Business Sim Labs: Designing for ROI

The integrated technologies in these new labs range from a simple converted computer lab with specialized financial software to a full-blown simulation lab

Educational institutions are constantly seeking new ways to attract and nurture the corporate leaders of tomorrow. Over the past decade, a vast number of colleges and universities have implemented media-rich learning environments to support their curricula.


Among business colleges specifically, there has been a similar trend of incorporating specialty classrooms, such as financial services and capital market labs, that emulate a real-world financial environment. These spaces not only foster situational/experiential learning, but also enable the study of business in highly complex, interactive environments. The integrated technologies in these labs range from a simple converted computer lab with specialized financial software to a full-blown simulation lab with custom desks, computers with multiple displays, and attention walls with wall-mounted digital stock tickers, LED boards, world clocks, and LCD screens. 


Learning Environment ROI

Current education models indicate that theory and real-world “field experience” are essential to learning; however, in many current business teachings, the “feel” of real investment risks is lacking. In such settings, students are unlikely to obtain necessary investment information and acumen for the long haul. To overcome this obstacle, schools are creating investment simulation environments with scenario-based learning as a tool to exercise real market practices in finance and investment. When implemented correctly, the learning experience can be realistic and more effective than a traditional classroom. 


A New Financial Lab Checklist

Planning a financial lab or business simulation environment for a client? The space should:

  • Establish an environment that supports the business curriculum and pedagogy.
  • Be a showpiece for the campus, faculty, and alumni, enhancing the quality and prestige of the program.
  • Provide real-life simulation to keep the students engaged, enhancing the learning experience.
  • Function as a recruitment tool to entice new applicants.


Once key principles have been established, close attention to critical facility issues during design pays off with an environment that properly supports necessary technology:

  • Adequate sightlines need to be preserved from each workstation to the various financial displays through the space.
  • Appropriate acoustical characteristics should be maintained to provide isolation from adjacent spaces and optimize speech intelligibility.
  • Effective HVAC is crucial due to the anticipated amount of equipment hardware, including student workstation CPUs.
  • A high-quality lighting system should be designed to provide ambient light and glare control, uniformity and balanced brightness, visual comfort, and third-party dimmer control.
  • Multiple attention walls.
  • Multiple screens.
  • Raised floor.


Numerous studies on instruction reveal that appropriate use of real-world technologies can significantly enhance teaching and learning effectiveness. Consequently, many business programs are discovering significant return on investment from incorporating these technologies into their learning environments.


Dividends in Motivation and Achievement

By planning and designing spaces that meet the evolving needs of students and faculty, the right classroom can make a significant difference how engaged a student becomes or how they interpret and retain information. Studies have shown that time spent meaningfully engaged in learning-related tasks is positively correlated to student motivation and achievement.


Additionally, new educational technology trends, like “game-based” approaches, promote the idea of students being actively engaged with digital/software-based resources to retain of information. Furthermore, applying physical interaction with the interactivity of a real-world environment enables a paradigm shift from the Information Age to an Interaction Age. A blend of physical and digital worlds needs to be considered in the design of these specialty learning spaces.


The Three Things Business Schools Want

Of the estimated 1,100 business colleges in the United States, only about 225 have on-campus financial-based classrooms so far. A recent survey conducted by Rise Display suggests that, out of these, 17 percent share the space with a general computing lab, 33 percent have a dedicated room that is shared with non-finance classes, and the remaining 50 percent having a dedicated space used. The top three justifications for business colleges implementing these dedicated specialty classrooms (labs):

  1. They’re showplaces for students, alumni, and faculty.
  2. They enhance the quality of business programs by providing real-world technologies for students.
  3. They allow real-world scenarios (student-managed investment funds).


While not every campus has a designated advocate for financial-based classroom design, the pressure is on from the toughest customers of all – future applicants. Incoming students are more technologically aware and attuned to real-world simulation. As a result, they expect and demand a lot from their classrooms. A specialized financial simulation space often serves as a real differentiator.


Augmented Reality

Looking ahead, emerging technology developments will allow institutions to create augmented-reality environments in which real and digital worlds meet. The design challenge is then to preserve the richness of non-technical experiences while deploying a technology approach that extends the physical learning environments of students and faculty in ways to enhance shared experiences. 


Any decisions regarding classroom design need to maximize the value of time and deliver an inspired learning setting. Recognizing the opportunities to differentiate their program and deliver a better product, business schools are increasingly integrating technology into their classrooms in pursuit of improved ROI.


The Sextant Group’s Senior Consultant James Viviano, CTS, has designed facilities and systems for institutions of higher education across the country. Jim can be reached at