Simulation Gaming Can Strengthen Experiential Education in Complex Infrastructure Systems

Lauren R. McBurnett, Margaret M. Hinrichs, Thomas Seager, Susan Spierre Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background Despite federal directives to strengthen the resilience of critical infrastructure systems, existing education programs have not kept pace with ambitious policy goals. As post-war infrastructure ages, it is increasingly necessary for graduates to master systems thinking to understand the complex and interdependent nature of infrastructure. Whereas in traditional physical science and engineering courses, learning would take place in laboratory exercises, the scale and criticality of infrastructure present obstacles to experimental and experiential learning activities. Aim This article describes the experience of an educational simulation game, called the LA Water Game, to teach management of ageing water infrastructure as a complex socio-technical system. Method A total of over 200 participants in 16 workshops completed an introductory lecture, experimental scenario development, experiential game play, and participated in reflective group discussion. Qualitative data was collected during game play and debriefing interviews and was used to assess participant learning outcomes. Results Participant feedback affirmed that simulation gaming can reinforce the experimental, experiential, and reflective phases of the Kolb Learning Cycle. Subjects displayed cognitive and affective engagement, intrinsic motivation, and often reported improved understanding of complex systems attributes, including interdependencies, feedback loops, nonlinearity, and stochasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-641
Number of pages22
JournalSimulation and Gaming
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • LA Water Game
  • and systems thinking
  • complex systems
  • critical infrastructure
  • experiential learning
  • simulation games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications


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