small group skills; group processing;
• Affordances of simulation environments (Dalgarno and Lee, 2010): experiential learning; motivation and engagement; goal orientation.

Results would suggest that the simulation supports positive learning outcomes in the areas of cognitive skill development, including knowledge application and critical thinking, as well as soft skills such as communication and negotiation. The combination of real world factors in a safe simulated context provided a learning environment that was perceived as being novel, exciting and motivating. As regards higher-order cognitive skills, students in most cases referred to the application of marketing theory during the preparation and execution of decisions. This process was often related to a positive learning experience, so that the application of theory enhanced the students’ understanding of the theoretical models.

Furthermore, there was evidence of analysis activities, which represents a higher level of cognitive learning in Bloom’s model. In this case, the simulation allowed students to examine cause and effect relationships, make inferences and provide evidence with regards to the outcomes of their decisions. Overall, students articulated positive experiences with regards to the impact of their group-work. In particularly they identified interpersonal group skills, including communication, negotiation, decision-making, leadership and conflict management as required and encouraged by the simulation.