Student learning in science simulations: Design features that promote learning gains


  • Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


This research examines science-simulation software available for grades 6–12 science courses. The study presented, funded by the National Science Foundation, had two objectives: a literature synthesis and a product review. The literature synthesis examines research findings on grade 6–12 student learning gains and losses using virtual laboratories and science-simulation software, derived from a review of 79 relevant studies identified. Based on that literature, significant aspects of how such products influence student learning are identified. Tables summarize the research-based evidence about best practices in instructional design for such virtual lab and simulation products. Some products were then reviewed as case studies to determine in what ways and to what extent they implement such research-identified best practices. The overall goal was to consider where the most progress is being made in effective virtual-lab and simulation products, and what directions future development should take. The intent is to inform science educators, teachers, administrators, and policy makers who are using, buying, and examining middle and high school instructional materials. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 48: 1050–1078, 2011