Simulations Versus Case Studies: Effectively Teaching the Premises of Sustainable Development in the Classroom

  • Andrea M. PradoEmail author
  • Ronald Arce
  • Luis E. Lopez
  • Jaime García
  • Andy A. Pearson
Original Paper


The systemic complexity of sustainable development imposes a major cognitive challenge to students’ learning. Faculty can explore new approaches in the classroom to teach the topic successfully, including the use of technology. We conducted an experiment to compare the effectiveness of a simulation vis-à-vis a case-based method to teach sustainable development. We found that both pedagogical methods are effective for teaching this concept, although our results support the idea that simulations are slightly more effective than case studies, particularly to teach its multidimensional and inter-temporal nature. Therefore, our findings suggest the use of both simulations and case studies as pedagogical tools to convey the main ideas associated with sustainable development.


Sustainable development Sustainability Teaching Simulation Case studies Technology Business students Pedagogical tools Social progress 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Luis E. Lopez owns stock in Processim Labs, the company that developed the algorithm for the simulation. Luis E. Lopez participated in this research project due to his expertise in the development of simulations and their use as pedagogical tools. Andrea M. Prado, Ronald Arce, Jaime García and Andy A. Pearson declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material


  1. Aldrich, C. (2009). The complete guide to simulations and serious games: How the most valuable content will be created in the age beyond Gutenberg to Google. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.Google Scholar
  2. Aragon-Correa, J. A., Marcus, A. A., Rivera, J. E., & Kenworthy, A. L. (2017). Sustainability management teaching resources and the challenge of balancing planet, people, and profits. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 16(3), 469–483.Google Scholar
  3. Argyris, C. (1980). Some limitations of the case method: Experiences in a management development program. Academy of Management Review, 5(2), 291–298.Google Scholar
  4. Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1996). Organizational learning II: Theory, method, and practice. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 50(4), 701.Google Scholar
  5. Balakrishnan, U., Duvall, T., & Primeaux, P. (2003). Rewriting the bases of capitalism: Reflexive modernity and ecological sustainability as the foundations of a new normative framework. Journal of Business Ethics, 47(4), 299–315.Google Scholar
  6. Banning, K. C. (2003). The effect of the case method on tolerance for ambiguity. Journal of Management Education, 27(5), 556–567.Google Scholar
  7. Bansal, P. (2005). Evolving sustainably: A longitudinal study of corporate sustainable development. Strategic Management Journal, 26(3), 197–218.Google Scholar
  8. Bansal, P., & DesJardine, M. R. (2014). Business sustainability: It is about time. Strategic Organization, 12(1), 70–78.Google Scholar
  9. Bazerman, M. (1994). Judgment in managerial decision making. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  10. Bell, B. S., Kanar, A. M., & Kozlowski, S. W. (2008). Current issues and future directions in simulation-based training in North America. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19, 1416–1434.Google Scholar
  11. Biasutti, M., & Frate, S. (2017). A validity and reliability study of the attitudes toward sustainable development scale. Environmental Education Research, 23(2), 214–230.Google Scholar
  12. Brooks, H. (1992). Sustainability and technology. Science and sustainability: Selected papers on IIASA’s 25th anniversary. Vienna.Google Scholar
  13. Brunner, W., & Urenje, S. (2012). The parts and the whole: A holistic approach to environmental and sustainability education. Visby: Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development.Google Scholar
  14. Chapman, K. J., & Sorge, C. L. (1999). Can a simulation help achieve course objectives? An exploratory study investigating differences among instructional tools. Journal of Education for Business, 74(4), 225–230.Google Scholar
  15. Christensen, L. J., Peirce, E., Hartman, L. P., Hoffman, W. M., & Carrier, J. (2007). Ethics, CSR, and sustainability education in the financial times top 50 global business schools: Baseline data and future research directions. Journal of Business Ethics, 73(4), 347–368.Google Scholar
  16. Collins, E., & Kearins, K. (2010). Delivering on sustainability’s global and local orientation. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), 499–506.Google Scholar
  17. Cook, R. W., & Swift, C. O. (2006). The pedagogical efficacy of a sales management simulation. Marketing Education Review, 16, 37–46.Google Scholar
  18. Cullen, J. G. (2017). Educating business students about sustainability: A bibliometric review of current trends and research needs. Journal of Business Ethics, 145, 429–439.Google Scholar
  19. Dahlin, J.-E., Fenner, R., & Cruickshank, H. (2015). Critical evaluation of simulations and games as tools for expanding student perspectives on sustainability. In International conference on engineering education for sustainable development (EESD). Vancouver.Google Scholar
  20. Dieleman, H., & Huisingh, D. (2006). Games by which to learn and teach about sustainable development: Exploring the relevance of games and experiential learning for sustainability. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14(9–11), 837–847.Google Scholar
  21. Elkington, J. (1998). Cannibals with Forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.Google Scholar
  22. Faria, A. J. (2001). The changing nature of business simulation/gaming research: A brief history. Simulation & Gaming, 32, 97–110.Google Scholar
