Can home simulators help you learn and prepare for the real thing?
I was recently catching up with my ‘The Gadget Show’ viewing (I hardly ever watch programmes when they’re scheduled these days so I can forward through the ads) when I pricked up my ears as they mentioned their experiment using home simulators. The task given to Ortis and Jason was to get some intensive use on simulators. Jason was given the task to train to become a martial arts expert using the robotic ‘wooden man’ and Ortis was to learn how to fly (and successfully land) a plan using a home flight simulator. Both had 8 weeks in which to learn before their real life assessment. Jason had to ‘fight’ in competition and Ortis would take to the air.
It seems even when switched off for the weekend, any mention of anything remotely associated with learning or technology can get my little grey cells trembling with excitement so the prospect of an experiment in learning WITH technology – well, they went into overdrive. For the purpose of this post I’m going to take Ortis’ experiment with the flight simulator as my focus.
The experiment claimed that Ortis would learn how to fly using a home simulator which would be tested by him taking the controls of a real Cessna 172 and completing a successful flight and landing. What I really found interesting was that Ortis didn’t just learn by using the home simulator even though that is what we were led to think. During the course of the programme I saw Ortis make use of the following:
- Ortis began by using a ‘Virtual Aviation Experience‘ simulator of a Boeing 737 800NG used to train commercial pilots.
- An initial discussion with a Cessna expert pilot(SME) during which a small model aeroplane was used to explain how the it might behave in the air.
- A job aid in the form of a single sheet with key points, wind speeds, flight plan diagram provided by the expert Cessna pilot to memorise before the final assessment.
- The home flight simulator ‘X-Plane’ the “most sophisticated and realistic flight simulator out there” complete with a purpose built processor and three huge flat screens as well as a variety of flight control peripherals for added realism.
- Access to the mobile version of the X-Plane simulator via the iPad to practise on the move.
- Practise was also undertaken using the TRC472 Simulator and Cabin for even more realism
- He also had access to a printed book to cram for the theory needed.
- Finally he had his observed assessment with the SME sitting beside him who would have been able to step in should there be a real need.
- During his intensive training, he was occasionally observed face to face by the SME who gave feedback and encouragement.
- I also suspect that he would have been able to contact the SME if he had a query at any time during his study.
After his 8 weeks intensive study, Ortis had his first flight and passed with flying colours (pardon the pun) and his comments afterwards were that although he was able to learn all the steps and practise as many times as he needed, there were certain things that couldn’t be replicated to prepare him for the experience. I suspect these would be that although simulators could make the situation feel as real as possible, what was missing was the adrenaline rush; the physical experience of the thermals affecting the plane; the vibration of the controls in your hand and the powerful noise of the engine and air the plane sped through the sky.
So, it seems that one can learn to fly using a home simulator? Yes?….. Hmmmm not quite. It was clear to me that his success was down to more than that home simulator game. The success was down to a great blend:
- He had an initial discussion with an expert and was provided with some key points to take forward
- There was a period of intense study
- There was the opportunity for him to practise over and over again at a time that was convenient
- He had some realistic hands on practise
- He had the opportunity for reflection
- He was provided with a simple job aid / crib sheet
- I also suspect there was access to a subject matter expert for help and advice
Of course Ortis isn’t the only one to benefit from using simulation tools to be the best they can be. Lewis Hamilton’s training regime has involved intensive hands on with computer simulators which allowed him to become so in tune with the tracks that driving it would be instinct.
So, back to the question ‘Can home simulators compare with the real thing’? My answer is ‘not on its own’. Learning in a simulated environment is never like learning in the real environment but we all know it is impossible to do that efficiently. What we can make sure of however, is that applying the right blend of tools for the situation and making sure we don’t compromise on the quality of the learning by using an appropriate mix of learning activities, learning this way can be both engaging and successful.
Oh and how did Jason get on? Well, he also succeeded bu I think he had a rum deal. It looked like he only had the robotic wooden man but boy did it feel real. When he punched and kicked, it punched and kicked back and he lost a tooth to boot.