Thursday, May 31, 2012

Using Games for Training

On the flight from Michigan to Minneapolis last week, I came across an article in Delta Sky magazine which described how corporations such as Chick-fil-A, Cargill, and Cold Stone Creamery are using simulations to train their employees. For example, Cold Stone Creamery uses a game-based simulation in which employees get points based on their ability to serve the right portion size and the speed with which they serve customers. Simulators are also used extensively in safety-critical domains such as medicine, military, aviation, space, and nuclear power to train key skills to operators.

Ever wondered what the fidelity of a simulator should be? In very simple terms, fidelity refers to the extent to which a simulation mimics the real world. Fidelity includes equipment, audio-visual, physical, motion, and cognitive fidelity.

Flight simulator

The big question is to what extent should a simulator mimic the real world so as to transfer skills to the real world?

The following line of research would imply that higher the simulation fidelity, the better the transfer.
  • Transfer of training occurs between tasks only if the tasks are similar or have common task elements. In Thorndike and Woodworth’s classic study, very little transfer was found when participants were asked to estimate areas of triangles, rectangles, or irregular figures after being trained on estimating areas of rectangles of a different size.
  • Skill retention is believed to be enhanced by increasing the similarity between the learning and retention environments.
  • Learning is context-dependent. In the classic Godden and Baddeley study, divers who learned a list of words on land and underwater recalled better when both learning and recall took place in the same environment.

Contradicting the above line of research, there is also evidence that suggest that a simulator does not have to replicate the real world in it’s entirely. That is, as long as the training and transfer environment share the same cognitive processing strategies and goals, skill transfer will occur. In fact, if all training was indeed context-specific, will we be able to apply anything that we learn in everyday life?

The following steps will help guide the design of a simulator.
  • Start with a cognitive task analysis of the procedure that you want to train operators on. That is, break down the overall procedure into constituent steps.
  • Next, identify the criticality of each step in the procedure.
  • Incorporate performance metrics for each of the critical steps, in the simulator.
  • Finally, establish the construct validity of the simulator by showing that the simulator is able to distinguish the performance levels of experts and novices.

Photo credit Bruce McVicar via Wikimedia Commons.