What do digital simulators contribute to secondary and higher education?

Educational simulator

First of all, let's define the concept "simulator". According to the Oxford Dictionary, a simulator is "a piece of equipment that artificially creates a particular set of conditions in order to train somebody to deal with a situation that they may experience in reality".

As we will see a bit later, digital simulators offer some additional benefits that physical simulators do not. Furthermore, the vast majority of these extra advantages are relevant in a medium and higher educational context. For these reasons, in this article we break down the main contributions of digital simulation to secondary and higher education.

Simulators are the digital analog of classic physical laboratories, for example: a high school biology laboratory, an electricity laboratory in vocational training or a material testing laboratory in an engineering school. Both the simulators and the physical laboratories allow students to take a practical approach to the subjects, complementing the theory taught in the classroom and helping them to assimilate the concepts.


On the basis that digital simulation and physical laboratories have in common, we explain the additional benefits that the former provide over the latter below:

Cost reduction

In general, digital solutions allow us to scale more economically than physical ones. The marginal cost of new digital units is much lower than that of their physical counterparts. In a similar way to what happens in other sectors such as the publishing or music industry.

E-Learning compatible

By definition, simulators are the perfect complement to e-Learning, since both approach learning in the same way.

No size limitation

There are concepts or phenomena that do not physically fit in any laboratory and if they did the cost would be exorbitant (for example: an ecosystem, the economy of a country or a complex industrial process).

No time scale limitation

Simulators allow us to observe in detail both what happens when the time scale is very small (for example, transients in electrical circuits) and what happens when the scale is very large (as in social phenomena, which take years or decades to develop).

No risk

It is possible to treat topics, which would be dangerous for the student, in a safe way (for example, the simulation of radioactive decay).

Availability and flexibility

By deploying simulators in the cloud, they will be available at any time from anywhere (including the classroom). It is not necessary to make a practice schedule for students to take turns in the laboratory. The students can access them at any time.

Easy measurements

Unless the objective of the practices is to learn metrology, the measurements are very simple and easily reproducible when we use digital simulators.

Often when we perform a physical experiment; we are more focused on making the measurements properly within the window of opportunity provided by the experiment than on the object of the experiment itself.

Furthermore, in physical experiments there are usually variables of interest that are not available, at least directly or easily. When it comes to measuring physical magnitudes (for example: temperature, pressure, current intensity, etc.), these can be difficult to access or the sensors needed to measure them have a very high cost. In social sciences, variables of interest are often measured indirectly through intermediate variables that act as proxies.

No ethical dilemmas

Doing in vivo experiments with humans or animals often raises ethical dilemmas (for example, experimenting with human physiology raises serious ethical and moral issues). However, simulation allows us to carry out in silico experiments with complete peace of mind.

Although perhaps not as obvious as human or animal experimentation, there are other situations that also raise ethical or moral issues, such as experimentation in ecology. In reality we cannot cause an ecological collapse for scientific purposes, but in a simulator it is feasible.

Actual examples

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