Use Excel-based Simulations to Improve Online Student Understanding of Deterministic Financial Models

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Numerous studies have found that students who use simulations to learn concepts then subsequently demonstrate higher test scores than students using traditional lecture and discussions to cover the same material. Thus, the research indicates that online students could benefit from properly designed simulations (Porter, 2004).

Individual instructors have two basic choices for obtaining simulations: use publisher developed simulations or develop the simulations themselves. Although a limited programming background and lack of available time makes instructor developed simulations a daunting task for many instructors, developing simulations in Excel is one approach to creating non-complex simulations which many instructors can master relatively easily.

Link to example artifact(s)

  • Instructor: Dr. Thomas McKee, Professor, Department of Health Administration and Policy, MUSC
  • Course Title: HAP 729 Financial Management

In a blended course, the following simulations were posted the learning management website. Students were asked to work through the models before proceeding on to more advanced cases over the same topics. Student feedback indicated that students found the models interesting and helpful in mastering the topics. All the previously discussed Excel functions and Visual Basic commands are contained in the following simulations.

Responsibility Accounting Performance Evaluation – This simulation requests students to calculate return on investment (ROI), return on assets (ROA), and residual income (RI) for randomly generated data set which is keyed to seed number which students enter. When students think they have the correct answers they can press a button and the correct answers will be displayed in a pop-up window. Students can practice on as many examples as they need by simply entering different seed numbers. When used as a class example, all students can enter the same seed number and all receive the same data set.

Capital Budgeting Decision – This simulation generates a random set of financial results for a new clinic. Students are requested to calculate payback period, accounting rate of return, net present value, and internal rate of return for the new clinic. When students think they have the correct answers they can can press a screen button to reveal the correct answers. Students can generate as many different simulations as they deem necessary to master the four computational models utilized.

Cost Prediction Via Learning Curve Model – This simulation generates a random set of laboratory test completion times for a new laboratory. Students are requested to model the learning curve implied in the laboratory test times generated and use then to predict the time for a future test. Deterministic models are those where the model has a single output or solution. Students learn concepts and variable relationships by trying to work through data to obtain that solution.

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Klemke, R., P., van Rosmalen, S., Ternier, & Westera, W. (2015). Keep it simple: Lowering the barrier For authoring serious games. Simulation and Gaming, 46 (1) 40-47.

McLean, C., & Riddick, R. (2004). PC Modeling and Simulation Guidelines. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Porter, T.S., Riley, M., & Ruffer, R. (2004). A Review of the use of simulations In teaching economics. Social Science Computer Review. Pp. 426-443.


McKee, T. (2015). Use excel-based simulations to improve online student understanding of deterministic financial models. In B. Chen & K. Thompson (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.

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