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Building Real-World Skills at the University of North Dakota

Using simulations to support on-demand learning across academic disciplines 

The Challenge

In March of 2020, the PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) Program at the University of North Dakota was preparing for an in-person, simulation-based learning session. That same week, as a result of the COVID-19 health emergency, the university was closed and students were evacuated. This sudden shift left professors and administrators uncertain about the ways in which they would continue to provide high-quality education to their students. Ultimately, as the effects of the pandemic solidified, the University of North Dakota sought to expand simulative experiences that would support asynchronous learning, repetition, and collaboration across academic disciplines.

While there has been a steady increase in simulation-based learning in the past twenty-five years, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted an unparalleled urgency for hands-on learning and real-life application.

  1. Particularly, the crucial need for medical care across the globe has put strain on healthcare and educational institutions, especially in the way they deliver training.
  2. Prior to the pandemic, simulation was used in order to improve learning, provide practice for new or difficult procedures and concepts, and even to inspire medical and academic breakthroughs.
  3. Now, many industries including healthcare, engineering, aviation, automation, and tech have integrated simulation into professional training, assessment, and application.
  4. The usage of simulations has increased out of necessity. As such, in this expanding digital and virtual world, how do we provide a hands-on, real-life experience that prepares students to address and respond to these rapid changes?

The impact of SimTutor- in terms of resources, time, and student learning is immeasurable. 

- Dr. Richard Neal Van Eck, Professor of Population Health and Associate Dean

The Solution

In an effort to address the needs of PharmD and medical students at the University of North Dakota, Dr. Richard Neal Van Eck, Professor of Population Health and Associate Dean for Teaching & Learning, and Dr. Jon Allen, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Simulation Center Learning, established a pilot program with SimTutor. This was an opportunity for faculty to test SimTutor Author, a content authoring simulation platform. From the ability to retake and practice scenarios, to interdisciplinary collaboration and constructing interactive modules, students and instructors alike were able to expand the learning interactivity. Beyond SimTutor Author’s basic functionalities, students engaged in a completely virtual experience that complemented the shift to online-learning. As a result of overwhelmingly positive reviews from medical and pharmaceutical students and faculty across disciplines, the University of North Dakota expanded its use of SimTutor Author in order to deliver all medical simulations, asynchronous learning, and interactive tutorials.

It’s an ability for [students] to be able to participate in an interactive simulation where they have a chance to learn from their own mistakes and they can do it from anywhere that they want.

- Dr. Jon Allen Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of the Simulation Center Learning

Impacts of Simulation-based Training & Scenario-Based eLearning

For Dr. Allen and Dr. Van Eck, SimTutor’s adaptable, future-proof education platform has provided the opportunity for faculty and students to not only create a simulation but also to access a set of tools that emulates real-life experience. SimTutor Author has become an extension of the education offered at the University of North Dakota, particularly in the way it has expanded on the foundations of simulation that were in place prior to the pandemic. While the pandemic expedited the need for simulative training and eLearning, it remains that scenario-based, real-life learning encourages workplace development and retention.4 Ultimately, SimTutor Author has enabled the University of North Dakota to meet the demands of remote learning while simultaneously preparing students for the ever-evolving workforce. As of early 2022, a number of disciplines and programs at the University of North Dakota have successfully implemented or plan to use SimTutor Author including medical lab sciences, sports medicine, occupational therapy, and the physician’s assistant program.


1 Farzaneh Shiran, “Breaking Bad News Training in the Era of COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of Simulation Based Learning.”

2 Victoria Brazil, Belinda Lowe, Leanne Ryan, Rachel Bourke, Clare Scott, Simone Myers, Hellen Kaneko, Jane Schweitzer, and Brenton Shanahan, “Translational Simulation for Rapid Transformation of Health Services, Using the Example of the COVID-19 Pandemic Preparation.”

3 Harry Owen, “Early Use of Simulation in Medical Education.”

4 Robert Hansen, “3 Ways Forward-thinking Colleges User in a New Generation of Students.

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