The power of simulations – learning by doing.

By: Peter Phillips, CEO, Unicorn Training (

How did you learn to walk, drive a car, and play your current favorite video game? Through “trial and error” of course. You may well have got some useful guidance along the way from a parent, teacher, expert coach, a YouTube video or even when all else fails, by reading the manual. But for the most part our most powerful and memorable learning comes from practical experience.

Now, while it is fine in a video game to die several times over before you beat the “boss”, that approach is not such a good idea where the real-world cost of failure is high.

If you are learning to be an airline pilot or a bomb disposal officer, it makes a lot of sense to practice before you ever take to the air or defuse your first bomb, but a series of PowerPoint slides delivered in a classroom or an on line e-learning course is not going to make you a competent pilot.

Because the cost of failure is so high, you need to practice in a safe environment, where you can make mistakes and learn from them.

Applying that to a business context, the costs and consequences of mistakes can also be very high. Insurance is an industry where even the most innocent mistake or oversight can be costly both financially and in terms of reputation.

A business is a complex system, where decisions in one part of the business can have consequences for other areas and it is important for decision makers to appreciate these interactions.

This is where business simulations can be so effective. A typical simulation activity will involve participants working in small teams to run a business over several decision periods in a simulated competitive environment.

Simulations enable delegates to practice building a business plan, exploring different options, make decisions and then experience the consequences as the simulated real-world environment rolls forward. They can then reflect on and discuss the results, before adapting their approach to the next decision period.

This practical hands-on approach greatly reinforces core learning objectives.

Unicorn and inuRE have a long history of working together to develop and run simulations for the insurance and reinsurance industry. Not only are they a highly effective learning approach, they are great fun, encourage high levels of participation and ensure that the learning experience is memorable.

Our Morotania simulation is a great “entry level” simulation, often used on company induction programmes. Participants are asked to run a new general insurance business on a fictitious volcanic island over a five-year period. They make a range of annual decisions – underwriting, marketing, HR, expenses, etc. – and review and compare their progress at the end of each decision year. Because their results are compared to the other teams, the experience quickly becomes competitive.

For example, KPIs like the combined ratio, underwriting margin, return on investment, renewal rate, customer satisfaction all come to life as teams try to understand what levers to pull to improve their results compared to the other teams. That level of involvement is impossible from a traditional lecture session on insurance KPIs.

Our underwriting and reinsurance (ReAction) simulations are more sophisticated and based on real world data, risk profiles and rating trends. They are suited to managers with a year or more experience in the industry, but who are perhaps specialists and ready to get a wider understanding of the business. Much of the richest learning comes from interacting with others from different disciplines within their team and across teams.

Over the past year, Unicorn/inuRE simulations have seen unprecedented levels of demand. We have run ReAction, Morotania, and our Underwriting business simulation for clients in the UK, France, the Philippines, Taiwan, Sydney, Cairo, Bahrain, Tunisia, New York, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, we all now play games and expect much higher levels of interactivity than ever before. Not surprisingly, businesses are grasping the idea that these levels of engagement can be translated to and harnessed for learning. Simulations are just one aspect of this, but the underlying principle of learning by doing is far from new.

As kids we learn by doing; through play, through experimentation, from the journey of discovery that our imaginations take us on. We learn and we remember. Formal education tends to knock that playfulness out of us so by the time we get into adulthood learning has become about sitting in a classroom listening to someone talk at us, “death by powerpoint”, or doing a linear click-next-screen piece of eLearning.

Simulations are simply adults playing but in a serious way. Give them a try, you won’t regret it.

About Unicorn Training:

Unicorn is based in the UK and provides high quality learning solutions underpinned by the Unicorn Learning Management System (LMS). They specialise in helping organisations with their Governance, Risk and Compliance training needs. Their solutions span a mixture of content, platform and mobile-first games and apps – meaning that they’re able to help organisations in every aspect of their learning strategy.

Unicorn is now part of The Access Group, one of the UK’s leading software providers to the mid-market and growing businesses.