Gamification, virtual reality, augmented learning — these are e-learning hot topics that generated a lot of discussions lately. They all come with the big promise of keeping learners engaged, allowing them to interact with the learning materials, thus supporting their better retention of new knowledge. That's every instructional designer supreme goal.
One similar tool that seems to get left behind in all these discussions is the simulation. Perhaps this happens because simulations tend to be more expensive than most games, as their application is not that mainstream — it's not feasible for all companies in all industries to turn to simulations for their training.
Another reason could be that simulations don't bring along the same novelty factor that AR and VR do. In fact, simulations are decades old learning tools. The Link Trainer, the flight simulation device, was created in 1929! And if you're a fan of the outer space, you may remember the successful failure from 1970 that was Apollo 13 Space Mission, and that Ken Mattingly spent most of his time in a spacecraft simulator, working towards safely bringing back the crew. Well, at least in the film he did that.
What exactly is a training simulation?
In a few words, a simulation is a replica of reality. It's a specialized software program with highly realistic and interactive features, and can can be integrated in a learning platform. A training simulation allows adult learners to practice complex and risky real world activities in a secure online environment.
Risk is a very important keyword here. A lot of learning on the job happens through trial and error. But some jobs can't afford that. One single mistake could have enormous costs, both material and human. In critical situations where data is incomplete or unreliable, failure is not an option. Even the best people need to be trained in making the right decisions, and simulations provide the best solution for this.
Practical uses of simulations in training
Training simulations can be created to respond to the needs of various companies in various industries, from manufacturing and agriculture, to heavy industries or services. Employees can learn through a simulation how to change the ink cartridge in a printer, how to get the perfect mixture for the most durable wall paint, how to operate a sewing machine, and even how to make cakes for special events.
But the industries that opt for training simulations are the ones that expose their employees, their clients, or even random citizens to high risks — physical or of other kinds. Here are just a few examples:
Spacecraft simulations. A limited number of people actually go to outer space, but that's because a team of hundreds work together to make this happen. Simulations offer astronauts the chance to learn how to operate their spacecraft before they leave the atmosphere.
Flight simulations. The crash of a plane with hundreds of people on board is a disaster. Yet planes are still the safest means of transportation on earth. Airplane pilots are trained with simulations, where they can learn to make the best decisions through trial and error. When they take off in real life, they'll know to avoid any error they made during simulations, and have a safe landing.
Driving simulations. When two cars collide less people die than in an plane crash, but the possibility of human loss should be as close to zero as possible in all driving situations. Things get even more complicated when we're talking about trucks transporting dangerous materials. Simulations can help all drivers avoid any road accident.
Fire fighting simulations. Fire fighters have one of the most demanding jobs, both physically and mentally. Training simulations help them take the best actions in the best order when they have to deal with real fires.
Gas control simulations. Specialized technicians need to check natural gas pipes for leakages, and any error they make could lead to a serious explosion. A simulation offers a safe environment to learn to perform each of their risky tasks, which will leave no room for errors when they have to do it in real life.
Damage prevention simulations. Every corner supermarket gets at least part of its merchandize from overseas. The warehouses where shipping containers are loaded and unloaded must always be safe. Water sprinklers must function properly, as well as all the electrical system. Specialized personnel must identify and solve any problem, and in a space so large, they need to be fast. Training simulations support them in becoming great performers as fast as possible.
Medical simulations. The ER allows no "let's sleep on this and see what we come up with in the morning". Patients that get to the ER have no time for that. Medical simulations help both doctors and nurses to take the best actions and save people's lives, when there's no time for hesitation.
Stock market simulations. There may be no physical risks in a stock market investment company, but risk thrives when large sums of money and probabilities get in the same place. Stock market agents have a stressful job handling the risk, and simulations offer them the best environment to lose money without actually losing money. So when they really have to sell or buy stock, they'll make the decision that will bring money.
Training simulations can spread way more than the above examples have suggested. In many cases, their use can literally be a life-saver.