Effective Simulation Training
By Todd R. Brown
Chief Trainer for
IES Interactive Training
If you think about it, you might be surprised by how many instances of
simulation training your agency uses on a daily basis. Role-playing exercises,
force on force marking cartridge scenarios, multimedia use-of-force simulators
and live fire shoot houses are just a few examples. For example, the target
that your agency uses for firearms qualification is shaped and scored in a
manner that simulates the human body. Simulation is a theme that is prevalent
in all of our training sessions. Some might argue that all training is
simulation in one form or another. However, most law enforcement instructors,
and as a result, most officers, do not reap the greatest benefit from their
Most training programs are structured so that the simulation exercise results
in a test and evaluation of the trainees skill level. A prime example of
this type of training is firearms qualification. During a firearms
qualification, instructors test and evaluate the trainees ability to meet a
minimum standard when shooting at a silhouette of a human being. While this is
necessary to document proficiency with a firearm, this exercise does
absolutely nothing to teach the trainee how to quickly acquire a target and
accurately hit it. In other words, no learning has taken place by the trainee.
By taking the same exercise and viewing it from another perspective, that of
teaching and learning, the exercise takes on a whole new meaning. For
example, what if each qualification included a brief video showing the trainee
their sight picture/sight alignment, stance and trigger press as they shot?
Might the trainee leave the qualification having learned what they can do to
improve their ability to shoot? The answer, obviously, is yes.
Unfortunately, due to a variety of constraints, most instructors feel that
they don't have time to add to an established training curriculum. The
solution is simply to change the mindset from test and evaluate to teach
and learn. By switching to the latter, an instructor can make learning the
primary goal of any training exercise. Test and evaluation then becomes a
by-product of the learning that takes place.
No matter what the simulation environment, i.e., force on force, multimedia
simulators, driving simulators, etc., there are several components necessary
to ensure that the training exercise is conducive to learning.
Three Tenets of Effective Training
and foremost, there must be a clearly defined training objective. What is it
that you, as an instructor, hope the students will learn by participating in
this exercise? The exercise itself must be easily recreated to allow the
student to go through the exercise repeatedly if necessary. The exercise must
also remain consistent, regardless of who participates in the exercise.
In the case of multimedia simulators, recreating training exercises is fairly
easy; each student will see the scenario run exactly as it ran for the student
before them. Obviously, in role-playing exercises, this requires a complete
understanding of roles and responsibilities for each participant. However,
even in the multimedia environment, both the instructor operating the
simulator and the trainee must understand what is required of them. The key
lesson is that without consistency, there is no way to reliably reach the
Second, accurate performance feedback must be given to the trainee by a
qualified instruction staff that has the necessary communication and
evaluation tools. It is up to instructors to ensure that they have these tools
to effectively evaluate and communicate to the students. Different students
require different learning methods; but almost every expert will agree that
the process of learning is in large part relating the new to the old.
In addition, the evaluation and communication process must clearly and
accurately explain the students deficiencies. It must also provide for the
most common learning elements among adults audio and visual feedback. Examples
include videos of officers as they go through training, an audio recording,
pictures, and common multimedia applications such as Power Point.
Simply telling a student what they did wrong is not enough and will quickly be
forgotten. Instructors must show trainees and most importantly, allow them to
apply any given corrections in the same or similar scenarios. By demonstrating
the applied corrections, trainees allow the instructor and themselves to see
that the corrective measures were, in fact, valid.
Without the opportunity to apply corrective measures, trainees will not have
learned of their potential benefits and therefore, have no reason to attempt
to utilize these measures in the future.
For instance, after a multimedia simulation session during which the suspect
on screen shoots at the officer, the officer may be given direction by the
instructor to make better use of available cover and to verbalize better. By
running the scenario again, the officer can apply these corrective measures. A
sharp instructor will then branch the scenario down a different path where
the suspect does not shoot. The officer, then, has learned that by making
better use of cover and verbalization skills, the scenario can be altered to a
much more desirable outcome.
The third component to learning requires that feedback come from a variety of
sources. While trainees might be inclined to accept feedback from an
expert/instructor or even their peers, independent third-party verification is
even more powerful. A good example of this type of objective feedback is a
videotape recording of the officers actions. In addition, video replay is one
of the best ways to have any officer evaluate their own performance.
