How to Develop a Training Simulation

Article excerpt

TRAINING SIMULATIONS CAN MAKE ON-THE-JOB LEARNING FASTER AND SAFER BY PROVIDING HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE AND CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENTS. HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR ASSESSING THE COSTS AND DESIGNING AN EFFECTIVE SIMULATION.

There are some things people just can't learn from words or pictures. For example, when a job task requires an operator to manipulate the work environment, he or she must actually see the consequences of each action in order to learn how to complete the task successfully. In some situations, it can be costly and even dangerous to let inexperienced operators practice with real systems. In such cases, simulations can provide safe, controlled environments in which to learn.

First, it is important to define terms. A simulation is a model of a process or activity. A simulator mimics the controls, methods, and consequences of actions performed by operators. Simulations can be supported by tutorials, but they are definitely hands-on training experiences.

Here are some examples of training simulations:

* An operator of a computerized imaging system views recorded images on a computer screen, using simulator controls to examine the images. The training objective is to classify the imaged objects. The simulator controls mimic all of the functions of the actual system used in the operator's work environment.

* In a continuous-process-control environment, a worker operates a simulator to learn how to make timely decisions using a conceptual model or game. The simulator functions according to the same rules as the actual work system.

* A medical student interviews a hospital staff member who has been trained to simulate the symptoms of a specific disease. The simulation provides the student with experience in diagnosing, collecting, and understanding patient information.

Four kinds of simulations

There are four kinds of simulations. One kind helps participants learn the psychomotor and perceptual aspects of a task as it is performed in real-world situations. For example, in a flight simulation, trainee pilots practice visual and motor coordination as well as task sequences, in response to cues from the simulator.

In another kind of simulation--called cognitive-task simulation--trainees learn the concepts and abstractions that underlie the rules and principles governing their work environments. Because these simulations focus on thinking processes, they don't represent real-world situations as accurately as simulations of psychomotor and perceptual tasks. An example of a cognitive-task simulation is a stock-market game.

A third kind of simulation--for tasks involving communication and coordination--represents one of the newest and most exciting applications. Several trainees can perform at one time in different roles as part of a simulation of a work system; the actions of each participant are shown at the other trainee stations. This application can be used in tasks ranging from planning marketing strategies to managing nuclear power plants. In the near future, system simulations may train workers in understanding the implications of their actions on co-workers and may show them how to work effectively in organizations with far-flung operations.

A fourth kind of simulation--using virtual-reality technology--is still in its infancy as a training tool. Virtual-reality systems try to achieve total-sensory simulation through the use of special headgear and electronic gloves. Trainees wear goggles fitted with small computer screens on which they view the target environment, which they experience in three-dimensional images. As the trainees look or move in different directions, the virtual-reality simulator mirrors their moves on the goggle screens. Trainees can actually reach into, interact with, and manipulate the environment electronically. No matter which kind of simulation is best for your training task, the steps for deciding whether to use a simulation and how to design one are the same. …