Simulations in Medical training:
Personalised Learning Environments and Assessment


Many TEL projects support the development of cognitive competences to achieve Europe’s goal as a ‘knowledge society’. Sensorimotor competences are often neglected, but are needed as well in this knowledge economy for the effective handling of various technical devices.

Simulations combine both cognitive and sensorimotor knowledge and skills, and when well executed are responsive environments which motivate, engage and inspire learners. A successful simulation environment requires particularly careful attention to be paid to its intended learning outcomes, and thus particularly supports the transformation of learning outcomes into knowledge and skill. Effective simulations need to be ecologically valid, close to task, and embeddable into the business processes of the organisation, hence they require the close integration of pedagogical and business approaches.

Simulations in teaching and training are particularly suited to being contextualized and adaptable to specific situations, and when done appropriately provide excellent pedagogical solutions for competency, skills and performance enhancement. The essence of a simulation involves the learner undertaking a sequence of activities which exploit interactivity and context-awareness, inherently taking a mass learning experience and individualizing a particular learning pathway for a learner on a one-to-one or small group basis. Simulations may be easily designed to be collaborative as well.

While the value of simulations is unquestioned, their design principles remain something of an art form rather than a set of empirically-grounded engineering processes. For example, what is it, exactly, within a simulation which engages a learner? What is an appropriate structure for the intended learning outcomes which allows more adaptable simulations and better personalization? How can simulation environments be reliably and repeatedly designed to meet engineering and pedagogy quality attributes? The Sim:PLEA project intends to research and deliver evidence for the engineering techniques and technologies required for effective teaching and learning involving simulations.



Target domains for simulations are wherever knowledge and skill needs to be combined into effective decision-making, such as flying, driving, and operating equipment which is either expensive, difficult, or potentially hazardous. Modern medicine is highly dependent on computer-controlled systems and medical personnel need to acquire new competences of handling such technical equipment in systematic practical training or Personal Development Programs (PDP).

Ultrasound visualization of line and injectate

The core deliverable of the project will be a simulator, demonstrating the Sim:PLEA engineering and pedagogic processes, for sensorimotor competence development in two medical areas: Trans-Esophageal Echocardiography (TEE) and Spinal Anaesthesia (SA). TEE requires extensive hands-on training supervised by an experienced echocardiographer, and is often performed under constraints making it difficult for beginners to achieve proficiency in time. The Heart Centre of Leipzig University, Germany, has developed a simulator for TEE. SA is usually performed in a stressful environment, requiring context-dependent clinical judgement and reasoning. The Cork University Hospital has substantial expertise in a set of medical competences termed ‘peripheral nerve blockade’, and have developed a simulation prototype for training on this technique in SA.

Laerdal, an international designer and manufacturer of medium-fidelity medical mannequins and associated equipment, is the project’s commercial partner with a strong interest in the commercial application and exploitation of the project’s work.

The Educational Technology Expertise Centre of the Open University of the Netherlands, the Department of Psychology of Graz University, and the Learning Societies Lab of the University of Southampton will contribute their expertise towards the technical, pedagogic, and competence development of the project, which will be managed by the University of Southampton.



Lester Gilbert
Learning Societies Lab
University of Southampton