Making Sense of What We See – How Simulation-based Training Enhances Visual Literacy

In a recent CM Labs’ article, “Confessions of a Simulator Skeptic”, heavy equipment operator (and later, construction equipment trainer) Gary James described the challenges he encountered when learning to operate equipment based largely on voice commands.

“It was a classic example of baptism under fire,” he explained. “I was handed a radio receiver to keep in my shirt pocket. As I sat behind the controls, my supervisor walked me through the loading process shouting step-by-step instructions in my ear from the cab of his truck.”

This scenario, which continued for weeks until he was finally able to operate the equipment on his own, would ultimately have an impact on James’ approach as an instructor.

“I learned in the exact wrong way. It was nerve-racking, intimidating, and excessively long. When I began training equipment operators, I knew that there had to be a better way,” he said.

That better way would emphasize a learning concept known as Visual Literacy. More specifically, visual literacy in the form of simulation-based training. Today, a growing number of companies, trade schools, training centers, and trade unions are embracing visual learning and simulators as the most effective form of heavy equipment training before moving on to the real equipment.

But what exactly is visual literacy—and why is it a critical learning element?

Local 150 training facility
Local 150 training facility

How We Learn

Visual Literacy is a subset of Sensory Literacy, a broad term that describes how critical thinking, is fueled by information acquired through the senses. This visual literacy is defined as the ability to interpret, negotiate, and draw conclusions from information presented in the form of images.

There is no shortage of examples. Charts, maps, and graphs convey geographical information, demographics, sales data, and similar information much more clearly than words. A photograph or video validates an event better than dialogue, hearsay, or an online post.

The data below confirms the importance of visual-based learning/communication.

Local 150 training facility with training statistic
Local 150 training facility

Training Simulators

Simulators are examples of how visual literacy is applied to a widening variety of industries, from aerospace to military, as well as construction, forestry, material handling, and hands-on training. Training simulators closely replicate the worksite environment, offering a realistic in-cab operator experience by mimicking controls and equipment action and reaction, with incredible detail and accuracy. Through simulators, trainees are fully immersed in the jobsite physically, mentally, and emotionally—complete with the challenges, operating conditions, distractions, and pressures experienced on the job.

While used primarily for instruction related to piloting heavy equipment (for both new and established operators), simulators are proving useful for pre-service equipment inspection, worksite safety, and maintenance training scenarios. In this way, simulators are playing a leading role in promoting jobsite safety in construction, forestry, material handling, and other historically hazardous industries.

Visual literacy provides the ability to recognize, analyze and describe hazards as applied to occupational safety. In this article, the authors, Doug Pontsler and Rob Fisher, explain how to identify traps and triggers, and how to control them proactively before incidents occur. The article explains that visual literacy improves one’s ability to identify workplace hazards caused by the elements of human nature, such as limited attention spans, overconfidence, risk-taking, boredom, fatigue, and stress, among others.

Visual cues also allow co-workers to recognize safety issues when it comes to daily task demands, like rushing under time pressures, laboring under high workloads, or engaging in repetitive and monotonous work. Other safety problems crop up when workers are multi-tasking, confused by procedures and ambiguous guidance, and just overwhelmed by excessive communication requirements.

CM Labs simulations reinforce a number of these critical learning criteria. By using the Instructor Operating Station, the trainer can trigger, at any time, visual distractions, equipment faults, human interaction with avatars on the virtual job site, as well as changes in weather, precipitation, and wind that link visual cues and critical thinking to avoid potential real-world risky outcomes.

These random events, in conjunction with the simulator’s heads-up display (HUD), and additional visual charts (such as hook block map, overlays, visual sensors, and live workflow graphs), mean trainees are getting the best training experience possible. These tangible benefits translate directly into bottom-line improvements and promote a safe job site.

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Local 150 training facility

A New Era In Learning

It should come as no surprise that visual-based instruction is the most effective form of learning, bridging the gap between classroom and real equipment. And today we have quantifiable data to understand just how impactful it is.

Images transfer information faster, more effectively, and the conclusions drawn from them are retained longer. Visual-based learning enhances learning speed, comprehension, and retention significantly.

Take a look and see for yourself why more and more industries are turning to visual-based simulators as the preferred method for equipment operating, inspection, and maintenance training.