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Why Are Online Simulations Such a Powerful Educational Tool?

Online simulations have revolutionized the way we learn and train in many industries. The newer, easy-to-use authoring tools offer a way for anyone (no coding skills required!) to build dynamic, engaging and interactive experiences that have proved invaluable in enhancing learning and helping learners to rehearse and retain knowledge.

With the advancement of technology, online simulations will continue to shape the future of training in business, healthcare, and the military, as well as in K12 and higher education. This article explores the many benefits, real-world applications, and future possibilities of online simulations.

Understanding Online Simulations

Before delving into the benefits and applications of online simulations, it is important to have an understanding of what they are.

What Are Online Simulations?

Essentially, an online simulation is a software application that simulates a real-life scenario, event, or environment for educational purposes. Such simulations are typically highly interactive, differentiating them from traditional more static eLearning, however they can vary in terms of complexity, such as the use of branching scenarios to see the results of different decisions during the simulation.

The reality is that online simulations can provide a unique learning experience that is not available with traditional teaching and eLearning methods. They recreate experiences to allow learning in a way that may not be possible in real life; for example where safety risks or high costs would be involved in providing the same experience that would prevent that training taking place if simulations were not available.

A key benefit is that because they are online, they are available anytime and anywhere. This means that the learning experience is not reliant on – or limited by - trainees and teachers, and relevant equipment, having to be in a specific place at a specific time.

Online simulation environments come in many forms, from video games that simulate real-life situations to web-based tools that recreate a business scenario, a work task, or a medical procedure. The aim of utilizing online simulations is to provide learners with a safe environment to practice, explore and immerse themselves in real-life situations without the risk of failure or consequences.

Another advantage of online simulations is that the systems are not “judgmental”. For example, a medical student can practice a surgical procedure repeatedly, without fear of failure or of harming the patient, until they feel confident enough to move onto the next stage and perform it in real life under the tutelage of a supervisor.

This type of simulated hands-on experience is invaluable in helping learners to build confidence and competence in a safe and controlled environment.

Types of Online Simulations

Online simulations come in many different forms, each serving specific purposes. Some examples of online simulations are:

  • Computer-based – these are software applications installed on a computer. They can be used to train employees on new software or to simulate a new manufacturing process in a factory.
  • Web-based – these simulations can be accessed online via a common web browser, and they often use HTML5, JavaScript and other web technologies that support interactivity. Web-based simulations can be used for a variety of purposes, such as learning a medical procedure or a work skill, or exploring a customer-facing scenario. They are also particularly suited for building procedural training.
  • Video games – A simulation game is a type of video game designed to simulate real-life activities. They are typically used for entertainment but can also be designed for business purposes.
  • Virtual reality – This type of simulation usually requires a headset to immerse the user in a highly interactive experience that blocks out the learner’s real surroundings. Training using VR has recently been applied in many education fields, but primarily in health and safety, engineering, and technical education, and more recently in medical education.

Benefits of Online Simulations

The benefits of online simulations are numerous and far-reaching, making them a powerful tool for learning and training across different industries.

Enhancing Learning and Retention

One of the most important benefits of online simulations is that they can significantly enhance learning effectiveness and retention. Studies have shown that learners who engage in simulations retain information better than those who don't. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Simulations offer an immersive, semi-realistic experience that stimulates the senses, causes learners to think and interact (rather than just observing/reading), and making learning more effective and enjoyable.
  2. Online simulations are available 24x7, allowing learners to start and continue their learning whenever they have time available, which is often important for non-traditional students and busy professionals.
  3. Online simulations typically provide a multi-modal learning experience, that involves different parts of the brain to process audio, visual, and simulated kinesthetic media.

Encouraging Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Online simulations tend to encourage critical thinking because learners are placed in situations where they must assess and solve problems, with guidance from the software. This skill is highly valued in industries such as business, healthcare, and military training, where quick thinking and the ability to make sound decisions are essential, along with a broad knowledge of the different types of situations that may arise and need to be handled.

Providing a Safe Environment for Trial and Error

In real life, making mistakes can often have severe consequences or incur high costs. In contrast, online simulations provide learners with a safe environment to practice and make mistakes without fear of failure, harm, or repercussions. In this way, learners can experiment and learn from their mistakes, and can even virtually experience the results of an incorrect or suboptimal decision, leading to improved performance in real-life situations.

As an example, online simulations can be used in the aviation industry to train pilots to handle emergency situations at a cognitive level, as a complementary learning tool to the very large hardware-based aircraft simulators. With a well-constructed life-like scenario, online simulations can provide a realistic experience that prepares pilots to handle emergency situations effectively, ultimately leading to better flight safety.

Cost-Effective and Time-Efficient Training

Online simulations can be an ideal solution for organizations looking to train many people quickly and efficiently. Since online simulations can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, learners can complete the training at their pace, in any location, without the need for additional resources.

