3 Ways to Use Simulation Training to Bridge the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Investing in training or creating a culture around training is always a smart choice for any trades-based business. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to training. The way technicians learn is just as important as what they learn—everyone has different styles. 

When it comes to creating an effective training program, trainers must consider individual learning methods. 

In many cases, there is a gap between theory (theoretical knowledge) and practice (practical training and experiences). When you move to bridge that space between the two, you need to consider each individual’s learning modality. How people use their senses to process information and learn increases comprehension and feelings of success. 

For example, depending on the individual’s learning preference, the five senses—touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell—transmit information differently to the brain. The brain then uses this information to process and learn from it. 

There are four learning modalities to consider when you are looking to bridge the gap between theory and practice: 

  • Auditory: Learners rely primarily on the sense of hearing. These individuals learn best by listening, repeating to a friend, and engaging in discussions.
  • Kinesthetic: Learners thrive by doing. These learners need the opportunity to move because they primarily learn through hands-on activity. This type of learning style may also be known as tactile learning. They differ slightly because tactile learners need to use their hands when learning, whereas kinesthetic learners need to incorporate body movement. 
  • Read/Write: Learners rely primarily on reading and writing to process information. They may prefer reading notes, handouts, or textbooks—they may also benefit by note-taking.
  • Visual: Learners primarily use the sense of sight and prefer to learn with visual aids. Visual aids might include charts, graphics, lesson outlines, and PowerPoints.

Some individuals learn best by instilling a combination of these learning modalities. 

The best training program targets multiple modalities and uses various tools, like videos and activities that engage different senses and skills throughout the lesson. But customized training at scale is not easy—it’s time-consuming, difficult to assess skill levels, and likely requires many resources to tailor training. 

Simulation training—a true-to-life learning environment that mirrors real-life work and scenarios—has repeatedly improved student outcomes and is a great addition to what you are doing to put theory into practice. 

What is Simulation Training?

Simulation training provides realistic opportunities for technicians to engage in learning that requires making independent decisions and realizing the results of their responses in a safe, controlled environment. This immersive training style provides learning that mimics real-world experiences with guided ones and can be applied across many different fields. 

For example, highly skilled, hands-on workers like military personnel, surgeons, and aircrew have been using simulation training for years to improve their skills and apply the theory they have learned in the classroom. When coupled with on-the-job learning, simulation training for skilled trade workers is highly effective because it engages technicians with field-like scenarios while providing trainers with a resource to assess how well their team is putting theory into practice. 

Building Proficiencies

Technicians build both knowledge and cognitive skill sets when they use simulation training. Grounded in theory, simulation training is a sound method for preparing technicians for complex fieldwork. It allows technicians to take the theoretical knowledge they learned in the classroom or training lab and put it into practice in a simulated environment. This type of learning provides a powerful ‘flywheel effect.’ 

Originally adapted by Jim Collins, the flywheel effect indicates that small wins build on each other over time and eventually gain so much momentum that growth happens by itself. This concept can be applied to learning—especially when theory is complemented with simulation training—and how it builds momentum. Technicians can develop skills as they move through various stages similar to how we must walk and then jog before we can run. 

Here are three ways you can use simulation training to help bridge the gap between theory and practice. 

#1: Learning to Walk: Training Mode

Before technicians can ‘run’ in the field, they must learn to walk. But teaching new technicians with little to no experience in the field can be difficult. And depending on their learning style, teaching exclusively theory might not be feasible. 

Simulation training can replicate aspects of the real world in an interactive manner that immerses learners in the learning environment. During the ‘walk’ training mode, learners are guided through the diagnostic process with step-by-step instructions. 

Typically, a trainer does this by first identifying and guiding learners through simulation conditions. This process is similar to having an instructor with them in the field, showing them first-hand how to perform a technique. Additionally, you can use simulation training to pause learning and evaluate performance at any moment. This enables you to check in with trainees and help them overcome challenges before they become problematic.

#2: Starting to Jog: Challenge Mode

Once a trainee has learned to walk, they can then pick up the pace to a metaphorical ‘jog.’ During the jog phase, the training wheels aren’t gone quite yet, but learners are applying the theory to a guided scenario. 

