Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Industrial Engineering

Committee Member

Dr. David. M. Neyens, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Anand Gramopadhye, Committee Co-chair

Committee Member

Dr. Joel Greenstein

Committee Member

Dr. Marissa Shuffler-Porter


Simulations are believed to support learning outcomes by increasing student engagement and providing a more immersive and interactive learning environment. Research into the effectiveness of simulations as learning tools has found tangible benefits, including increased learner engagement and conceptual gains Simulations also offer the benefits of a safer and more accessible learning environment, where students can practice until the point of proficiency. While simulations have been used extensively in workforce education, there is a limited research that compares learning outcomes – affective, skill-based, and cognitive – when learning in the physical environment is substituted with learning in a simulated environment, particularly for technical skills. Educators and researchers have questioned whether simulations provide learners with the same quality of education as learning in a physical environment. Simulations lack the nuances that exist in the real world and may also oversimplify a complex system. Its ideal representation of a system may create issues for learners when they encounter issues in the real world environment that they never experienced in the simulation. Consequently, learners may doubt that the principles demonstrated in a simulation are applicable in the real world. Proponents of physical laboratories argue that simulations limits students from experiencing hands-on manipulation of real materials and that they lack the necessary detail and realism to effectively teach proper laboratory technique. This research works to fill this gap by investigating how individuals transfer learning in simulated environments to the real world. Affective, cognitive and skill-based learning outcomes were used to evaluate acquisition, transfer and retention. There are three primary aims of this research. The first aim was to identify how the physical fidelity of the learning environment impacted learning outcomes, including transfer, and whether the goal orientation and cognitive ability of the learner influenced the relationship between the physical fidelity of the learning environment and learning outcomes. The second aim of this research was to understand the mechanisms through which the physical fidelity of the learning environment impacted proficiency outcomes. The third aim of the study was to understand how the physical fidelity of the learning environment impacted retention. The findings from these aims offer substantive contributions about how simulations affect learning, transfer, and retention outcomes. This research has implications for the design and implementation of simulated environments in engineering and technical disciplines, specifically courses delivered in an online setting. Whether positive or negative, these results can help identify potential issues and provide insight on what aspects of the transition from learning in simulations to working in the real world create the greatest stumbling blocks for students.



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