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focus_Leveraging Simulation-Based Technology in Training

Leveraging Simulation-Based Technology in Training

By Gayle Shaw-Hones

Traditionally, professional expertise was believed to be the key to expert performance. To be considered an expert, people were required to demonstrate mastery of specific knowledge and skills, and their performance was measured in terms of experience and reputation. However, research has shown that the real key to expert performance is deliberative practice (DP).

What is DP? In a 2008 article, published in Academic Emergency Medicine, K. Anders Ericsson defined DP as training that focused on improving particular tasks through the use of problem solving and evaluation, immediate feedback, and opportunities for repeated performance. Ericsson believes the same training methods used to develop expert performance in areas like music and sports can be used to develop expert performance in other areas.

This idea is not new to the sales training industry. For years, professional performance was built on the concept of role play. Reps were flown in for a one or two-day workshop during which they received new information and then practiced delivering that information in a variety of scenarios. They then flew back to their territories to practice what they had learned. But that was a long time ago and the training world has changed significantly since then. For example, while the best place for a rep to be is in the field (as opposed to in a workshop), practicing on actual customers is not a great idea.

Then came the technological revolution. Training could now be delivered in a digital format that offers reps the ability to learn on the job and in the field. But as learning technologies evolved, so did the modern learner. According to research by Deloitte, the modern learner is often overwhelmed, distracted and impatient. In fact, many learners only have 1 percent of a typical work week to focus on training and development – including practice. This new reality is the impetus behind the current approach of learning in the moment of need. The key tenets of this approach require training to be:

• Personalized: Learner-centric, based on demonstrated learner needs.

• On-demand: Available in the moment of need.

• Behavior-focused: Drive required behaviors through real-world practice.

• Fast and simple: Effective, efficient, measurable learning.

• Data-driven: Provide metric-based coaching about learner performance.

So how best to meet these demands? Simulation training uses a “synthetic” practice environment to teach competencies to learners and improve their performance. Simulation training enables learners to acquire new knowledge and to practice applying new skills all within realistic contexts. It can accelerate the development of professional expertise while providing a complex model of reality that allows learners to practice the skills they need in a relatively risk-free environment.

We, as learning leaders, are constantly exploring how to leverage the power of simulation while striving to accelerate learning, improve outcomes and measure the impact of that training. Simulation allows learners to learn and practice skills in a risk-free environment.

Another example is using story-driven learning, which has been shown to improve understanding and retention. It places the learner into a real-world story as the main character. This story unfolds based on the decisions that learners make. Research shows that by making decisions and experiencing consequences, both optimal and suboptimal, learners will improve their ability and confidence to apply their knowledge in real life situations – which is the goal of training. A well-designed simulation should be short in duration, typically 10 minutes or less, and have data capture capabilities providing actionable insights to organizations that assess improvement and that identify needs.

It is also important to consider using a branching logic model that allows for adaptive, experiential learning. This not only benefits learners but also provides the ability to create all types of activities based on different learning models, for example spaced learning, flipped classroom or blended learning. Perhaps most importantly, the learning experience must be engaging and interesting for learners, which is most easily accomplished with a story-based, branched logic model.

A learning experience should not stop with completion, it should entail a design to collect metrics that will help learning leaders measure business impact and identify gaps to help enable personalized learning plans. Strategic metrics enable leaders to quantify the value of training and the long-term improvements that can be correlated with effective learning experiences.

Metrics that help leaders better understand not only the choices made by the learners throughout the simulation, but also the drivers of those decisions (and behaviors) are the most effective.

It’s time to bring agility, personalization and measurement to training design as a best practice. We need designers and trainers that not only bring content expertise but also deliver a learning experience that allows for deliberate practice to improve suboptimal behaviors while reinforcing optimal behaviors.


Gayle Shaw-Hones, RN, Ph.D., is director of learning and development for Kynectiv. Email Gayle at

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