Friday, June 02, 2006

What is a Simulation Anyway?

I have heard a wide range of uses for the term "simulation" lately with an equally wide range of meanings. Is a simulation a simple screen capture with a single correct path via an active hypertext link? Or is it a sophisticated representation of the real thing with complex programming, logic and multiple correct paths? The answer to that question has direct application to using simulations in learning and testing environments.

For example, a single path, screen capture type "simulation" might be an effective tool to teach a specific skill. Yet, that same simulation would be a very poor method to measure that same skill. Imagine, a single path simulation with only one active link to advance the simulation. If I used that in a testing environment I could argue that I am not testing the skill in question but the test takers ability to deduce the correct answer by play what I call "virtual bumper cars". Given enough time anyone could eliminate incorrect answers by simply trying to click on the response and discovering that the particular link was not active. In this case a more sophisticated simulation with multiple correct paths or the ability to follow an incorrect path might prove to be a better measurement of the skill.

So, as you consider incorporating simulations into your learning and testing programs remember that not simulations are the same and more importantly certain types of simulations lend themselves better to learning environments and others to testing applications.

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