Student Learning in Science Simulations: A Synthesis

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This is a two-year study that will examine science simulation software products (both free and commercial) that are available for grades 6-12 science courses and synthesize the body of literature on student learning in such virtual environments to produce a report that will inform science educators and administrators using and buying middle and high school instructional materials in science.


The population of interest is students using science simulations in grades 6-12.

Research Design: 

This study is a synthesis project which will include a literature review and a product review. The analysis will be conducted in three stages. First, a systematic review of the literature will be conducted following the review procedures outlined in the Evidence Standards for Reviewing Studies (What Works Clearinghouse, 2006). Then, the reviewed research will be synthesized using several approaches such as the Evidence Standards and the Harris Cooper methodologies included in Synthesizing Research, 3rd Edition (1998). The third component of the project will be to analyze and categorize the various components and features of the software products discussed in the reviewed and synthesized literature.


We have completed a review of the literature in which we developed and applied criteria for literature selection, developed a coding framework, applied it to sources that met our inclusion criteria, and are in the process of producing a synthesis of the findings. Features of science simulations that were cited most frequently as being important to learning were:

  • Science standard instructional practice
  • Representations and media concerns
  • Overall intervention results (no pattern)
  • Software/hardware/interface concerns
  • Engagement/attitudes
  • Transfer of knowledge/skills between contexts
  • Learning aid hyperlinks or access to additional information
  • Hybridization with hands-on and/or remote labs
  • Safety/protection of humans and animal