Dylan Marks

SSP205, Spring 2005

Commentary on Simulation in Education


Simulation Uses in Education

Simulation use in education has potential in two areas as far as I can tell.  The first being a replacement model for real world experiences.  The article “A Model Patient” by “Jerome Groopman” reflects this usage and has many advantages including not putting real world elements at risk (humans).  The other being a tweaking simulation model in which a student can learn underlying theories based on exploration.  Of course this method is more suitable for a classroom environment but has its limitations.


Replacing real world models

The obvious usage for simulated models in a medical school is so they can replace real human subjects and take them out of the hands of the inexperienced.  By doing this medical students have the opportunity to practice a certain procedure or general diagnosis dozens or even hundreds of times.  The vast number of runs and data that can be gathered by simulations is a quality that has been hailed about them.

Replacing humans for safety reasons is not the only advantage of these simulations though.  In the Groopman’s article there is a fascinating statistic claiming that students who learned by simulations completed their real operations 29 percent faster and hesitated less during the process.  I have two theories that may account for this. 

First the simulation represents a simplified model and contains only essential elements to the task at hand, while all other non-essential variables, elements, etc. are removed so the students can focus on what is important.  When operation time comes around, simulation students focus on the simulation model they have learned and are able to ignore the rest of the elements that are around them. Non-Simulation students are dealing with a more complicated situation in their model.  They have supervisors looking over them as well as a more complicated model of the human. They have also not experienced independent operations dozens of times before.  Their confidence is lower and their fear of failure is much higher.  This leads to the second theory.

There is an issue of de-sensitizing experiences through simulations.  I know growing up and playing flight simulators I became used to the experiences of doing hard turns regardless of g’s.  Upon actually flying a small plane with an instructor I had no fear in mimicking my simulation experiences of hard turning and the instructor was more than impressed.  The same is true of the medical students who had learned off of simulation.  The traditional fears that come with operating are no longer there. Simulation students have experienced these situations dozens of times before and are thus de-sensitized.


Tweaking and Exploring Simulation Models

This method is touted as a way for students to learn underlying theories through exploration.  They can have fun while enforcing knowledge at their own pace. But as the Squire paper explains the instructor must goes over what the student has learned. The simulation is programmed in such a way that basic concepts can be learned through attaining a goal. 

In elementary school I would play simulator games that involved plants.  The game required tweaking of variables to attain goals of plant growth. I can say that I learned basic concepts about trying to attain the goal but nothing telling me why these variables made the model work differently.  The Squire paper explains that this is where the instructor would come in to teach the kids why.

The simulation only provides a way to view patterns with cause and effects relationships.  In the way of factual learning I believe it would be faster to teach the kids the material, and perhaps have these simulations as a way to reinforce what they have learned and not an initial learning tool.



Groupman, J. (2005). A model patient: Howsimulators are changing the way doctors are trained. The New Yorker, 81(May 2): 48-54.

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Simulations and Gaming, 2(1).