A resource from the leaders in simulation training.

Hey, Troubleshooters! Thanks for joining us again today on TST. Today we’re looking at the success of simulation-based training, and its advantages over more traditional methods of training. 

Simulation training outperforms traditional forms of training in two major ways: 1) the quality of the learning is better, and 2) it has more benefits for businesses, particularly cost savings and employee safety. (This is cool because, in life, things almost never work this way—usually you have to pay more for better quality.) 

Today in Part 1, we’ll take a look at learning quality, and next week we’ll look at the considerable business benefits of simulation training.

Simulation-based training improves learning

Knowledge retention

Anyone who’s ever crammed to pass a test and then forgotten the material one week later knows that some kinds of learning just don’t “take.” As a Director of Technical Training, training program administrator, or manufacturing executive, you can’t afford to see your training budget wasted on training that doesn’t last. That’s why knowledge retention is important factor in evaluating the success of learning.

Traditional classroom lecture-style learning is notoriously prone to forgetting. Scientists at MIT monitored students’ brains while they listened to a classroom lecture, and found that their brain activity was nearly zero (just about the same as for watching TV). Neuroscience tells us that we use the right side of our brain for learning new things, and yet we use the left for processing speech, so just passively hearing someone speak does not equal learning.

Instead, engagement in the learning process leads to better learning. Evidence shows that engagement is strongly related to student performance on assessment tasks. MIT is now jumping on this bandwagon, replacing traditional lecture style learning to large groups of students with smaller classes featuring hands-on, interactive, and collaborative learning.

Simulations are a method of learning that is both hands-on and interactive, allowing learners to manipulate a system and observe the effect of the change, giving them intrinsic feedback (Thomas & Milligan, 2004). There is evidence that we learn by doing, and that is what gives simulation its power. Compared to lecture-style learning, simulation learning has been found to result in a statistically significant increase in knowledge retention.

Research in the medical field, where simulation is commonly used for training, is confirming that simulation training results in better retention of electrosurgery training up to one year after learning takes place, and in retention of clinical skills.

All of the above argues in favor of simulation training over passive classroom learning. However, the same arguments could be used in favour of on-the-job training. We’ll talk about the benefits of sim training over on-the-job in Part 2, but one thing to note here is that sim training is faster than learning on the job because in real life, you have to wait for certain rare but significant problems (say, mass casualty incidents when you’re training first responders) to occur and then solve them. With simulation training, the problem situation can be recreated at any time.

Knowledge transfer

One thing people always want to know when the subject of simulation training comes up is, do the skills learned in the simulated environment transfer to the real world? Or, are learners just learning to do simulated skills very well?

In fact, simulations do result in a good rate of transfer of knowledge to real world situations. Studies of simulation training for both physical (locomotor skills and rowing technique) and mental skills (decision making in baseketball) have found good transfer. Meier et al. (2008) found that skill transfer from a computer simulation to real life is better than that found with more passive learning situations. Liu & Su (2011) found that students who learned electrical wiring using a computer simulation outperformed those who had attended lectures and demonstrations.

One of the main factors determining whether simulation-acquired skills can be transferred to real life is the fidelity of the simulation; that is, the degree to which the simulator resembles real life. This is fairly intuitive—not all simulations are created equal, and better fidelity results in better knowledge transfer. So the quality of the simulation itself is very important.

Who uses simulation training?

Simulation training is often used in fields where the stakes are very high, and rookie mistakes can lead to serious consequences. Here are just a few sectors that have been using simulation training for years:

Aerospace flight schools

Medical schools and surgical departments

Bomb disposal units


Dental schools

Electrical troubleshooting training

Emergency first responders

Okay, Troubleshooters! That’s all for this week. Be sure to tune in again next week for Part 2, when we look at computer-based simulation training and its many advantages for manufacturers and other businesses.

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