COVID-19 and Training Simulation: No Social Distancing Required!

June 12th, 2020

Time was, training to become a blacksmith, baker, or candlestick maker required person-to-person interaction. Today, that’s just as true for heavy equipment operators.

And that’s because developing any kind of skill means first showing me what to do, and then watching what I do to help me learn to do things right.

Well, COVID-19 is now “complicating” such operator training, whether indoors in a warehouse or outdoors on a construction site, because of social distancing.

And although having just one operator seat in the cabin of heavy equipment already “imposes” some physical separation, the Trainer must still be nearby to indicate, often by pointing, what to do and what not to do and, of course, provide all the necessary (verbal) feedback.

Well, as we learn to live with this “new normal”, it’s now time to look to simulation for much, if not most, of your operator training.

Training that is “Unsupervised” and “Self-Managed”

Training with some simulators requires the presence of the Trainer at an “Instructor’s Station” positioned beside the “Simulator Station” to supervise the Trainee’s simulated work and more generally manage the operator training.

Of course COVID-19 makes this simulator-based “side by side” training just as complicated as real world “side by side” training.

And that’s why, to address the need for social distancing, simulation should “remove” the Trainer from the picture to make training both “unsupervised” and “self-managed”, as follows:

  • Because there’s no Trainer to show me what to do, there should be videos that I can watch (and re-watch) by myself to understand what needs to be done. And the best videos are instructional, i.e. they “explain” by presenting views of the simulated work from both inside and outside the simulated cabin.
  • Because there’s no Trainer watching me, my simulation results must be automatically saved, and in a way that will make it easy for the Trainer to review what I’ve done at his convenience.
  • Finally, because I’m “by myself”,  I need to be able to easily compare my simulation results with targets or “benchmarks” set by the Trainer, to be able to monitor my own progress and thereby “manage” my own simulator-based training.

Imagine: now you can have your Trainee all alone at work in a training room at one location (subject to regular cleaning, of course) and the Trainer somewhere else, perhaps working from a home office offsite.

Monitor the Training Remotely

In the best case, the Trainer should be able to monitor the simulator-based by accessing the Trainee’s simulation results “remotely” (so not at the simulator) e.g. as a database file that can be shared on a company’s Intranet, or distributed as an email attachment. 

In this way, the Trainer just needs the Internet for that remote access, and thereby remains safe and “socially distanced”.

Trust Simulation to Train for the Real World

Operator training that is unsupervised and self-managed means that the Trainer is counting on the simulation to teach the Trainee what needs to be learned, and that the learning is taking place as it should.

Well, you can trust the simulation when its “Instructional Design” takes into account best-in-class practices from leading operator training professionals, and guidance from key “normative” and certifying organizations that have developed standardized demonstration of skills tests or “Practical Exams” to be conducted at the controls of real heavy equipment.

And to make that correspondence clear, there ought to be documentation to that spell out how the simulated tasks “align” with the tasks that are part of those real world “Practical Exams”.

Only in this way, you can be confident that people are learning the skills that the real world requires.

Targeting Trainee Proficiency (however long that takes)

In the real world, there’s always a financial need to “hurry people along”, i.e. to have them learn as little as necessary to be safe, and to do that as quickly as possible. After that, real proficiency is (hopefully) attained after lots of real world “drill and practice”.

Well, no one learns to master a piano concerto by getting just some of the notes right at the start, and then practicing enough to “correct” all the wrong ones. The fact is, you need to learn all the right notes from the start, however slowly that forces you to learn.

Practically, this is exactly what the right kind of simulation “enforces”, first by carefully measuring the simulated work using numerous “Performance Indicators”, and then by associating a target value with each simulation measurement. And then people stay at the simulator for however long that takes. That’s “self-managing”.

Of course, different people learn differently, and that’s why the duration of the simulator-based training will vary from Trainee to Trainee, sometimes by a factor or two or even three.

Regardless, training at the controls of your real heavy equipment now only takes place when the Trainee is truly ready, i.e. when simulations results are good enough. (And that “topping up” goes fast.)

Time for What’s Important (after What’s Urgent)

The fact is, the “urgent” will always overwhelm the “important” in a time of crisis.

But now that we’re learning to live with the “new normal”, it’s time to consider making simulation a new part of your COVID-19 operator training protocol.

To comment on anything you read here, please write to “” with “blog” in the Subject, to direct your message to me.