Realistic Learning Situations

In situations where it is too expensive or dangerous to allow students to actually try on the roles they want to learn, we can provide realistic experience through simulations. The single best piece of educational software ever invented was the air flight simulator. The best way to learn to fly would, of course, be to simply do it, so the natural course of action would be to put you in a DC-10 and to send you up. This course of action is rather impractical, however. Learning from failure does not occur when the failure is fatal, which it might well be in this situation. So the best course to train pilots is to build flight simulators.

Modern flight simulators are phenomenally real. Inside, they look like cockpits, down to the last detail. They bounce and rattle and jolt, and what you see out the window are pictures that accurately portray whatever airport you select from whatever perspective your airplane would be putting you in at the moment. It looks like the real thing. It feels like the real thing. You can take off and land at will, going in and out of your favorite airports. You can try things out and see what happens. You can crash and try to figure out what you did wrong. After enough time, you can teach yourself how to fly. Of course, if you want to learn faster, it helps to have someone sitting next to you whom you can ask for help. It helps even more if that person is not in a panic about his own imminent demise because of your inadequacies as a pilot.

I speak from experience here. As a student, I have flown a DC-10 (courtesy of United Airlines' training facility in Denver), and crashed it. My instructor seemed rather pleased at my performance. I have also had the experience of being a piloting instructor myself when I taught my two children to drive a car. Since this was no simulation, I did not take failure quite so complacently as my flying instructor did. In fact, I remember sitting with clenched fists about to pop a blood vessel each time I went out with either child. Simulation is a far better alternative.

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