Do Flight Simulators help in Transfer of Learning?

Despite the wide scale acceptance and use of flight simulators, some doubts may continue being raised about their limitations in the transfer of learning, especially whenever there is an aircraft accident. 

Modern flight simulators, known to be the most effective for procedural transfer, enable pilots to be trained with “verisimilitude of simulation and transfer effectiveness” to enable them to fly actual airplane [1]. This is an economical practice of positive transfer of learning. That such transfer of learning is definite, is evident by the fact that such training is acceptable by Federal and Civil Aviation Authorities. Moreover, there is an extensive use of high-fidelity flight simulators to teach procedural and perceptual-motor skills by commercial airline companies.

However there are “challenges to recreate the dynamic, interactive complexity of natural task environments in the laboratory”, as was suggested for Situational Awareness by Sarter et al, [2]. In addition, Roscoe et al had stated that simulators have not been widely used in teaching Decision Making skills. Roscoe et al had also surmised that complex cockpit motion has minimal effect on training transfer, which can hardly be measured or quantified [3]. Yet they advocated that “cultivation of decisional skills, or judgement is an instructional objective calling”, emphasising that situational training is best carried out within the safety of simulated flight environment [4].

But this was the argument almost thirty years ago. With the faster processing computers, improved visual displays, including collimation and dedicated aviation related software, the fidelity of training has increased, including its application for ground based physiological training like Spatial Disorientation [5].

More importantly, Kelly defining adaptive training, stated that a “demanding task can be learned more efficiently if it is presented throughout training at a level of difficulty optimally matched to each individual’s current ability” [6]. Though there could be critics of adaptive training, this concept is useful for facilitating transfer of Decision Making and perceptual-motor learning in aviation for the benefit of individual pilots. This is especially true considering the potential that the present generation flight simulators offer. And Kirlik et al [37] have “highlighted the importance of training via exposure to concrete, situational patterns in the task environment…”, thus allowing for optimal transfer of learning in aviation. Thus, modern flight simulators offer the apt platform for training – procedural and situational, as a cost-effective and validated tool.


1. Roscoe SN. Concepts and definitions. Ch in Aviation Psychology. Roscoe SN (Editor). First edition, Ames: Iowa State University Press; 1980: 3-10
2. Sarter NB, Woods DD. Situation awareness: a critical but ill-defined phenomenon. International Journal of Aviation Psychology. 1991; 1: 45-57
3. Jacobs RS, Roscoe SN. Simulator cockpit motion and the transfer of flight training. Ch in Aviation Psychology. Roscoe SN (Editor). First edition, Ames: Iowa State University Press; 1980: 204-216
4. Roscoe SN, Jensen RS, Gawron VJ. Introduction to training systems. Ch in Aviation Psychology. Roscoe SN (Editor). First edition, Ames: Iowa State University Press; 1980: 173-181
5. Braithwaite MG, Ercoline WR, Brown L. Spatial disorientation instruction, demonstration, and training. Ch in Spatial disorientation in aviation. Previc FH, Ercoline WR (Editors). American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Virginia; 2004: 323-77
6. Kelley CR. What is adaptive training? Human Factors 1969; 11: 547-556
7. Kirlik A, Walker N, Fisk AD, Nagel K. Supporting perception in the service of dynamic decision making. Human Factors 1996; 38(2): 288-299

Acknowledgement Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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