For over a half-century, computers and simulations have played a critical role in preparing and training professionals for real-world application in the context of a low-stakes learning environment. Granted, early and expensive technology was primarily reserved for government training programs run by entities such as NASA and the FBI. We’ve all seen the iconic videos of the Apollo astronauts training in simulation, and the significance of that training is not lost on most of us. Without it, humans likely never step foot on the moon or create the International Space Station. Clearly, simulation has its purpose.

Beyond Apollo

It wasn’t long after Apollo that advances in technology allowed for more accessible and affordable simulation hardware and software in the airline industry. Now, in 2019, technology-assisted training is an essential component in many industries and a useful one in most others. Has it rendered human training useless? It depends on who you ask.

 

Simulations offer practical and technical exposure to industry-specific challenges, and they’re arguably our closest tool to “real-world” experience. While computer simulations and artificial intelligence are rapidly advancing, they can’t yet replace human-based training and real-world experience, nor can they replicate environments in which one must practice logical and emotional intelligence in a “live” setting. Nonetheless, simulations and similar practice-based training activities assess and help sharpen trainees’ skills in the specific context of their professional duties, while mitigating risks.

Here, There, Simulation Everywhere

Interestingly, simulation and technology-based training have found a secure place in industries ranging from medical diagnosis and surgery to tactical military training or sports betting. In the same way that surgical simulations provide a safe space for honing skills without significant risk to human life, applications such as FoxSuper6 allow sports fans to learn about and practice sports wagering without financial risks. And just as live surgery prompts surgeons to apply the skills they’ve honed through technology-based practice, sports bettors ready to step into the “live” arena can use FoxBet to wager for real money.

The bridge between simulation-like training and “the real thing” becomes easier to cross when one has the tools and cognitive foundation to perform and to handle the real-world implications (be it success or failure). Airline pilots can attest to this, as handling unexpected challenges under pressure is a fundamental skill to the job. It’s through simulation that pilots solidify their hard skills to the point of muscle memory. Only then do they have the cognitive space to develop creative strategies for complex problems in the moment. And only then do they have the confidence necessary to act on those strategies.

Simulation Goes Beyond Hard Skills

With advancing technology come more complex and realistic modes of practice. This benefits not only hard skills but soft skills, such as interpersonal skills, motivation, performance under duress, and perseverance. While technology struggles to emulate human emotions, the fact that it creates a visceral training environment filled with emotional challenges helps hide some deficiencies. Replicating the emotional hurdles that one will face in professional practice prompts trainees to engage intellectually and emotionally. So, even if the stakes are lower and the pressure artificial, trainees are exposed to similar decision-making processes and consequences. Furthermore, most know that simulation and tech-based training are what they are: models of real-world application. They know, then, that the pressure they will face in real-world practice will be amplified well beyond that of a simulation—and they can mentally prepare for that amplified stress.

As younger, tech-savvy workers enter the workforce, we can expect that simulation and tech-based training will play an increasingly-important role in professional development. In terms of cost-effectiveness and return on investment, this makes a lot of sense. At the same time, industry leaders should use discretion and research when deciding how to balance human-led training and tech-based training. An awareness of, and attention to, the limitations of simulation are as critical to professional success as the skills being practiced. It’s only in knowing these limitations that decision-makers can fill in the gaps and align training more cohesively with professional performance.