Hands-on, real-word experience without leaving campus

New report explores economic development and other benefits of simulated work-based learning


Research Triangle Park, N.C.— A new report developed for the U.S. Department of Education by RTI International provides educators, state administrators, and policy makers with information on the benefits of simulated work-based learning and considerations for implementing programs.

Simulated work-based learning aims to cultivate students’ employability skills, academic knowledge, and technical abilities through an immersive, career-themed experience that replicates workplace tools, processes, and environments. By combining in-person instruction with simulated workplaces, simulation tools, or school-based enterprises, simulated work-based learning provides students a real, controlled environment to gain hands-on work experience right on campus.

“Simulated work-based learning is a powerful education tool,” said Rebecca Moyer, a report author and education analyst at RTI. “It has the promise to better prepare students for the jobs they want through real-world experience.”

Through simulated-work based learning, students can walk down the hall from their classrooms and immerse themselves in a workplace environment such as a construction site or functional store using tools ranging from virtual simulators to real equipment they would experience on the job site. Simulated hospitals, complete with simulated patients, and real clinical equipment such as hospital beds, and medication dispensers allow nursing students to learn and practice skills like checking vitals, documenting patient information, and administering treatment.

Studies of simulated learning for nursing students reveal that this methodology can advance outcomes of nursing students, such as improving critical thinking, self-confidence, and technical knowledge. Nursing students enrolled in programs involving simulation as a partial replacement for clinical time also reported increased knowledge and technical skills.

Using evidence gathered from a review of online resources and interviews with simulated work-based learning program staff from 9 project sites across five states—Alabama, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, and West Virginia—the report identifies benefits of these programs for students, instructional providers, employers, and state administrators.

“In some cases, simulated work-based learning programs can eliminate issues that educators face in placing students with employers, such as issues of access or insurance,” Moyer said. “Simulated work-based learning allows students to gain hands-on experience in a controlled, accessible environment before entering the workforce.”

The report also found that educators adopt simulated learning programs because they remove safety or insurance issues that restrict students’ access, as well as labor laws that may prohibit underage students from working.

According to the report, state administrators see simulated work-based learning programs as a way to promote economic growth and development, while employers believe simulated work-based learning improves students’ career awareness and employability skills.

Additionally, the report identified four considerations that instructional providers should be aware of before implementing a simulated work-based learning program:

  1. Do research to inform program design
  2. Engage industry leaders throughout the process
  3. Build buy-in from key education stakeholders
  4. Plan and budget for the long-term

Read the entire report.