To simulate or not to simulate?

Article, Corina Lechin No Comments

Corina Lechin | March 23, 2012

Today’s games and simulations allow one to see, be, and experience anything programmers and graphic artists can create.

Skyrim is a great example of a game that allows you have unique experiences. You have free roam over the world and can play the game however you want, from the hardy soldier to the quick thief or even as the vampire with a heart of gold, by having the ability to choose which quests you want to complete, how to complete them, which towns to explore, and you gain the specific skills and abilities you want. You can be whoever your heart desires in this game.

With this type of technology within our reach it is difficult not to become mesmerized by the lights and sounds of games and simulations. It seems the new issue educators have to ask themselves is: To simulate or not to simulate?

I recently encountered this dilemma while creating a new employee training program for drillers. The company I work for creates completely functional virtual worlds allowing new employees, with no prior knowledge or experience, to become aware of and familiar with the drill rig. This training allows new drillers learn the skills and abilities required to complete tasks safely and efficiently.

The problem presented itself when I was designing the training for the part of the task that required the driller to fill in safety checklists before beginning. The checklists don’t require the drillers to be by the drill rig. So I asked myself the question: To simulate or not to simulate?

The question was whether to train those competencies required for completing the checklist virtually or not.

Situated learning theories suggest that teaching is most effective when it is done so through the use of authentic context and activities (Dewey, 1933). Furthermore, Brown et al (1989) argued that teaching skills without context is akin to teaching a new language using only a dictionary.

To reach a decision, James Bohnsack and I weighed the potential effects of breaking immersion, levels of fidelity as well as which context was truly more authentic.

We decided that using a physical checklist would break immersion, which according to Witmer and Singer (1994) is the level of absorption felt by an individual during an activity. Furthermore, it was argued that the virtual checklist had a higher psychological fidelity, which is the “degree to which the simulation replicates the psychological factors experienced in the real-world environment, engaging the trainee in the same manner as the actual equipment in the real world” (Alexander et al 2005). Finally, we decided to use the virtual checklist because it would be embedded in the more authentic environment of a drill site.

So I wonder, although we were able to solve the question, what will the right answer be the next time?


Alexander, A. L., Brunyé, T., Sidman, J. & Weil, S. A. (2005). “From gaming to training: A review of studies on fidelity, immersion, presence, and buy-in and their effects on. transfer in. pc-based simulation and games. Retrieved from Aptima.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Witmer, B. & Singer, M. (1994). Measuring immersion in virtual environments (Tech. Report No. 1014). Alexandria, VA: U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences.

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