For instance, in the education sector, online simulations can be used to teach students complex concepts in a fun and interactive way. The simulations can provide a realistic experience that prepares students for real-life scenarios. By practicing in a simulated environment, students can develop the necessary skills and confidence to handle complex concepts, leading to better academic outcomes.

Measure Competence, Not Just Theoretical Knowledge

Simulations are typically scenario-based and/or simulate a skill or task, so when used as a testing tool (not just a learning tool), they can test the user's competence at a cognitive level - that is, can the user demonstrate that they know how to navigate the situation or correctly perform the steps of the procedure?

And with all the recent concern about people using AI to cheat on tests, it's worth bearing in mind that it would not be possible to do that with truly interactive online simulations, since they are not text-based like a quiz.

Section Summary

In conclusion, online simulations offer numerous benefits that make them a powerful tool for learning,  training, and testing across a wide range of industries. From enhancing learning and retention to encouraging critical thinking and problem-solving skills, online simulations provide a safe and cost-effective way to train learners for real-life work.

Real-World Applications of Online Simulations

Online simulations have numerous real-world applications, and their potential for revolutionizing training and education is almost limitless.

Simulations are virtual models of real-world scenarios that allow learners to interact with them and learn by doing. They provide an immersive and engaging experience that stimulates creativity and critical thinking skills. Additionally, simulations are highly customizable, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.

Education and E-Learning

Online simulations have a significant potential to improve and revolutionize education. Simulations provide learners with an interactive and engaging experience that stimulates creativity and critical thinking skills. Additionally, e-learning using online simulations can cater to different learning styles, making for a more effective learning experience.

For instance, science simulations can help students understand complex concepts such as genetics, physics, and chemistry. With simulations, students can conduct experiments in a virtual environment, which is safer and more cost-effective than traditional laboratory experiments.

Simulations can also be used in language learning to provide learners with an immersive environment where they can practice speaking and listening skills. Simulations can simulate real-life scenarios such as ordering food in a restaurant or booking a hotel room, making language learning more practical and engaging.

Business and Management Training

Businesses and organizations use online simulations to provide employees with crucial training for different situations. Simulations can be used to simulate business scenarios or management training programs, allowing employees to learn key skills and practices that enhance their critical thinking and decision-making abilities.

For example, simulations can be used to train employees on how to handle customer complaints, negotiate deals, or manage a crisis. Simulations can also be used to train managers on how to lead teams, make strategic decisions, and solve complex problems.

Healthcare and Medical Training

Online simulations have proved to be an indispensable tool in the healthcare industry. Medical professionals can use simulations to practice and master complex procedures and medical scenarios. Additionally, online simulations can provide safe environments for trainees to practice handling medical emergencies, preparing them for real-life scenarios.

For instance, medical simulations can help train doctors and nurses on how to perform surgeries, diagnose diseases, and manage patients. Simulations can also be used to train medical students on how to communicate with patients, make ethical decisions, and work in a team.

Military and Defense Training

Online simulations have significant potential in military training, offering soldiers an immersive and interactive training experience that mirrors real-life scenarios. Simulations can be used for battlefield simulations, weapon training, and other military training programs, providing trainees with realistic training experiences.

For example, simulations can be used to train soldiers on how to handle weapons, operate vehicles, and communicate effectively in combat situations. Simulations can also be used to train military leaders on how to make strategic decisions, plan operations, and manage resources.

In conclusion, online simulations have numerous real-world applications and can revolutionize training and education in various fields. They offer an immersive and engaging experience that stimulates creativity and critical thinking skills, making them an essential tool for modern learners.

The Future of Online Simulations

The future of online simulations looks bright, and new advancements in technology are taking these tools to the next level.

Advancements in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality and augmented reality are two exciting technologies that are changing the way we experience online simulations. These technologies provide a highly immersive and interactive experience, allowing learners to explore and interact with virtual environments in a more realistic way.

Integration with Artificial Intelligence

The integration of artificial intelligence with online simulations has significant ramifications for improving training efficacy. Through machine learning algorithms, learners can receive personalized training experiences that cater to their specific needs and preferences, enhancing their learning and retention abilities.

Personalized Learning Experiences

The future of online simulations holds the potential for personalized learning experiences. With advancements in the integration of artificial intelligence and adaptive learning, learners can receive tailored training programs that cater to their individual needs, enhancing their learning and retention abilities.


Online simulation is a powerful tool that is revolutionizing the way we learn and train across various industries. With the ability to immerse learners in real-life situations, enhance learning and retention, and provide a safe environment for trial and error, online simulations are an essential tool for organizations looking to train their employees effectively and efficiently. These simulations can provide a level of “hands-on” experience that is not possible with traditional teaching methods, and as technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more innovative and immersive online simulations in the future.

Get Started

SimTutor Author is an easy-to-use tool that allows you to create powerful online simulations in a fraction of the time it takes with other products. We can also build training content for you. Contact us to arrange a chat and find out if SimTutor Author would be a good fit for your needs.

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