Skill acquisition in children is achieved through repetition. In order to motivate such repetition, while maximizing the number of new situations that child encounters, juvenile mammals have evolved the concept of “play”. Despite our natural tendency to pick up skills via play – which is arguably little more than abstracting real life situations, simulating them, and competing for results – educational systems developed based on ideologies and untested “laws” have not used “play” to its fullest potential. As education moves towards an experiment-oriented science, we are seeing more and more positive results using play not only for children, but also in adult education. I argue that simulation, especially ‘motivated’ simulation is indistinguishable from play, and shares the same pedagogical benefits, and you don’t need to take my word for it – an entire industry has sprung up under the catch-all phrase of “gamification” that attempts to monetize the motivational aspects of play in corporate settings, and with the goal of increased productivity.
Education has come a long way in the past few centuries. For the general population skills have been traditionally acquired during apprenticeships. With the industrial revolution and widespread primary education, this moved partially to classrooms, although the content of such education started to divert from productive skills to theoretical knowledge. Cheap books allowed for self-study, and libraries in large cities promoted it especially among scholars, but here too, most books nurtured theoretical rather than practical knowledge. When computers started to enter homes, there was new hope that the power of multimedia and simulations will allow for accelerated learning in schools, industry and everyday life, however, when Computer-Based Teaching didn’t deliver on it’s promise many concluded that new media could not replace entrenched traditional methods of education – others tried to find out why CBT had failed its promise. Some of the better studied reasons include:
- Lack of motivation using e-Learning, and
Besides the cost of technology, motivation and the requirement for teachers/trainers to control the learning experience are two major factors holding e-Learning back, and Simulations along with some elements of competitions and game design are perfectly poised to solve those problems. The chart below shows the generally accepted performance comparison with regards to known learning platforms:
- Simulators allow users to be motivated by their unique ability to instantly gauge the user’s success or failure, and provide extrinsic motivation (e.g. through awards, points, etc.) and intrinsic motivation by allowing a the user to experience and learn in a safe environment isolated from real-world pressures. Once skills are learned, other challenges such at time limits, equipment limits, etc. can be added to the simulation.
- Software-based simulators can be run repeatedly by the user with no incremental cost to the operator.
- The instant feedback offered by simulators maximizes learning and memory retention.
- Testing for skill acquisition or certification can easily be embedded in the simulator – no additional paper- or computer-based test will be necessary to gauge if the user has learned the skills.
- Since simulators can be made to closely resemble the real world, they offer a good one-to-one basis for acquiring skills. Audio-visual and functional parity with real-world equipment and environments ensures transferability of skills to real-world situations.
- Retention of skills can be maximized by keeping the user interested in part due to the high motivation levels that can be achieved with simulators. Additionally, simulation-based training can be accessed at any time in the user’s career if they need to brush up on skills.
As can be seen, interactive simulation is the best known solution to training we have come up with so far, and it provides the highest level of skill transfer at the lowest cost. Computer software and hardware is advancing at a fast rate, and educational technology will benefit greatly by hitching a ride on this progress.