Top Five Reasons to use Simulators for Training

Software based simulators, have been used extensively in the past 30 year in the aerospace industry and tactical and strategic training in the military. The availability of cheap processing power and capable graphics, and the introduction of low-cost multi-platform capable graphics engines have allowed a variety of industries to develop their own simulators at a fraction of the cost possible only a decade ago. As the next generation of IT-savvy employees enter the workplace, simulators will prove to be the dominant form of knowledge transfer, and there are many good reasons why. Here are the top five reasons to use simulators in training and knowledge transfer scenarios:

  1. 1

    Many studies into the efficacy of simulators have lauded the improved effectiveness of trainees who used interactive simulators vs traditional approaches.

    Some of these studies are listed here:

    Virtual Reality Integrated Welder Training

    A Comparison of Three Training Methods for Acute Pediatric Emergencies

    Enriching HLA: Integrating HLA Simulation and SCORM Instruction using Simulation-based Intelligent Training and Assesment

    The Impact of Flight Simulation in Aerospace

    An interesting trend shows that while articles and studies from before 1980 demonstrate little improvement in using simulators over conventional training methods, as we move forward in time, simulation based training efficiency is rising. This can be attributed to both better simulators, and to the audience being acquainted with user interfaces. This trend will continue, as the next generation of millennials who use computers in regularly enter the workforce.

  2. 2
    Low Cost per User

    Back in the 80’s any company trying to implement a simulator for a specific task would be coughing up millions, and development times were on the order of three to five years. Today, graphic engines are very cheap to buy or license, and a growing number of software developers are using them daily. 3D content creation has also advanced considerably in the past decade. If you have a simple task like operating and repairing a household AC system, or teaching the basics of car engine repair you could create a custom interactive simulator on a $50K~100K$ budget. Obviously, higher mechanical, visual and simulated fidelity raises the cost, but the starting price is still a small fraction of what it would cost to set up a training center or attempt to directly mentor trainees.


  3. 3
    Instant Feedback

    A well-executed simulator provides users with instant feedback on their performance – in a flight simulator pilots will be warned if they pull high-G’s while maneuvering, in political simulators wars will tear apart nations if the user fails at negotiating. This instant feedback is a feature of the real world, and can be even accentuated in simulators. With non-interactive training methods, this feedback does not exist until the trainee actually enters service, and maybe not even for years after or until it is too late. Disasters like the Three Mile Island accident could have been prevented if adequate simulation scenarios with instant feedback had been available to operators of the plant.

    Feedback in simulators can be in the form of realistic reactions from the environment or AI, popup warning messages, Alarms, or detailed reports and explanations of the users’ every mistake, but in all cases the function of instant feedback, whether positive or negative, is to facilitate learning and increase motivation. The level of feedback attainable with interactive simulations is more comprehensive than any other teaching method including direct one-on-one mentoring.


  4. 4

    Once a simulator has been developed the cost of training per user drops significantly with every new trainee. Software based simulators are extremely scalable, and have low setup and maintenance costs. A well-executed software based  simulator can be deployed to almost any hardware platform, including PCs, tablets and smartphones or game console. This saves millions in training expenses and lost resources due to preventable employee mistakes in the workplace, and improves employee participation, life-long learning prospects, motivation and competitiveness.

    Simulators that require specific hardware (e.g. full cockpit simulators), provide additional training value, but do have recurring operational costs, and since the training time per user is limited, are not as scalable. Costs associated with custom hardware simulators are prone to fall as cheap generic hardware controls and interfaces become available in the gaming, and “Internet of Things” industries.

  5. 5

    Simulators can be extended and modified to cover future needs. Software-based simulators in particular, comprised entirely of software code, can easily be upgraded to cover future needs. This allows companies to deploy and train on their simulators while the final simulated product is still in the design phase. The feedback from trainees can even improve the hardware product itself when simulators are used early in the design process.

    A common misconception is that in order to simulate a complex machine, a large amount of physically correct software code needs to be written, and thus any modification to the hardware simulated will require large changes to code. Quiet to the contrary, modern software design dictates modularity from start to finish, and physics engines based on approximation are widely available. Modern development tools and methodologies, allow for rapid prototyping and iteration and software teams can easily match the pace of manufacturing teams.