  23. Fehder, D. C., Porter, M., & Stern, S. (2018). The empirics of social progress: The interplay between subjective well-being and societal performance. American Economic Association Papers and Proceedings, 108, 477–482.Google Scholar
  24. Feinstein, A. H. (2001). An assessment of the effectiveness of simulation as an instructional system in foodservice. Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research, 25(4), 421–443.Google Scholar
  25. Fergus, A. H. T., & Rowney, J. I. A. (2005). Sustainable development: Lost meaning and opportunity? Journal of Business Ethics, 60(1), 17–27.Google Scholar
  26. Figueiro, P. S., & Raufflet, E. (2015). Sustainability in higher education: A systematic review with focus on management education. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, 22–33.Google Scholar
  27. Fripp, J. (1997). A future for business simulations? Journal of European Industrial Training, 21(4), 138–142.Google Scholar
  28. Garvin, D. A. (2007). Teaching executives and teaching MBAs: Reflections on the case method. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(3), 364–374.Google Scholar
  29. Gladwin, T. N., Kennelly, J. J., & Krause, T. S. (1995). Shifting paradigms for sustainable development: Implications for management theory and research. Academy of Management Review, 20(4), 874–907.Google Scholar
  30. Heuer, M. (2010). Foundations and capstone; core values and hot topics; ethics-lx; skytech; and the green business laboratory: Simulations for sustainability education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), 556–561.Google Scholar
  31. Hoskin, K. (1998). The mysterious case of the case study: A re-thinking. Accounting Education, 7, S57–S70.Google Scholar
  32. Hsu, E. (1989). Role-event gaming-simulations in management education: A conceptual framework and review. Simulation and Gaming, 20, 409–438.Google Scholar
  33. Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206.Google Scholar
  34. Keys, B., & Wolfe, J. (1990). The role of management games and simulations in education and research. Journal of Management, 16(2), 307–336.Google Scholar
  35. Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1959). Techniques for evaluating training programs. Journal of the American Society of Training Directors, 13, 3–9.Google Scholar
  36. Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  37. Lantz-Andersson, A., Vigmo, S., & Bowen, R. (2013). Crossing boundaries in Facebook: Students’ framing of language learning activities as extended spaces. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 8, 293–312.Google Scholar
  38. Liang, N., & Wang, J. (2004). Implicit mental models in teaching cases: An empirical study of popular MBA cases in the United States and China. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 3(4), 397–413.Google Scholar
  39. Liarakau, G., Sakka, E., Costas, G., & Tsolakidis, C. (2011). Evaluation of serious games, as a tool for education for sustainable development. In Learning and sustainability, the new ecosystem of innovation and knowledge, EDEN annual conference.Google Scholar
  40. Lundberg, C. C., Rainsford, P., Shay, J. P., & Young, C. A. (2001). Case writing reconsidered. Journal of Management Education, 25(4), 450–463.Google Scholar
  41. Marginson, D., & McAulay, L. (2008). Exploring the debate on shorttermism: A theoretical and empirical analysis. Strategic Management Journal, 29(3), 273–292.Google Scholar
  42. Marshall, J. D., & Toffel, M. W. (2005). Framing the elusive concept of sustainability: A sustainability hierarchy. Environmental Science and Technology, 39(3), 673–682.Google Scholar
  43. McDaniel, R. R., & Driebe, D. J. (2005). Uncertainty and surprise in complex systems: Questions on working with the unexpected (1st ed.). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  44. Meadows, D. L., Fiddaman, T., & Shannon, D. (1993). Fish banks Ltd: A microcomputer assisted group simulation that teaches principles of sustainable management of renewable natural resources (pp. 698–706). Durham: Laboratory for Interactive Learning, Hood House, University of New Hampshire.Google Scholar
  45. Mesny, A. (2013). Taking stock of the century-long utilization of the case method in management education. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 30(1), 56–66.Google Scholar
  46. Michaelson, C. (2016). A novel approach to business ethics education: Exploring how to live and work in the 21st century. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 15(3), 588–606.Google Scholar
  47. Michalos, A. C., Creech, H., McDonald, C., & Kahlke, P. M. H. (2009). Measuring knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward sustainable development: Two exploratory studies. Social Indicators Research, 100, 391–413.Google Scholar
  48. Miller, J. H., & Page, S. E. (2007). Complex adaptive systems: An introduction to computational models of social life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Montiel, I. (2008). Corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability: Separate pasts, common futures. Organization & Environment, 21(3), 245–269.Google Scholar
  50. Montiel, I., Antolin-Lopez, R., & Gallo, P. J. (2018). Emotions and sustainability: A literary genre-based framework for environmental sustainability management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 17(2), 155–183.Google Scholar
  51. Montiel, I., & Delgado-Ceballos, J. (2014). Defining and measuring corporate sustainability: Are we there yet? Organization and Environment, 27(2), 113–139.Google Scholar
  52. Montiel, I., Delgado-Ceballos, J., & Ortiz-de-Mandojana, N. (2017). Mobile apps for sustainability management education: The example of Goodguide. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 16(3), 489–493.Google Scholar
  53. Naumes, W., & Naumes, M. J. (2014). The art and craft of case writing. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. OECD. (2017). PISA 2015 Background questionnaires. In PISA 2015 assessment and analytical framework: Science, reading, mathematics, financial literacy and collaborative problem solving. OECD Publishing, Paris.
