Simulation Games (part three)

Widening mental models to learn

Polanyi (1996) classified human knowledge into two categories: tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge is that which is difficult to express with any type of language. Explicit knowledge refers to knowledge that may be expressed through words, drawings, or any other mechanism of articulation. While tacit knowledge may be possessed as it is, explicit knowledge must rely on being understood and applied tacitly. In any case, all knowledge is either tacit or based on knowledge that is tacit. And this can only be indirectly expressed and transferred by means of metaphor. Just as Michael Polanyi emphasises, we often express ourselves and transfer our knowledge only indirectly, by means of metaphorical explanations.

The original source of organisational knowledge lies in the tacit knowledge of its individual members. However, organisational knowledge is not simply an accumulation of individual knowledge. Individual members’ knowledge needs to be shared and legitimated before it becomes organisational knowledge (Tsuchiya, 1993).

The only way to reform interpretive environments is by creating new knowledge, free of the restrictions of existing knowledge, then carrying out new actions and decisions based on that new knowledge, and interpreting the results (Tsuchiya, 1996).

By means of games and simulation, members of organisations can generate metaphors using words, data, graphs and images. These metaphors make it possible to create knowledge which is free of the restrictions imposed by existing interpretive models. This new knowledge changes the members’ decisions and actions, and, through interpretation of the results of these new decisions and actions, they develop new interpretive environments.

These new interpretive environments have the advantage of being generated by the participants themselves, through a natural, fluid process, so they are automatically integrated and legitimated as valid. Gaming/simulation permits legitimisation of knowledge by providing it with the necessary processes; legitimacy often depending more on the adequacy of the processes than on the results (March & Olsen, 1976). At the same time, gaming/simulation allows for the creation of new cause maps. A cause map is a summary of the suppositions that people make about a certain structure (Weick, 1979). With the cause map, the new interpretive environment acquires rationality and foundation, thereby consolidating its validation.

Modification of mental models has special relevance for learning, as it permits what is known as Level 2, or double-loop learning, in contrast to the technical learning of Level 1, or single-loop learning. In the latter, what we do varies based on analysis of the results of our previous actions. We modify our way of doing things, working the content within our schematic, reinforcing the governing mental model. In Level 2, however, it is the very way of thinking, the way we do things, that is changed.

For the organisation to be capable of evolving and learning, it is necessary to incorporate these new mental models, which will enable the organisation to experiment and go beyond its existing limits.

If an organisation should starve or suffocate some types of mental structures, these will probably undergo modification or remain in the shade. In a company, the longest-serving supervisors and employees show newcomers what to do and what not to do, and how to proceed. This is called ‘socialisation’. New employees may, in some cases, be indoctrinated with company philosophy; any deviation from which could result in their not being promoted or not assigned an interesting job. This is known as ‘marginalisation’. Or, they could be ignored and excluded. This is ‘ostracism’ (Maruyama, 1998).

Experiential learning

The concept of learning may be defined as an adaptive change to inputs from the environment (Witteman, 1997:6). In the Theory of Education, it is cognitive learning that receives the most attention. Cognitive learning means the interpretation and processing of information. It’s about making sense of things, which means choosing, interpreting and situating information. It is a process by which individuals develop cognitive maps of their environment. It makes sense of the environment by recognising the events which do not fit in with the individual’s own experience, then absorbing and codifying them, taking the reference framework as the basis from which to work. Making sense of something is a self-referential activity, which implies that the selection of what makes sense or not is based on the actor’s own framework of choice (Joldersma, 2000).

Experiential learning assumes that knowledge is created through the transformation brought about by experience. The experience is translated into an abstract conceptualisation which is actively tested through new experiences. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1984) perfects the work of other authors following the same line, such as Lewin (1951), Dewey (1938), and Piaget (1978); centred on the idea that experiential learning exists as a special form of learning, distinguished by the central role that experience plays in the learning process.

Paradigm from ‘The Gaming Discipline…’ (Duke, R., 1998)

Organisational Learning

Individuals are the origin of all organisational learning. It is the thoughts and actions of the actors that influence learning at the level of the organisation. Individual actors all have their own theory-in-use, which is implicit in the results of the actors’ behaviour patterns. On interacting, the actors exchange their theories-in-use, creating the organisational theory-in-use. Shared behaviour cycles are created, involving negotiation and agreement on the significance that different situations may have for the organisation (Weick, 1979).


We always learn on an individual level. It is when we formalise knowledge that organisational learning is carried out sustainably. When transmitting knowledge, however, the game and simulation can be of great help if what we want to communicate are complex concepts or abstract realities. The game and simulation are also great allies when it comes to involving the individual, motivating them, or facilitating the change of mental models.


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  • Lewin, K (1951) Field Theory in Social Sciences, Harper & Row, New York
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