The present study compared the value of using a virtual learning simulation compared to traditional lessons on the topic of evolution, and investigated if the virtual learning simulation could serve as a catalyst for STEM academic and career development, based on social cognitive career theory. The investigation was conducted using a crossover repeated measures design based on a sample of 128 high school biology/biotech students. The results showed that the virtual learning simulation increased knowledge of evolution significantly, compared to the traditional lesson. No significant differences between the simulation and lesson were found in their ability to increase the non-cognitive measures. Both interventions increased self-efficacy significantly, and none of them had a significant effect on motivation. In addition, the results showed that the simulation increased interest in biology related tasks, but not outcome expectations. The findings suggest that virtual learning simulations are at least as efficient in enhancing learning and self-efficacy as traditional lessons, and high schools can thus use them as supplementary educational methods. In addition, the findings indicate that virtual learning simulations may be a useful tool in enhancing student's interest in and goals toward STEM related careers.
Keywords: STEM; career development; e-learning; education; social cognitive career theory; virtual learning simulations.