  55. Ortiz-de-Mandojana, N., & Bansal, P. (2016). The long-term benefits of organizational resilience through sustainable business practices. Strategic Management Journal, 37(8), 1615–1631.Google Scholar
  56. Painter-Morland, M., Demuijnck, G., & Ornati, S. (2017). Sustainable development and well-being: A philosophical challenge. Journal of Business Ethics, 146(2), 295–311.Google Scholar
  57. Parboteeah, K., Addae, H., & Cullen, J. B. (2012). Propensity to support sustainability initiatives: A cross-national model. Journal of Business Ethics, 105(3), 403–413.Google Scholar
  58. Patton, M. Q. (2011). Developmental evaluation: Applying complexity concepts to enhance innovation and use. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  59. Payne, D. M., & Raiborn, C. A. (2001). Sustainable development: The ethics support the economics. Journal of Business Ethics, 32(2), 157–168.Google Scholar
  60. Pérez-Bennett, A., Davidsen, P., & López, L. E. (2014). Supercharging case-based learning via simulators. Management Decision, 52(9), 1801–1832.Google Scholar
  61. Perrin, A. & Jiang, J. (2018). About a quarter of U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online, Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 2019, from
  62. Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (1999). The knowing doing gap. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  63. Porter, M. E., Stern, S., & Green, M. (2017). Social Progress Index 2017. Social Progress ImperativeGoogle Scholar
  64. Yurtseven, M. K., & Buchanan, W. W. (2016). Decision making and systems thinking: Educational issues. American Journal of Engineering Education, 7(1), 19–28.Google Scholar
  65. Processim Labs. (2017). Processim labs. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from
  66. Randel, J. M., Morris, B. A., Wetzel, C. D., & Whitehall, B. V. (1992). The effectiveness of games for educational purposes: A review of recent research. Simulation and Gaming, 23(3), 221–276.Google Scholar
  67. Rands, G. P. (2009). A principle-attribute matrix for environmentally sustainable management education and its application. Journal of Management Education, 33(3), 296–322.Google Scholar
  68. Reficco, E., & Jaen, M. H. (2015). Case method use in shaping well-rounded Latin American MBAs. Journal of Business Research, 68(12), 2540–2551.Google Scholar
  69. Revans, R. (2011). ABC of action learning. London: Lemos and Crane.Google Scholar
  70. Robinson, J. (2004). Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development. Ecological Economics, 48, 369–384.Google Scholar
  71. Saenz, M. J., & Cano, J. L. (2009). Experiential learning through simulation games: An empirical study. International Journal of Engineering Education, 25(2), 296–307.Google Scholar
  72. Sala, S., Ciuffo, B., & Nijkamp, P. (2015). A systemic framework for sustainability assessment. Ecological Economics, 119, 314–325.Google Scholar
  73. Salas, E., Wildman, J., & Piccolo, R. (2009). Using simulation-based training to enhance management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education., 8(4), 559–573.Google Scholar
  74. Sammalisto, K., Sundström, A., Von Haartman, R., Holm, T., & Yao, Z. (2016). Learning about sustainability—what influences students’ self-perceived sustainability actions after undergraduate education? Sustainability, 8(6), 510.Google Scholar
  75. Samuelson, J. F. (2013). Putting pinstripes in perspective. BizEd, 66–67.Google Scholar
  76. Schrage, M. (2000). Serious play: How the world’s best companies simulate to innovate (1st ed.). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  77. Shrivastava, P. (2010). Pedagogy of passion for sustainability. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), 443–455.Google Scholar
  78. Slager, R., Pouryousefi, S., Moon, J., & Schoolman, E. D. (2018). Sustainability centres and fit: How centres work to integrate sustainability within business schools. Journal of Business Ethics. Scholar
  79. Slawinski, N., & Bansal, P. (2012). A matter of time: The temporal perspectives of organizational responses to climate change. Organization Studies, 33(11), 1537–1563.Google Scholar
  80. Slawinski, N., & Bansal, T. (2015). Short on time: Intertemporal tensions in business sustainability. Organization Science, 20(4), 696–717.Google Scholar
