Designing a Simulation Session

Simulation scenarios are carefully chosen in order to build on and complicate textbook concepts in realistic settings. In this way, Homeostasis I is a “flipped classroom”: students prepare and learn concepts independently while time in class presents opportunities to put those concepts into practice and synthesize them during simulation-inspired discussions. Richard Schwartzstein underscores this element of transfer as critical to simulation design. Accordingly, the concepts students confront in the learning exercise might be “foundationally the same” but presented in ways that are less immediately evident.


Richard Schwartzstein, Ellen and Melvin Gordon Professor of Medicine and Medical Education

Student Group



Harvard Medical School


Homeostasis I

Group Size

40 students

Additional Details

First-year prerequisite

  • When designing a simulation case, identify the key concepts you want students to apply. Strategically build these concepts into the simulation’s scenario.
  • Use simulations to create opportunities for students to review basic concepts in new ways and, in the process, deepen their understanding. 
  • To emphasize transfer, design cases that challenge students to apply their knowledge to unfamiliar situations. Use simulation debriefs to emphasize to students that out in the field, they will seldom ever see a similar problem presented in the exact same way.
  • Planning a successful simulation session requires extensive planning where the instructor identifies expected outcomes and chooses a simulation to best fit those outcomes. This planning also requires deep understanding of content and attention to logistics. Motola and colleagues provide a curriculum integration framework to help instructors design a simulation session (2013).
  • Clearly stated goals and outcomes for a simulation session are linked to student learning (Issenberg et al., 2005).