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Welcome to our first fall issue! Today, we’re focusing on the following questions:

  • Are case studies or simulations better when learning critical thinking?
  • Can an informal education program improve knowledge & customer loyalty?

I’m particularly intrigued by the second article this week - I hope you enjoy 😊

Case Study? A Case for Social Learning.

Critical thinking is often cited as being an important skill in business and for workplace leadership. While there are many definitions of critical thinking, the current paper follows one that emphasizes problem-solving (Smith, 2014). In order to develop problem-solving skills, experiential learning is a key component. Currently, in the classroom there are two largely utilized experiential learning techniques: case studies and simulations. While there is plentiful research to illustrate the benefits of case studies (higher decision-making, critical thinking, etc.), case studies are static in time and lack an interactional component (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2006). The other technique, computer simulations, can fill an interactional piece by providing several outcome cycles, competition, and social learning. These components of computer simulations support recursive learning (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Thus, Samaras et al. (2021) aimed to assess the critical thinking scores of an assignment from a simulation vs. a case study.

This was a within-subjects study, meaning all learners participated in the case study and simulation. It’s important to note that the learners did not receive feedback on their case study paper, which was due earlier, prior to turning in their simulation paper. Critical thinking was assessed in the submissions using a rubric provided by the university (Samaras et al., 2021).

The results showed a significantly higher level of critical thinking in the simulation papers than the case study papers! Data was also taken on learner perceptions of the assignments, which revealed a preference for the simulation. Overall, it appears that the simulation allowed learners to identify and address problems, as well as strive for better solutions through competition (Samaras et al., 2021). While the results are very promising for simulations, there is one stand-out limitation to this study - all participants completed both assignments concurrently. Due to this, it’s possible that a later due date accounts for a portion of the increased score in simulation papers. However, this study provides an excellent starting point for this research. I’m interested to see if these researchers follow-up with a between-subjects design.

Key Takeaway: To promote critical thinking, consider experiential learning techniques that promote recursive & social learning - such as a simulation.

Read More ($): Samaras, S. A., Adkins, C. L., & White, C. D. (2021). Developing critical thinking skills: Simulations vs. cases. Journal of Education for Business.

Informal Education & Customer Loyalty

Just to preface, I completely understand that on the surface this article may not seem related to our field. However, I’m hoping that by the end of this you’ll see some important implications. In fact, one of the reasons I included this article, and connected it to LSW, was because it made me think of a case study from Intellum. So, be sure to check out Intellum’s Case Study with Google!

This particular study is on ecotourism, which “gives tourists the opportunity to improve knowledge and awareness of environmental issues while on vacation” (Meschini et al., 2021). As the third largest export category in the world, tourism still continues to grow. Tourists often choose their destination spots based upon natural landscape, which lends nicely to implementing educational programs to increase knowledge about nature. Step in Global Education, a program designed by a research group at the University of Bologna, designed to increase tourist environmental knowledge, environmentally friendly attitudes, and awareness of tourism on natural ecosystems (Meschini et al., 2021). The current study was the first to assess Global Education; researchers were interested in whether it was effective at improving environmental interest.

Tourists completed a questionnaire before and after participating in Global Education activities. The first questionnaire included demographic information, as well as variables of interest: knowledge, attitude, awareness, and customer loyalty. The post-activity questionnaire assessed the same variables of interest, in addition to the number of activities attended. While tourists did not have to attend all activities, they were excluded if they did not attend at least one. The following activities were hosted by biologists for tourists to attend:

"- An “around-the-island” interactive walk, with explanations on local fauna and flora
- A further one-hour biology lesson focused on the identification and general biology of local organisms (marine invertebrates, fish, marine reptiles and mammals in the Maldives, and both terrestrial and tropical plant species in Madagascar)
- Participation in field excursions accompanied by the Global Education biologist and local guides. Specifically, snorkeling excursions were organized at the Maldives facilities, and excursions through the primary forest at the facility in Madagascar “

Results illustrated a significant increase in all 3 variables, knowledge, attitude, and awareness, after participating in the education program. This has many implications throughout the customer and employee education realm, best summarized by the authors themselves - “when informal education activities are proposed in a stress-free environment, participants are more likely to take interest and even retain more information” (Meschini et al., 2021). Not only was learning evident, but there were also high levels of customer loyalty after the program. For example, more than half responses that they would “choose to go on vacation again with the tour operator” & 41-67% reported being willing to pay up to 10% more than standard to “stay in a facility owned by the tour operator promoting the project with a biologist on site who organizes activities in contact with nature” (Meschini et al., 2021). The results from the Global Education program emphasizes how effective informal education programs can be!

Key Takeaway: Informal education activities are an incredibly useful tool to increase knowledge, attitudes, and customer loyalty. According to this study, interacting with an expert can have a variety of benefits.

Read More ($): Meschini, M., Machado Toffolo, M., Caroselli, E., Franzellitti, S., Marchini, C., Prada, F., Boattini, A., Brambilla, V., Martinez, G., Prati, F., Simoncini, G., Visentin, M., Airi, V., Branchini, S., & Goffredo, S. (2021). Educational briefings in touristic facilities prompt tourist sustainable behavior and customer loyalty. Biological Conservation, 259.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Thanks to reader Annukka, we have an incredibly cute pup this week! Some might even say that she’s (and please forgive me here) as cute as a button. Here’s “Nappi (that's Button in English) taking a nap. Nappi lives in Helsinki, Finland with her best friend Taika (Magic), who is also a chihuahua.” She is also “curious, fun and enjoys new places, cafes and people.”

Nappi sounds like my kind of gal!

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D.

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