Experience via Simulation

Danielle Peterson- June 2012

In the real world where there is no pause, rewind, or reset button, we must be prepared for those critical situations when performance really matters. We’ve all heard the saying “experience is the best teacher,” but experience takes time and mistakes can be costly. To improve performance and ensure we’re ready for whatever critical situations the real world can throw at us, we supplement experience with training. The problem is there’s usually a large gap between the real world and our training environment.

Traditional training relies heavily on lecture as a teaching method. Today’s curriculum designers use more engaging methods like examples, stories, games, and inter-active team exercises. These methods contribute to learner retention, but stop short when it comes to skill application in the real world. In other words, the burden of transition between training and real-world is still left squarely on the shoulders of the learner.

Bring the Real World Into the Classroom

Simulation Learning may hold some answers. A true simulation has a specific goal in mind—“to mimic, or simulate, a real system so that we can explore it, perform experiments on it, and understand it before implementing it in the real world.” “What is Simulation?.” NovaSim…Logic in Motion. 2003. NovaSim. May 2006

The beauty of simulation is that it provides an immersive learning experience, where skills can actually be developed similar to how we gain experience in the real world. In fact, the goal of an immersive simulation is to create a virtual world the learner will recognize, and then immerse them in situations they are sure to encounter when they get back to work. In a simulation, learners can explore, experiment, and repeatedly apply new skills to unlimited situations making it both a versatile and effective learning method.

Well designed simulations cut away unnecessary detail, complexity, and distractions in an effort to zero in on those critical-to-performance situations. The value of their “cut to the chase” nature is that we don’t have to WAIT for the situation to happen! Simulation can accelerate a path toward skill mastery by serving up situations we need people to be prepared for and then letting them act in a safe environment.

In this environment, learning comes as a result of making decisions and taking action. Learning occurs whether good or poor decisions are made. The advantage of making decisions in a simulated environment is that the consequences are virtually cost free. Furthermore, participants are provided opportunities to try again and receive valuable in-the-moment feedback. Also, whereas the experience obtained in real life may cover a number of years, the experience gained from participating in a simulation is condensed to the duration of a workshop. Learners leave with the feeling of accomplishment and confidence that only comes from having an experience.

The Instructor Benefits Too

Instructing a simulation workshop is very different than a more traditional classroom environment. However, after making some adjustments instructors will realize the benefits of immersive simulation don’t end with the learners. Instructors will be rewarded with truly engaged participants and will have the opportunity to communicate and coach at a deeper level. Instructors making the switch from traditional lecture-based training say them have more fun in the classroom— they get their spark back! Additionally instructors love the visible and immediate feedback they receive when learners demonstrate their understanding of concepts. Simulations can increase engagement and motivation by 50% or more over traditional training methods (Personnel Decisions International, 2005), and this is what instructors strive for.

Benefits of Simulation Learning

  • Accelerates skill development through learning by doing in a risk-free environment
  • Provides learners with realistic and relevant contexts in which to test and develop their understanding, knowledge and competence
  • Practice inherent in simulations, enhances transfer of knowledge to on-the-job performance
  • Immersing learners into situations gives them an experience on which to develop skill and internalize knowledge
  • Interactive, dynamic, engaging and fun through design elements such as graphics, video, audio, storytelling, grounded learning and recognizable environments
  • Provides a flexible learner driven experience that lifts motivation

Bringing Simulation to Your Organization

Immersive simulation learning can be used to develop interpersonal skills as well as technical skills. Results should be measured in after-training-performance, and simulations should be continually improved to ensure relevancy and to adjust for environment changes over time.

Learning simulations have a broad range of application from building deep alignment to developing execution capability. The more relevant the simulation is, the more experience learners will gain and the more transferable their new skills we be back to the real world, where performance matters.

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