A resource for finding and scaling your training from the leaders in simulation training.

Welcome back to Troubleshooting Thursdays! As always, Troubleshooters, we’re glad you could join us.

If you’ve been following along with us in the past few weeks, you’ll know we’re in the middle of a series of articles on how to choose a training solution. Training solutions can represent a significant investment, so if you’re a manufacturing executive, Director of Technical Training, or plant manager currently investigating training solutions and the degrees of difficulty of those training solution, you’ll want to read this.

First, we presented the Top 11 criteria you must use when you’re troubleshooting your company training, that is, when you’re evaluating the available solutions to find the one that works best for you. Then, we began looking at each of those criteria individually. Up to this point, we’ve covered value, professional development opportunities, characteristics of a training solution, ease of training implementation and access, How to find if a technical training solution has a proven track record, completeness training evaluation techniques, and scalabiling your training. (If you’re just tuning in now, be sure to read Part 1 or what to look for in a training system.)

Today we focus on item 7 on our Top 11 list: varying degrees of difficulty.

Degrees of difficulty—critical for a successful training program

Any teacher will tell you that no two students are the same. In any given class, the learners will inevitably come from different backgrounds, have different levels of familiarity with the subject matter, and cover the whole spectrum with regard to ability. And yet, all of them need to master the material.

Educational psychology research has shown that if learning is too easy, students become bored. On the other hand, if it is too hard, then they become overwhelmed and frustrated.1 There is a sweet spot of difficulty for each learner, where they feel challenged but not overwhelmed, and their motivation is maximized. When a learner is engaged with the material, knowledge retention is at its best.

An effective training program will therefore have varying levels of difficulty, and progress from more basic to more advanced topics to be able to meet each student where they are, with the optimal level of difficulty.

Sustained Optimal Challenge

According to the theory of Sustained Optimal Challenge (SOC),2 the best quality learning will occur if students are always challenged to work on the outer edge of their abilities, and if this optimal level of challenge is maintained throughout the course of study.

In order to achieve Sustained Optimal Challenge,

  • Instructor expectation should be neither too high nor too low
  • Students must have enough time to master the content
  • Material should be taught using the method most adapted to the student

Sustained Optimal Challenge requires using multiple assessments with regular feedback. This strategy provides instructors with opportunities to continually improve the course, match their expectations to students’ abilities, and reduce variation in student learning.

The more frequent the assessments the better, and the sooner feedback is received for the task at hand, the better it works.3

From novice to expert

Other research and theories of learning indicate that in order to develop expertise and genuine skills that will give an individual the ability to problem-solve independently at a high level, a training program must take into account the phases of development of expertise: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.4

The first three of these stages (novice, advanced beginner and competent) are concerned with learning and applying new information. The last two (proficient and expert) involve problem-solving based on learned schemas (mental models). Learners must progress through these developmental levels. According to researchers, merely for the learner to achieve competence is not an appropriate training objective. The more appropriate goal is proficiency.5

One way to accomplish moving through these levels is a training program with modular design. Modules allow for students to retake the module, perform additional practice, and truly master it at their own pace before moving on to the next level of difficulty.

Overall, research in this area suggests that there must be deliberate, conscious interrelationship of units or modules—in other words, that the content of a module must build on the ones before it—and emphasizes the importance of adequate practice and feedback.

Simutech Training System Modules

The Simutech Training System is a training solution that teaches maintenance professionals a systematic, efficient, and effective method for troubleshooting electrical faults in manufacturing equipment, reducing costly production line downtime and helping manufacturers meet their production goals. The six Simutech modules cover basic and advanced concepts, offering over 300 practice faults at varying levels of difficulty with constant, relevant feedback to ensure trainees master the skill of electrical troubleshooting. The Simutech Admin Portal allows gives administrators the power to easily track trainee progress, generate reports, and administer custom tests.


  1. Britt, T. (2005). Effects of identity-relevance and task difficulty on task motivation, stress, and performance. Motivation and Emotion, 29(3), 189–202
  2. Ahmed, S. (2017). Theory of Sustained Optimal Challenge in Teaching and Learning. Paper presented at Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2017 Annual Meeting. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1541931213601584
  3. Reynolds, A. (1992). What is competent beginning teaching? Review of Educational Research, 62(1), 1–35.
  4. Ian R. Cornford (1997) Ensuring effective learning from modular courses. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 49(2), 237–251.
  5. Cornford, I.R. & Athanasou, J.A. (1995). Developing expertise through training. Industrial and Commercial Training, 27(2), pp. 10–18.
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