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A simplified representation of a phenomenon or system used with the intent of understanding how the phenonmenon or system functions. Models are comprised of variables and algorithms that, when manipulated, predict changes to other variables in the model. Computerized models can be created using traditional programming languages, mathematical tools such as spreadsheets, or specialized modeling software (e.g., STELLA).

The process of creating, testing, and revising models can promote higher-order synthesis, evaluation, and meta-cognition of the phenomenon or system.
A imitation or replication of a phenomenon or system. Simulations have a user interface and an underlying model. The interface can range from a simple computer screen to actual equipment (e.g., resuscitation mannequin, aircraft cockpit, or the control room of a nuclear power plant). Learners typically interact with the simulation by giving inputs and observing the outcomes to the system. These iterations facilitate learning by allowing the learner to observe outcomes that would be impossible, impractice, or unsafe to do in the real world. For instance, learners can modify the world's population and societal waste data to observe changes to the environment over hundreds of years or they can change food intake and physical activity parameters to observe plaque build-up in the arteries of a typical 60 year-old man.

Computer-based instructional simulations typically contain some combination of one or more of the following four elements. They present information to the learner, provide guidance based on learner inputs, facilitate meaningful practice, and assess learner cognition. [Alessi, S. M. & Trollip, S. R. (2001). Multimedia for Learning: Methods and Development (3rd Ed.). Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon].
Graphics, images, or animations used to illustrate a concept, phenomenon, or system. Within the context of modeling and simulation, computer graphics are typically used to provide visual representations or moving annimations of complex or abstract ideas.

Visualization in an instructional setting might include an image showing the travel patterns for migratory birds, an animation of a heart pumping blood, or virtual "walk-through" an ancient city. Visualizations may allow for clicking to zoom in or out of the image but do not allow for varying the inputs as a model or simulation would.
Instructional Game
Games, according to Merriam-Webster Online (, retrieved online 12/13/07) are "an activity engaged in for diversion or amusement -- play;" "a procedure or strategy for gaining an end -- Tactic;" "a procedure or mental competition conducted according to rules with participants in direct opposition to each other." Computer-based games typically contain goals, rules, challenge, fantasy, and competition. They are often based on models, simulations, and visualizations. Games intend to entertain but can promote stragetic thinking and metacognition in an engaging environment where "players" willingly return over and over to build skill, improve scores, and advance in levels of play over time. Games are believed to appeal to the intrinsic motivations of many learners. One difficulty with games is that incidental learning outcomes may be quite difficult to measure.