The Next Gen of Apprenticeships Need Simulation-Based Learning

Master and an Apprentice

Our methods of teaching have been constantly evolving. A common practice we probably experience today is sitting at rows of tables, receiving information from an instructor (could be a teacher, could be a solar instructor). Good trainers try to include hands-on activity to break up the lectures, but usually time is short, equipment is scarce, and all you get is a taste of what it’s really about.

We have basically evolved from individual apprenticeship to mass education as we moved through the Industrial Revolution, where it became a goal to educate or train as many people as possible as quickly as possible. So instruction became standardized and regularized, everyone had to sit and get the same instruction, regardless of how best they learn individually.

Apprenticeship (or what people in my graduate school education department were calling “legitimate peripheral participation” …! Arrrggghh, PhD lingo!) is probably the most effective and ‘natural’ way for us to learn. You get individual instruction, at your own pace, with adjustments and support based on your own questions, strengths and weaknesses, and preferred methods of learning. And you learn by doing– over and over and over again– progressing from simple tasks to more complex work. You pick up some theory, and hopefully understand why you do what you do, but your body and mind are engaged together.

The main drawbacks are: it is slow; and each apprentice needs a Master [ Yoda: “Always two there are, no more no less. A master and an apprentice”. ] Well, maybe it’s not always 1:1, but the point is you need a lot of instructors if you want to have a lot of apprenticeships going on.

What’s so very exciting about simulation-based training is going to allow us to get back to that ‘natural’ way of learning, without being burdened by its key drawbacks. With simulations at your fingertips (or glove-tips once we are fully into VR), people can engage repeatedly, at their own convenience (evenings, weekends, honeymoons), without having to have expensive or heavy equipment, and can greatly accelerate their mastery. And we can program into the sims the collective wisdom and instruction from many Masters, and make them ‘available upon demand’ in the virtual sim world, replicated as needed, to serve hundreds or thousands of learners.

Of course sim-based learning cannot, and should not, eliminate the need for actual hands-on training with real equipment under the watchful eye of real Masters. But incorporating this modern technology into training programs will enable the limited number of Masters we have in the world to vastly multiply their effectiveness and efficiency. Learners can build skills safely, quickly, inexpensively– relieving the Master of all that preliminary instruction and skill building. When the learners are ready to engage in ‘real world’ training to finish off their mastery, they have already gone ‘from A to M’ and can now more quickly get ‘from N to Z’. Sim-based learning technology is allowing us to come full circle, and return to our roots of natural holistic learning.

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