Effects of structural transparency in system dynamics simulators on performance and understanding
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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- Department of Geography 
Prior exploration is an instructional strategy that has improved performance and understanding in system-dynamics-based simulators, but only to a limited degree. This study investigates whether model transparency, that is, showing users the internal structure of models, can extend the prior exploration strategy and improve learning even more. In an experimental study, participants in a web-based simulation learned about and managed a small developing nation. All participants were provided the prior exploration strategy but only half received prior exploration embedded in a structure-behavior diagram intended to make the underlying model’s structure more transparent. Participants provided with the more transparent strategy demonstrated better understanding of the underlying model. Their performance, however, was the equivalent to those in the less transparent condition. Combined with previous studies, our results suggest that while prior exploration is a beneficial strategy for both performance and understanding, making the model structure transparent with structure-behavior diagrams is more limited in its effect.