Simulations are increasingly used in Industry and Government to teach complex skills. But do they really work?

Is The Simulation Craze Just a Fad?

Electrical engineers tackle simulated problems on a daily basis. Airlines require pilots to log simulation hours. Even the Pentagon occasionally simulates a political crisis, just to keep everyone on their toes. From schools to governments to businesses, it seems that organizations everywhere are relying more and more on simulations as an effective method of teaching and training.

Is it just an educational fad? Or is there something about simulation training that actually makes it more effective than other methods of teaching?

“Deep Learning”

As it turns out, yes, simulations actually are much more effective. That’s because simulations create a “deep learning” experience, whereas other forms of training (like reading a textbook) create a “surface learning” experience. So what exactly is “deep” and “surface” learning?

Well, let’s go back. In grammar school, you were supposed to memorize things: multiplication tables, history dates, capital cities, and a host of other facts. For most kids, as soon as the test was over, all of that memorized material was forgotten, and never thought of again. Why is that?

According to the UK Learning and Teaching Theory guide for engineering, it’s because memorization is just “surface learning.” You memorize something until you know it, and when you no longer need it, you forget it. It’s easy to see why this kind of learning isn’t truly effective. Deep learning, however, tries to establish understanding, not just memorization. Here are three key differences between “surface” and “deep learning”:

  1. Attitude toward facts. Someone engaged in surface learning accepts new facts uncritically, and without having to connect any new fact to any prior knowledge. Someone engaged in deep learning, however, examines new facts and tries to link them to previous ideas. The deep learner is more likely to remember facts because they’ve spent time considering and categorizing the new information. A surface learner is more likely to forget the fact because it has no relation to anything else.
  2. Levels of engagement. Surface learners tend to receive information passively. They don’t apply the new information to their own life and experience. Deep learners tend to interact with new information, making connections to their own lives and showing a personal interest in the subject.
  3. Attitude towards mistakes. Surface learning thinks of a mistake as a failure. If you say 8 × 3 = 25 instead of 24, you’re wrong, end of story. On the other hand, deep learning confronts misconceptions head on, trying to understand why the mistake happened. Once the mistake has been confronted, the deep learner can move past it, and engage with the information more fully in the future.

By these three counts, simulation training is a “deep” learning experience, not a “surface” one—that’s why simulation training has become so popular.

Simulation Provides a Safe Environment For Learning

Of course, one of the most useful aspects of simulation-based learning is that it happens in a completely safe, but still realistic, environment. Think of the airline example again. Piloting an aircraft is an extremely complex and dangerous job. Simulation provides the complexity of real-life situations, without the high probability of crashing a real plane. The same principle applies to other dangerous occupations, such as repairing electrical faults in heavy machinery.

Simulation Training for Skills Development

Clearly, deep learning in a safe environment is the way to really engage users as they learn new information. By actively engaging with the content, deep learners successfully remember, and eventually master, whatever they’re trying to learn. Simutech’s Troubleshooting Skills Training System™ is a one such “deep” learning simulated experience, one that will equip employees to safely troubleshoot electrical problems before they encounter them on the job.

Our training system consists of six interactive modules that teach troubleshooting in electrical circuits, control circuits, motor circuits, PLC’s, and industrial controls. Users learn in real-life simulations, getting first-hand experience in troubleshooting.

These troubleshooting modules teach users the underlying principles of each circuit, and increase familiarity with each kind of circuit. As they progress through the program, users are presented with faults to solve, and tested on them. Simutech’s course manager function tracks each user’s progress along the way, helping management to identify areas where individuals need to focus.

At Simutech, we know that simulations really work. By giving employees first-hand experience in a realistic simulation before they start the job, you provide your staff with experiential learning that will prepare them to safely take on the challenges of the manufacturing world.


1. “Why Teach with Simulations?” Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College.

2. “Engineering Subject Centre Guide: Learning and Teaching Theory for Engineering Academics” The Higher Education Academy. March 2004

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