Simulation training mimics real-world environments and enhances the practice journey. You can enhance learning by using a procedure guide constructed in both real and digital spaces. Then use simulation training to provide a secure and controlled environment where learners may experiment, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes without suffering real-world repercussions.

#3: Picking the Pace up to a Run: Assessment Mode

The training wheels are removed during the run phase, and there is no more guided instruction. This is where you pair theory with practice to test how learners have retained everything.

There are six levels of retention. 

  1. Remember: The learner memorizes and recalls factual information about the subject matter.
  2. Understand: The learner interprets, compares, and explains the subject matter.
  3. Apply: The learner implements or executes the subject matter. 
  4. Analyze: The learner organizes, selects, distinguishes, and deconstructs the subject matter. 
  5. Evaluate: The learner detects, monitors, tests, or critiques the subject matter. 
  6. Create: The learner designs or constructs new knowledge based on the subject matter. 

Depending on the technician’s level of retention, you can use simulation training to customize their learning and place them in a specific role within a situation. You can create situations that are difficult or dramatic because simulation training offers limited risk, in an always-on environment. 

You might also create unknown faults and require trainees to employ a diagnostic process they previously learned—allowing them to diagnose a specific scenario and troubleshoot effectively to achieve successful completion. Using simulation training to help technicians ‘run’ ensures learners have varied viewpoints, engages them as if they were in the field, and improves troubleshooting.

Reflection Phase

Once trainees have made their way through walking, jogging, and running, they reach the reflection phase. The reflection phase is where learners self-examine their progress, feedback, and performance data. During this stage, they’ll review and discuss feedback with you to identify areas they need to revisit and shore up knowledge and skills.

Through structured reflection, technicians understand their experiences and identify the positive outcomes or learnings gained from simulation training. The data and results provided from simulation training help you understand their unique skill sets and identify areas for improvement more effectively.

Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Not only does simulation training make learning engaging and convenient, but it enables instructors to offer multi-modality training with less time and resources invested.

Here’s how simulation training benefits your technicians: 

  • Custom pathways to develop skills: Simulation training assessments analyze skill progression and tailor learning. Interplay has a team dashboard that monitors learning progress and enables instructors to access valuable data.
  • Enhanced learning journeys: Simulation training allows you to enhance learning journeys by providing fun and engaging learning opportunities that can be done anytime, anywhere. Interplay takes this training a step further and applies the science behind how people learn best, equipping them with both the knowledge and cognitive skills they need to solve problems in the moment. 
  • Continuous learning: Simulation training makes it easy to flip the classroom and provides ongoing opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge in practice scenarios. You can assign foundational courses for techs to take before onsite instruction—leaving you with more time for deeper learning. 
  • Low-risk environments: Simulation training creates field-like experiences without the risk to technicians or equipment. They engage students in safe, “real-world” scenarios where they can learn hands-on and improve troubleshooting skills in a no-fail environment. 
  • Scalable: Simulation training allows trainers to scale easily and drive learning consistency across various locations. Through Interplay, you can assess the skill levels of all of your technicians and utilize customized learning pathways and simulations to drive scalable growth. 
  • Effective: Simulation training allows you to improve troubleshooting capabilities by helping your technicians develop both the knowledge and cognitive skills they need to diagnose and troubleshoot more effectively, which in turn, reduces callbacks. 

Tapping Into Interplay’s Simulation Expertise

To meet the increasing demands of the skilled trades, trainers and service managers need to equip their technicians with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. As businesses look for new ways to create engaging training that bridges the gap between theory and practice, simulation training continues to be one of the most powerful.  

Interplay’s simulation training paired with our unique learning methodology helps technicians develop and retain cognitive processing skills to more effectively solve problems in the field. We have designed our simulation training to equip technicians with the knowledge they need and the skills required to bridge the theory-practice gap, leading to a more confident, efficient, and strong-performing team. 

Interplay Learning’s immersive online and VR training platform for HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and more, includes expert-led video courses, hands-on 3D simulations, skills assessments, and custom learning paths to upskill advanced technicians and help new technicians be job-ready in weeks, not years.