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This project will create the second iteration of an environment for professional learning – an open-source, open-standards transactional learning environment (TLE 2.0) – and will engage in large-scale evaluation of the implementation of this environment.

Simulated Professional Learning (SIMPLE)

This project has now completed and the final report is available at the end of this page.


The SIMPLE (Simulated Professional Learning) project will create the second iteration of an environment for professional learning – an open-source, open-standards transactional learning environment (TLE) – and will engage in large-scale evaluation of the implementation of this environment.  In the process we shall use the innovative gaming technologies developed by our project partner, Futurelab, together with their experience in design and evaluation. We shall also work with our other partner and co-funder, UK Centre for Legal Education, in the dissemination of the environment within the discipline of law. 

Professional and vocational courses are taken by well over 50% of the full-time undergraduate population in HE: SIMPLE has the potential to enhance such courses, and deepen the professional experience of students through use of simulations. Our project will design the open-source, open-standards version of the TLE, implement it across a number of disciplines within the University of Strathclyde and three law schools throughout the UK, will evaluate student learning within the environment and disseminate the results of the evaluations. After the duration of the project the TLE will be available to other professional and vocational schools in HE and FE. 

The project will contribute to the Innovation strand of the JISC e-Learning programme in many important ways – for example, 

  • it will provide a highly innovative learning environment for professional learning across a wide range of disciplines that will use the design and application of gaming technologies
  • the evaluation of application design and implementation will enhance our knowledge of aspects of successful wireless and mobile learning
  • the cross-curricular implementation within an institution will be a springboard for further and wider implementations across curricula and institutions in HE and FE. 

Aims and Objectives

Our aim is to prove that serious games simulations can effectively enhance professional learning across a range of professions. 

Our objectives are as follows:

  • Analyse the SIMPLE functionality
  • Create a concept and functionality specification that will describe the features of the software product, and contain required technical information and data needed for design, including purpose, input, process and output.  This will also deal with security, maintainability, reliability, accessibility, mobility, interoperability and availability.
  • Build SIMPLE and enable the suite of tools to be available free at point of use to the FE and HE communities
  • Create a set of technical and educational documentation for our collaborative partners within Strathclyde University and law schools
  • Use the environment across a range of professional learning interventions in Strathclyde University and in law schools
  • Evaluative student performance within the environment and staff use of the environment

Project Methodology

At present, there is no widely available open-source, open–standards web-based simulation engine for professional learning.  Over the last five years our TLE, which is a virtual simulation environment for professional learning in law, addresses this issue, but has been constructed using proprietary software.  At present, the TLE consists of the following:

  • Map and directory of a virtual town (Ardcalloch) which is used as the project context, and provides content for specific simulations.  The virtual town provides the implicit simulation world of the transactions undertaken by students. 
  • Virtual professional workspace
  • Monitoring and mentoring capabilities
  • Communications routes between simulated characters, students and staff
  • Teaching, learning and assessment templates, including curriculum guidelines
  • Development and integration of other e-learning approaches with that of the TLE

Postgraduate students on a professional legal education programme, formed into virtual firms, use this sophisticated online environment to carry out entire legal transactions on behalf of virtual clients – for example purchase and sale of property, litigation in the Sheriff Court, and winding up the estate of a deceased client.  The TLE has thus been in constant development and use in the last five years.  During that time we have evaluated many aspects of it, and expanded its use to incorporate a number of virtual transactions, and we continue to do so (the environment and its projects are described in Appendix 4). 

We hold that the TLE can be used by any professional discipline within HE and FE for education, training and assessment, and within any professional grouping in society generally.  As it stands already, it represents the first iteration of our strategy to transform the nature and effectiveness of professional learning.  It is so for a number of reasons.  It enables problem definition to begin with construction of the problem space.  It can support what we call open-field problems (where learners construct their own solutions or transactions), or bounded-field problems (where learners follow strongly pre-set procedures and transactions).  Above all, it can be used to generate problems and problem-based scenarios that:

  • are clear and clearly defined, or are deliberately defined as having fuzzy goals or unstated constraints
  • possess multiple solutions, solution paths, or no solutions at all (no consensual agreement on the appropriate solution)
  • possess more or less manipulable parameters
  • are either typical problems for learners, or problems where there are no prototypic examples
  • allow for uncertainty about which concepts, rules, and principles are necessary for solution
  • contain relationships between concepts, rules, and principles that are wholly consistent, or inconsistent
  • require learners to make judgments about the problem and defend them
  • enhance substantial reflection and collaborative learning; or can be performed by singletons

