5 Ways to Avoid Cognitive Overload with Virtual Simulation Training

The Aviation Industry has fully realized the limitations of human processing, better defined as Cognitive Load Theory – meaning that a person has a finite amount of memory which can be overloaded with stimuli or facts and thus become unable to retain or engage new knowledge. Hence, things like “checklists” for every possible emergency scenario which we can see in action from Tom Hanks’ film Sully – where the Pilot and Co-Pilot read a checklist during a no-thrust emergency to ensure all necessary steps are taken. Cognitive Load Theory provides guidance on how to use virtual simulation effectively. Though making a simulation as realistic as possible is important, certain simplifications can actually improve knowledge retention. Simplifying simulations and targeting key focus areas can actually enhance the learning process. The goal should not be to expose a student to every situation they’ll ever come across in one simulation; it should be to expose them to specific information in a controlled series of experiences that achieve the objectives of the training program.

These 5 tips were written by the team from Discovery Machine, creators of RESITE for Healthcare, which enables healthcare professionals to quickly and easily create realistic training scenarios for their healthcare trainees—complete with digital doctors, nurses, patients, medical equipment, beds, rooms—everything found in a hospital setting. RESITE places trainees into an immersive 3D environment that helps them learn faster and see the cause/effect relationship of their decisions and hands-on interaction in real time. With over 16 years in the industry Discovery Machine delivers powerful, proven technology with a friendly, accessible front-end that translates to successful training programs empowered with intelligent interaction.


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Cognitive Load Theory provides guidance on how to use virtual simulation effectively. Though making a simulation as realistic as possible is important, certain simplifications can actually improve knowledge retention. Simplifying simulations and targeting key focus areas can actually enhance the learning process. The goal should not be to expose a student to every situation they’ll ever come across in one simulation; it should be to expose them to specific information in a controlled series of experiences that achieve the objectives of the training program.

  1. Create simulations with manageable nuggets of information – Start with a series of mini-simulations which teach a series of skills. In this way, the trainee can pace out their learning and retain ALL of the information, instead of just bits of it. Instead of creating one simulation encompassing an entire week in a hospital, create dozens of simulations focusing on key skills like conflict resolution, interdepartmental communication, emergency response, and device operation.
  2. Incorporate repeated exposure to simulations into your curriculum – Limiting access to training is a legacy of one-on-one, instructor facilitated curriculum. Why do we need to maintain that cycle? Immersive simulations have the innate benefit of operating in a stand-alone setting while recording trainee results. This removes the requirement of the instructor’s physical presence while training is carried out. No longer do you need to schedule training lab time for your students with a proctor. Instead host your simulations online or install them on personal student laptops so your trainees can run a simulation numerous times to perfect their skills from the comfort of their home.
  3. Create a series of simulations which gradually build knowledge from simple to complex – Knowledge is a product of experience, but it is not born overnight. Simulation is a great medium to establish a foundation for learning. Why not start simple? First, create a basic scenario designed to teach a few small skills. As your students become more adept, increase the complexity of their tasks and incorporate common distractions they will face in the real world. Some lessons require a solid foundation before they can be learned. It is not about creating a simulation that is so hard, only your best performers can complete it. What is more important is creating a series of increasingly difficult simulations to slowly build cognitive skills.
  4. Expose your learner to training concepts before they complete simulated training – Simulation is a great tool to reinforce skills, but it is not in itself a replacement for the classroom. By exposing your learner to the concepts they will need to succeed in the classroom first, you can maximize training efficacy in simulated environments. It is not necessary to replace the classroom with simulated training. A better way is to embed simulations within your curriculum so that they complement traditional educational techniques.
  5. Tips 5 and a new bonus tip 6….

For tip 5 and 6, check out the full post on the Discovery Machine Inc. website!


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