The Use of Simulations in E-Learning
The development of simulation technology since its origin during WWII has enabled its widespread use in education and training today. Simulations are commonly used as learning tools in sectors such as aviation, medicine where learning through practical experimentation may not always be possible.
Simulations serve as experiential learning programs where a participant is immersed in a world that mirrors reality. The non-linearity of the model ensures greater learning as the participant is forced to make decisions to be successful in completing the simulation successfully.
Simulations have proven to be useful in skill acquisition, concept explanation and the development of critical thinking. Through the use of simulations, abstract and complex concepts can be modeled and demonstrated easily. Learners are also able to engage with the concepts first-hand enabling them to have a better understanding of the subject. The simulations also encourage the use of critical thinking and evaluation. The scenarios are open-ended or ambiguous and allow the students to make decisions by understanding their implications. The situations feel real and allow the students to experience several different playing scenarios and experiment with various strategies without bearing any great losses in reality. The use of simulations thus reduces the damage or expense practical experience may have incurred.
The use of simulations also enables students to better comprehend the ecosystems they will be working with in the future. For instance, in managerial simulations, the participant’s decisions are based on micro and macro environment factors and the decisions will also have implications on the said environment. This enables them to get a holistic picture of how systems work and are mutually interdependent.
Simulations also allow for greater and richer learning experiences as the conditions and difficulty levels of the situations can be altered. This feature can also be used effectively by tutors to measure students’ aptitude and encourage learning through challenges.
Simulations require a feedback loop. This feedback loop makes learning through simulations more effective as candidates can monitor and track performance, progress and access methods for improvement. The feedback is standardized as well as personalised, providing students with extra exercises and activities to overcome their weaknesses. The use of simulation over physical and real activities also is more inclusive, catering to differently-abled people. The content can also be changed and adapted to suit candidates with specific needs.
Though simulation and modelling technology has become economical over the years following advances in technology, designing and developing simulations is still expensive. Before developing one, tutors and trainer have to ensure they know the learning outcomes of the models and what they hope to achieve with those. Only when they are sure of how and when to use the simulating solutions is when they should be developed and incorporated. Developing simulation systems requires heavy investment and proves to be cost-effective only in the long run by accelerating the pace of training and increasing performance post education. They also reduce the time taken to develop and practice skills increasing productivity of educational institutions.
Several studies and experiments have proved the effectiveness of using simulators in training to teach skills and enabling students to move from novice to expert. The effectiveness of the simulations depends mainly on two parameters – the accuracy of the simulator and the feedback system. The accuracy enables students to engage with numerous scenarios that closely mimic real life and provides them with vast, practical hands-on experience. The feedback system needs to be quick, specific and detailed to provide the students with an analysis of their performance, potential improvement points and pointing out their mistakes to ensure wholistic learning. Without corrective feedback, the simulations prove to be useless with no learning taking place.