“What we must learn to do, we learn by doing”. This statement by the Greek philosopher and scholar has always had a strong resonance in manual trades, as certain popular sayings attest. But is the same true when it comes to acquiring academic knowledge? How have higher education establishments, where the word of the teacher still prevails, gradually adopted simulation as a method of acquiring knowledge ?
Since the emergence of digital technologies, the means of accessing and transmitting knowledge have greatly evolved. Today, a computer can simulate any environment, from a nuclear power plant to the human body, from city traffic to company premises. Everything can be simulated with a precision of realism that is becoming fascinating with the contribution of artificial intelligence. So why deprive ourselves of this ability to touch reality at first hand, even when it’s virtual?
In medicine, the principle of “never the first time on the patient” takes on its full meaning today. While for centuries, students have practiced on “cadavers” or more or less realistic mannequins, simulation is now total with, in particular, the “digital twin”. A heart or an entire body can be digitized and used as a “training ground” for future practitioners. All reactions and situations are simulated, and the learner is confronted with something close to the real thing.
This was already the case in other professions, such as aviation, where airline pilots are trained on simulators before taking the controls of a plane. In fact, technology has also made it possible for a great many enthusiasts to pilot a fighter plane, an ocean-racing sailboat, a tank, a submarine or even a tractor in their own field. Other video games have turned us into city managers, empire builders, film directors and soccer coaches. Simulation is a way for humans to experience what others experience at little (or almost no) cost.