Our simulations site learners in a professional context, where there are aggregates of transactions, perhaps multiple solution paths, and where their work is, as it will be in the workplace, distributed between tools, colleagues, resources, anticipated and unanticipated problems and individual constructions of knowledge and experience.  Such simulations are powerful learning tools, and we now want to generalise that success to other professions, other departments and schools.  Our virtual town is both a generic background to transactions and can provide the realia that is an essential element of a professional transaction.  In that sense it can be used by engineers, architects, social workers, health workers, surveyors, accountants – in short, any profession that deals with client or patient.  We shall develop the tools that will enable the professional cohorts in Higher and Further Education to develop links and liaisons with each other, and to practise the collegiality, networking, values-building and community-building within and between professions that exists within actual workplaces.  We shall then evaluate the use of this environment across four separate departments or Schools in different Faculties of the University and three separate law schools, analysing in particular the effect on the teaching, learning and assessment processes and the associated organisational issues that arise from this. 

Accordingly, with joint JISC and UKCLE project funding, we shall develop a version of our environment, SIMPLE. It will be specified according to the requirements of a representative grouping of professions, and the functional specification, to be drawn up in the first six months of the project, will be implemented as a fully-functional platform and tested in the following twelve months of the project with our project case study sites, where it will be used within professional programmes in the last six months of the two-year project. This platform will deliver the transactions. There will be a suite of tools which will allow the creation of transactional content by academics and professionals. Within the project we shall evaluate the educational value of these projects in a series of use case pilot studies. The studies will be carried out with staff from our institutional case study sites - effectively professional groupings within the four Faculties of Science, Engineering, Education, and Law, Arts & Social Sciences in Strathclyde University. We shall also be carrying out identical studies within a single profession, namely law. In association with UKCLE we shall identify three law schools prepared and ready to host a case study, and work with them to embed SIMPLE in at least one module. 

Our pedagogical approach is constructivist in nature, and situates learning tasks as far as possible within authentic professional environments. Given our approach, our educational challenge is this: how can simulations effectively enhance professional learning across a range of professions?  The project aims to answer this question in substantial detail, and is designed around five phases and a three-year trajectory thereafter (phase 6).  Critical success factors include the following:

  • enhancement of student learning
  • user-friendly, interoperable, accessible and scaleable applications and tools for academic and administrative staff
  • embedding of professional learning within academic learning

Phase 1
Project management, formation of detailed project plan, milestones, specific deadlines for all project deliverables; specific roles and responsibilities of the partners and team personnel.  Creation of project web site and communications plan for entire project and beyond.  Continuous project management.
Phase 2
Specification of an open source platform for the delivery of TLE projects.  Liaison with case study staff on task design and implementation issues.
Phase 3
Development of open source, open standards platform to enable the creation, delivery and management of TLE projects
Phase 4
Use-case approach of task design and use, based upon case study sites within Strathclyde University.  Use case study of SLI mobile collaborative learning within the university, where four virtual professional groupings, at least 16 students in total, would work with SLI laptops each within the TLE.  Use case approach with implementation in three law schools in England and Wales.
Phase 5
Evaluation of student learning, of staff roles and experiences, of administration roles and integration, and organisational issues arising from large-scale implementation.  Dissemination of evaluation results at conferences, road-shows, seminars and in papers to be published in peer-reviewed journals and as book chapters.  Dissemination of SIMPLE as a fully-functioning environment, free, to interested parties in HE and FE.
Phase 6
Post-project.  Dissemination of project applications; further development of TLE within LTDU; archiving of all project documentation on the website for a minimum of three years post-January 2008.


  • SIMPLE: a suite of tools within a simulation environment
  • Technical volumes, including manuals and designs
  • Educational guidelines and advice as to best practice in the design and use of simulations and serious games, and assessment of students using these tools
  • Completed case studies of the use of the TLE across all collaborative departments and schools
  • Community of practice within the participant departments as a nucleus for further development, clustered around a CoP website
  • Knowledge and experience shared in workshops, roadshows (particularly with HE Centres such as UKCLE and other HE Centres associated with the project, eg Architecture)
  • Conference papers; published articles; currently also investigating the possibility of an edited book arising from the project
  • Project website
  • Project completion report


FE & HE academic & administrative staff
Professional training organisations
E-simulation research community
Professional regulatory bodies, eg Law Societies, RIBA, SIESWE, etc.
Other JISC projects in the programme

University of Strathclyde
Technical staff

Project Staff

Project Team

Documents & Multimedia

Start date
3 July 2006
End date
2 July 2008
Funding programme
e-Learning Innovation programme
Project website