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Improvements in Simulation Training at CAE Associates

December 6, 2016 By: Steven Hale

CAE Associates has a long history of providing high-quality engineering simulation training. Direct feedback and surveys from our students show a high regard for the instructors, high satisfaction with the training, and eagerness to apply newly-learned skills.  But just because something works well doesn’t mean it can’t get better. The two main pillars of our training classes have always been lecture and workshops: Lecture relays relevant facts, concepts, and theories; while workshops reinforce these facts and ideas through practice. However, we often get feedback from students that they want more workshops and less lecture. This feedback is understandable because workshops are usually more engaging than lecture, even with a highly animated and interactive instructor at the helm.  We’ve also found that students can get overwhelmed when a lot of information is dumped on them all at once. So we’ve decided to update our training classes to provide a better learning experience: one that is more engaging and manageable for the students. 

How Can We Make Our Training More Engaging and Manageable?

One way to do this would be to remove a lot of lecture material and do more workshops instead, as suggested by many of our students. While this approach seems obvious, it has some drawbacks. The ability to transfer what’s learned in a workshop to real-life problems is limited without learning the background information and the theory behind it. Effective learning requires a deeper understanding. It’s like following the step-by-step instructions from IKEA about how to build that bookshelf you just bought: If you don’t understand the reason for doing each step, it’s going to be very hard to build another one without a new set of instructions, let alone something different like a table or chair.  And when you get back to your office and have to apply your new knowledge to your own complicated problem, you won’t have those step-by-step instructions. The ultimate goal of the training is to gain the knowledge, experience, and confidence necessary to perform FEA on your applications independently. My colleague, George Bauer, wrote an excellent blog titled “You Call That Training?” that includes a section about the value of the balance between lecture and workshops.  Lecture is important and shouldn’t be shortchanged. However, in an effort to make it more manageable and less overwhelming, we will make our lectures shorter and more interactive, and we will precede/follow each lecture with demonstrations or workshops. 

How About More Demonstrations?

In recent years, we’ve found that our students learn faster and experience better knowledge retention when we go through interactive demonstration problems.  Some students like to follow along, while others prefer to sit back and watch; it’s up to them. This approach falls in line with modern training practices such as M. David Merrill’s “First Principles of Instruction” which includes the steps of demonstration and application. Put simply, these include the following three basic steps: Tell (lecture) > Show (demonstrations) > Do (workshops).  While these steps have always been present in our training, we’ve increased the interactive demonstrations in our courses.  The idea is to provide clear, practical analysis examples that the instructor sets up, solves, and evaluates in front of the students.  Both the mechanics and the rationale for each step will be explained.  More demonstrations should yield more student engagement and a deeper understanding of the analysis steps. Short lectures combined with interactive discussions will be provided both before and after the demonstrations to teach relevant theory and closely-related topics.

As an example, a single assembly component such as a universal joint can be used to demonstrate basic, intermediate, and advanced finite element analysis methods. Each demonstration includes increasing levels of complexity relative to the previous one. Table 1 shows specific concepts and methods included in each demonstration. Students are shown how to progress to a complex model starting with simple methods and incrementally adding more advanced features and tools.

Table 1: U-Joint Demonstrations with Increasing Complexity
U-Joint Demonstrations with Increasing Complexity | FEA Consulting

Figure 1 shows the sample universal joint model with increasing complexity.


Figure 1: U-Joint Demonstration Model
U-Joint Demonstration Model | FEA Consultant

I’m sure many of you have taken simulation software training. Hopefully you’ve found it to be valuable and engaging, and you’ve been able to apply it to your day-to-day work.  But maybe you’ve seen areas where it could be improved. I encourage you to share specific comments about your experiences with simulation software training and some ideas for improvement.