Simulation may be the e-learning “killer app”
By James Lundy, Debra Logan, Kathy Harris
August 29, 2002
Simulation software has been used in equipment service and military applications since the 1980s. Now it is poised to become a mainstream corporate application through e-learning.
What you need to know
Simulation-enabled content can revolutionize learning and accelerate the transfer and application of knowledge. Enterprises should leverage the scalability and immersion characteristics of simulations to accelerate time to competency and depth of competency. By 2006, 70 percent of all off-the-shelf and custom e-learning content will include some application of simulations (0.8 probability).
Enterprises that have invested in e-learning have told Gartner that their biggest payback occurs when they include simulation as part of their overall e-learning curriculum. Simulation will evolve to become the “killer application” for e-learning. Interest in simulation is increasing for several reasons. Research with adult learners consistently shows learning is most effective in problem-solving or hands-on situations. Simulations bring students closer to the real experience than do simple unidirectional (teacher or courseware to student) instructional techniques. Technology is now available (and continuing to evolve) that enables enterprises to build simulations that are complex, visually stimulating, interactive and provide immediate feedback. Finally, Web capabilities-such as collaborative commerce applications, rich media (audio-conferencing and videoconferencing) and network connectivity-can enable rich, complex simulations to be extended across enterprise boundaries.
Gartner has identified seven categories of simulation:
Animation or spatial simulation
If-then process simulation
“What-if” interactive models
Virtual reality or immersive simulation
Simulation-based learning provides benefits in five key areas:
1. Accelerated learning: Simulation can reduce the time to competency and increase the depth of competency. Studies have shown that simulation can make a student proficient at a skill four to six months earlier than those who took a training class but had no application of the knowledge.
2. Scalability: Simulations are highly scalable, which can lead to increased throughput in learning programs. Computer-based simulations allow more people to be trained in a shorter time frame than the traditional method of learning in hands-on labs.
3. “Anywhere” access: Simulations enable students to practice exercises repeatedly and from any location. This is particularly useful for skills that need to be practiced on or with equipment.
4. Lower costs: Simulation can provide significant cost savings. If test equipment is mission-critical or expensive, simulating it can be a real money saver.
5. Increased attention span: An increased attention span means an increased likelihood of the student completing the course work: Interactivity holds the learner’s attention longer than unidirectional instruction. Increasing the intensity and time of the student’s attention improves the quality and the retention of learning.
Applications of Simulations in the Learning Process
Simulations can be used throughout the learning process to improve teaching and learning practices.
1. Teaching: Key areas where simulations can improve teaching include supervisory skills (role-playing), customer service skills (what-if interactive models, role-playing), maintenance and repair (animation, spatial simulation, virtual reality) and certifications (hands-on practice).
2. Planning: Administrators may use the modeling forms of simulation for curriculum planning or analysis, and students may use what-if scenarios and models to evaluate the time required to complete a course of study.
3. Testing or progress evaluation: Key uses of simulations include testing, evaluation and certification.
4. Collaboration: Simulating classroom interactions (for example, using icons for each class member, employing group games) can improve the adoption of and attention to e-learning. These, in turn, improve learning as well as retention.
Outlook for Corporate Use
Adding simulations to e-learning content and curricula is an investment worth considering. Simulations can be done by custom content providers or in-house development staff using general-purpose authoring tools such as those from Macromedia. Tools and services are emerging that should lower the cost of developing simulations. The majority of these tools focus on specific types of training, such as IT and sales; but once proven, they will be applied more broadly. A number of tools are now available for simulating software training.
Enterprises can also consider vendors of simulation authoring tools that allow system dynamics or other processes to be modeled and simulated. The Simulab project created under the Telematics in Education and Training program is a tool for building role-based scenarios focused on language learning. Simentor, a tool from Access Technologies Group, focuses on simulating sales scenarios. The readiness of these tools for mainstream corporate use varies. Those that are the most well-developed focus on a narrow curriculum area.
In the corporate environment, IT and sales force training have long been the focus of e-learning development. Consequently, these areas will have earlier access to and better-developed simulation tools. However, enterprises should expect the application of simulation techniques to expand throughout the business environment. They should also expect that high-cost or high-risk professional or service jobs will also be good candidates for early application of simulations.
Enterprises should expect that simulation design and construction will be complex and time-consuming. Building a curriculum that is rich in simulations will require new skills among course designers, instructors and students. Costs of enterprises’ early work will be high. Service providers are available to assist enterprises in developing simulations. A viable option is to outsource the initial simulation work while building or acquiring the needed competencies and experience.
Which technologies will best support the learning needs of knowledge workers?
Simulation May Be Your E-Learning ‘Killer Application’
By James Lundy | Debra Logan | Kathy Harris
First published August 19, 2002