The provision of meaningful interactive courseware is one of the main challenges that face providers of elearning.
Creating platforms that allow learners to actively participate in the learning process should always be the primary focus of learning professionals, but these platforms should always strive to be as pertinent as possible to the nature of the business in question. Simulations can be the absolute ideal when it comes to integrating managed learning systems into an online course, as they can create the very best models for complex, meaningful interactivity for learners.
The Benefits of Good Simulation
Good simulations accurately model real workflow systems. What’s so great about them is they increase learners’ confidence and competence in a controlled environment, allowing safe practices to be instilled and the risk of errors to be reduced before the learner moves to apply his or her new skills in the actual working environment.
Simulations act as dress rehearsals to the real event, where it’s absolutely safe (and should perhaps even be encouraged) for many mistakes to be made so that lessons can be learned, without the individual or the company coming to any actual harm.
The ability to perform skills in high pressure environments can be the making or breaking of an employee and/or the company that they work for. Therefore, providing simulations that mimic the genuine pressures of the workplace – including time and resources – can be pretty much invaluable to almost any company, but especially those that run in a high-pressured environment.
What’s more, and on a slightly less critical note (although equally valuable) is that simulations can allow users to manipulate the myriad input variables of any given situation, which will inevitably alter the system behaviours, and then they can monitor the results. Hypotheses can be tested in this manner, feedback can be given from peers, managers and learning professionals alike, all with the knowledge that all actions are performed without direct consequence to the company, with it only being in the pursuit of learning that risks are taken and mistakes are made.
If you consider these elements, the benefits of a simulation over a static image (a diagram in a text book for instance) or even a video speak for themselves. Users of simulations naturally deepen their understanding of the learning content, simply through physically and mentally engaging with the experience in real time.
Factoring In Teaching and Learning Styles
It is, of course, a simple fact that not everybody teaches in the same way, and neither do they learn in the same way. Honey and Mumford (1992) suggest that there are four different stages in learning, and that each learner will have a preference for one stage over the other three. Learners, therefore, are grouped into four categories:
- Activists – those who prefer a hands-on approach to learning
- Theorists – those who like to think ideas through logically
- Pragmatists – those who always link what they learn to real life
- Reflectors – those who need to take time to reflect on what they’re learning
Not everyone is an activist, however what’s learned through simulations can be equally processed by all types of learners, even if they prioritise reflection or theory over practicality or action.
Teachers differ too. Some prefer the role of absolute controller of the learning and information, whilst others prefer to facilitate the learner by helping them reach their own understanding of the subject matter in their own way and in their own time. This will always be down to the individual learning professional when it comes to simulations, these styles are likely to be reflected in the way in which tasks are set – the pedagogue may want to break things down into bite-sized sections, whereas the facilitator will more likely allow the whole simulation to take place and the time for thought and reflection to follow afterwards. Either way, simulations are quite readily manipulated to fall in line with different teaching and learning styles.
The Issue of Collaborative Interactivity
One of the key factors of the elearning experience is that it allows learners to access content remotely, in their own time and at their own convenience. The caveat always is, however, that they learn alone, always separated from their peers by time and physical distance. Communication, therefore, is always absolutely essential and to be encouraged so as students can still feel the benefits of community interaction, even though they are all working remotely.
This issue is of exceptional importance when introducing a simulation into an elearning course. All learners, as well as tutors, must be able to share the simulation if they’re to communicate meaningfully about it. Since simulations need to happen, generally speaking, to a working model of a real-time experience (albeit a mock-up of a perceived real life event), the organisation of synchronised simulations need to be given some rather focused attention. Group synchronised simulations, however, when implemented and controlled properly, can open the gateway for group experiential learning, exploring multiple perspectives and the development of collaborative learning and the sharing of alternative views.
The potential of interactive simulations in elearning is at present largely unrealised at present. However, it is gradually gaining more and more traction as technologies continue to adapt, and should always be taken into serious consideration when designing elearning initiatives for businesses.
Kerry Butters is a published author & writer on all things web design, development, tech, SEO, social media & more for some of the world's leading sites.