The most common concern instructors express about adding a simulation to their course is that it leaves less time for them to cover content. This is a fact. But how much of the content that is being delivered will students remember?
Research indicates that students who take notes remember about 10% of the content that is covered in a course. Active learning is becoming a standard pedagogical practice because students retain more of what is covered. A meta-analysis of more than 200 experiments investigating the benefits of active learning in science, engineering and mathematics courses at the college level found (among other things) that students in normal lecture courses were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in courses that used active learning techniques (Freeman et al 2014).
Similar experiments are much less common in the social sciences. However, several years ago we participated in a controlled experiment that tested the benefits of a project-based AP Government curriculum. The instructors in the AP+ classes that included projects (one was LegSim) had substantially less time to cover content. Nevertheless, their students performed significantly better on the national AP Government exam.
Simulations engage students. Engaged students care about the subject beyond getting a good grade on a test. As a result, they learn more and they are more likely to remember what they have learned.
Engaged students also make for happier instructors and better course evaluations! They will thank you for the opportunity.
Walter Parker, Susan Mosborg, John Bransford, Nancy Vye, John Wilkerson and Robert Abbott (2011) “Rethinking advanced high school coursework: tackling the depth/breadth tension in the AP US Government and Politics course.” Journal of Curriculum Studies 43:4 pp. 533-59.