Education systems, both formal and in the work place, have long been a topic of debate through all levels of their structures. They are debated in governments, through administrations, managers, and teachers, finally bottoming out with the students. It is the students who in the end feel the weight of the system’s decisions for better or worse. Pink Floyd’s popular song “Another Brick in the Wall” paints a somber picture of students turned out of the education system, factory style. They are just bricks, faceless, mindless. It doesn’t matter whether they learned, or what they learned, only that they went through the system! Fortunately, most education systems are not nearly as bleak and meaningless as this song paints them, this doesn’t mean however that they can’t be improved. The power of experiential learning, and simulation, are two potential solutions for improvement. Educators and employers preparing workers for skilled trades have much to benefit from these two approaches to learning.
Experiential learning is the way you learned to talk, to walk, to eat, and accomplish just about every major function of living. There is no debate that learning through experience is a powerful way to retain information. An experience stimulates parts of the brain that are otherwise untapped through other learning methods. This is because experiencing something is done through an array of senses, while other learning methods, (Reading for example) exercise only a few. Research has long shown that everyone learns differently. Some people retain information very well when they hear it, others when they read it. Some people are visual learners, and still others learn by doing. Experiential learning allows an individual to learn in a way that incorporates multiple senses at once and enables multiple learning styles simultaneously. For this reason, learning via experience tends to leave a more lasting impact than other methods.
Experiential learning however is not always practical. It would be foolish to have chemistry students learn dangerous chemical reactions by performing them. Just so it can be dangerous, expensive or impractical to teach all facets of a skilled trade by “trying things out”. You would not have a technician learn that they’ve mounted solar panels incorrectly by letting them slide off the roof! This is where the power of simulation comes into play.
Simulation allows for experiential learning within a controlled and safe environment. Real world behaviors and situations can be modeled in the computer providing a true to life experience. Simulations hold many advantages beyond traditional learning approaches. A situation that is dangerous or expensive may be experienced and repeated over again, however many times are needed. Simulations also allow for layering of information. A simulation lesson may include a 3D environment that is interacted with, additional information in text and audio formats, tests and quizzes, and any other number of additional learning resources. Simulation becomes not only a catch all for different learning types, but a flagship for experiential learning.
In our day of instant information and technological advancement it is hard to picture education and training becoming anything else other than experiential. New technology such as virtual reality promises to deliver on this thought to even a greater degree. This educational revolution will be felt first where it’s needed most, and that is in training the workers of tomorrow. Through simulation and experiencing what they are learning, these students will be better prepared, more skilled, and able to tackle their trade head on. No more “bricks” in the walls of tomorrow.