  81. Sokoloski, R. (2012). Evaluating sustainability on the cal poly campus: Attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, social norms, and social desirability. San Luis Obispo, CA: California Polytechnic State University.Google Scholar
  82. Solomon, M. (2002). Fun & games-and business insight. Computerworld, 36(31), 36–37.Google Scholar
  83. Starik, M., Rands, G., Marcus, A. A., & Clark, T. S. (2010). From the guest editors: In search of sustainability in management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), 377–383.Google Scholar
  84. Stead, W. E., & Stead, J. G. (1994). Can humankind change the economic myth? Paradigm shifts necessary for ecologically sustainable business. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 7(4), 15–31.Google Scholar
  85. Sterman, J. (2014a). Interactive web-based simulations for strategy and sustainability: The MIT Sloan LearningEdge management flight simulators, part 1. System Dynamics Review, 30(1–2), 89–121.Google Scholar
  86. Sterman, J. (2014b). Interactive web-based simulations for strategy and sustainability: The MIT Sloan LearningEdge management flight simulators, part 2. System Dynamics Review, 30(3), 206–231.Google Scholar
  87. Stoner, J. A., & Wankel, C. (2009). The only game big enough for us to play. In C. Wankel & J. A. F. Stoner (Eds.), Management education for global sustainability (pp. 3–17). New York: IAP.Google Scholar
  88. Sweeney, L. B., & Sterman, J. D. (2000). Bathtub dynamics: Initial results of a systems thinking inventory. System Dynamics Review, 16(4), 249–286.Google Scholar
  89. Taras, V., Caprar, D. V., Rottig, D., Sarala, R. M., Zakaria, N., Zhao, F., et al. (2013). A global classroom? Evaluating the effectiveness of global virtual collaboration as a teaching tool in management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12(3), 414–435.Google Scholar
  90. Techcrunch. (2017). U.S. consumers now spend 5 hours per day on mobile devices. Retrieved April, 2019, from
  91. Thomke, S. (2003). Experimentation matters: Unlocking the potential of new technologies for innovation. Boston: Harvard Business Press.Google Scholar
  92. To, K. S. (2017). A systems approach to sustainable development examination and research in Russia. Handbook of theory and practice of sustainable development in higher education (pp. 341–353). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  93. Umaña, V., Robles, A., & Rodríguez, P. (2018). República Independiente de Guanimar (No. 31282). INCAE Cases. INCAE.Google Scholar
  94. UNESCO. (2006). Framework for the UNDESD international implementation scheme section for education for sustainable development, Paris.Google Scholar
  95. UNESCO. (2009). Bonn declaration. In UNESCO world conference on education for sustainable development, Bonn.Google Scholar
  96. UNICEF (2018). The 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Retrieved July 2018, from
  97. Waas, T., Hugé, J., Block, T., Wright, T., Benitez-Capistros, F., & Verbruggen, A. (2014). Sustainability assessment and indicators: Tools in a decision-making strategy for sustainable development. Sustainability, 6(9), 5512–5534.Google Scholar
  98. Whitaker, J., New, J. R., & Ireland, R. D. (2016). MOOCs and the online delivery of business education. What’s new? What’s not? What now? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 15(2), 345–365.Google Scholar
  99. Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. L. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203–218.Google Scholar
  100. Wolfe, J. (1997). The effectiveness of business games in strategic management course work. Simulation & Gaming: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 28(4), 360–376.Google Scholar
  101. World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea M. Prado
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ronald Arce
    • 2
  • Luis E. Lopez
    • 1
  • Jaime García
    • 3
  • Andy A. Pearson
    • 1
  1. 1.INCAE Business SchoolAlajuelaCosta Rica
  2. 2.Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable DevelopmentINCAE Business SchoolAlajuelaCosta Rica
  3. 3.Social Progress ImperativeINCAE Business SchoolAlajuelaCosta Rica

Personalised recommendations