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Using Simulator Training Technology to Safely Develop Mastery

Using Simulator Training Technology to Safely Develop Mastery


Advances in simulator training technology have made it possible to overcome the roadblocks that regularly prevent adults from truly mastering new and complex skills.

In 1980 Stuart and Hubert Dreyfus—working at the University of California, Berkeley and supported by the U.S. Air Force—formulated the “Dreyfus Model” of Adult Skills Acquisition. They sought to analyze and systematize our understanding of how adults acquire new skills (in contrast to the chaotic and varied learning styles that come naturally to children). As Dreyfus & Dreyfus explained in their introduction:

“Anyone who wishes to acquire a new skill is immediately faced with two options. He can, like a baby, pick it up by imitation and floundering trial-and-error, or he can seek the aid of an instructor or instructional manual. The latter approach is far more efficient, and in the case of dangerous activities, such as aircraft piloting, essential.”

While the “instructional” approach is clearly more efficient (and safer), can it lead to true mastery? An otherwise uneducated person learns their native language through the baby’s strategy of “floundering trial-and-error”—and almost certainly ends up with a mastery of that language’s nuances that even the most educated adult learner struggles to match.

Why Adults Struggle with Mastery

Initially, Dreyfus & Dreyfus identified five developmental stages for adult skills learning: novice, competence, proficiency, expertise, and mastery. But they included an important note:

“[A]ccording to our model, there is no higher level of mental capacity than expertise, [but] the expert is capable of experiencing moments of intense absorption in his work [“mastery“], during which his performance transcends even its usual high level. … this masterful performance only takes place when the expert, who no longer needs principles, can cease to pay conscious attention to his performance and can let all the mental energy previously used in monitoring his performance go into producing almost instantaneously the appropriate perspective and its associated action.”

From the Dreyfus perspective, “as the student becomes skilled, he depends less on abstract principles and more on concrete [real world] experience. … [S]kill in its minimal form is produced by following abstract formal rules, but that only experiences with concrete cases can account for high levels of performance.”

This highlights the advantage of the child’s “floundering trial-and-error,” which can’t be reproduced in traditional instruction: repeated concrete real-world experiences.

Using Simulator Training Technology to Create Real-World Experience

Simulator training technology allows us to bridge the gap between traditional adult instruction and the naturalistic trial-and-error learning process. In the simulator, the trainee can repeatedly experience a safe virtual environment, one based on real-world conditions—even modeled after actual real-world incidents and accidents.

As Rob Raheb explained in a recent webinar, “with simulation, judgment can now be developed through experience, but under controlled situations. When unsafe behavior is met with consequences, the unsafe behavior is eradicated. The best part of simulation training is that unsafe behavior can be met with a consequence every time.”

Raheb is an expert in simulation and driver training and has written and spoken extensively on driver training and the psychology of driving. He’s quick to remind organizations, “It’s not just about purchasing a simulator … How do I use this tool effectively? That’s what it really comes down to.”

FAAC trainers regularly work with customers to ensure that the system is integrated into their program, meshing with their policies, procedures, and curriculum in order to create the best possible environment for a student to develop mastery.