An example of an effective video replay technique is to treat the videotape of
the officers training as real footage that was shot by a tourist. Inform the
officer that this videotape will be playing on the evening news and in the
courtroom. It represents the primary means by which most people will judge his
actions. Then review the tape with the officer.
This technique is usually a very sobering exercise for all officers.
Interestingly enough, it seems to have the greatest impact on the service
officer with between 5 and 15 years of service. A possible reason is that this
officer grouping may have had an opportunity to develop bad habits that they
themselves are unaware of.
Some simulation systems, such as the Range 3000 XP4, by IES Interactive
Training, allow for a picture-in-picture playback of the scenario and the
trainee in real time. This allows the officer, under the guidance of the
instructor, to compare his recollection of his actions relative to how and
when they actually occurred as the scenario progressed.
In addition to feedback on performance, trainees must be able to clearly
articulate in their own words, according to law, policy and procedure, why
they performed the way they did during the training scenario. If they are
unable to provide this articulation in training, an instructor cannot expect
them to be able to do it in a real-life incident.
After any real-life incident, the officer will likely be required to
articulate his actions and their compliance with law, policy and procedure in
a written report. Depending on the incident, this report may be in addition to
interviews with investigators, lawyers and a multitude of other interested
parties. The ability to articulate is not an innate skill in most officers.
Proof of this fact lies in the amount of time and effort spent teaching
officers to write reports correctly. Therefore, simulation training provides a
perfect opportunity for officers to learn and practice the art of
A common articulation-training technique used by hundreds of instructors from
all over the world is the open-ended questioning method:
First, the trainee is encouraged to articulate the circumstances of his or her
actions in their own words. Stated another way, an instructor should ask
open-ended questions of the officer such as, can you tell me what happened?
or what was going through your mind as the scenario played? Open-ended
questions force the trainee to describe in their own words the elements of the
scenario, their actions and how the totality of the circumstances led the
officer to take the action that they took.
Conversely, leading questions such as, why did you shoot? will likely elicit
an answer the student believes the instructor wants to hear because he had a
gun and does not address the total picture. This is where other multimedia
devices that show the student relevant documentation can be extremely
Examples include a Power Point presentation showing department policy in these
circumstances; documents of case law pertaining to the particular situation;
and if available, video of the actual incident the scenario mimics, crime
scene photos, reports, court documents, etc. Concrete examples allow the
student to learn how things like case law apply to different situations, and
will frame the students actions in light of current court rulings regarding
Failure Can Equal Success
Finally, simulation training must contain two components that are missing from
most training programs: the ability to fail and the ability to succeed.
The ability to fail implies training must be challenging enough to reduce the
possibility the trainee might get lucky and guess the correct behavior.
Additionally, the instructor has a difficult job in convincing students (who,
by the nature of their jobs, are expected to always win), that failure is not
only allowed, but is desirable under simulation conditions. Trainees and
instructors need to know that training is a constant learning environment
where past actions are improved through repetition and drill. . So if the
student completes training scenarios perfectly, it is likely because the
instructor failed to detect problem areas and has lost a golden opportunity to
correct any deficiency.
The ability to succeed implies that each scenario should allow the student to
repeat the training as many times as necessary until the correct
behavior articulated by the instructor has been applied. Again, repetition is
the only likely way in which trainees will develop confidence in newly learned
skills. Instructors also should avoid presenting non-winnable scenarios as
they wrongly condition students into believing they are powerless to affect
outcomes we have all seen examples of where this defeatist mindset has
resulted in injury and even death to law enforcement officers.
instructors, the benefits to changing our mindset from testing and evaluation
to teaching and learning in simulation training far outweigh the minimal
effort required. In addition to a more knowledgeable officer, one of the
greatest benefits is the ability to document the fact that training AND
learning took place. This type of documentation can be a powerful ally in any
legal setting for every officer concerned.
In order to change the instructor mindset, the training environment must
contain the appropriate tools for the instructor and the student. Video,
multimedia presentations, pictures, and relevant documents outlining case law
and policy are just a few examples of these tools. However, these tools are
useless unless the student that receives the training is sure that failure in
simulated environments is not only acceptable, but will result in learning and
becoming a better officer. Students must also be able to apply any corrective
behavior to an acceptable level and see that this will result in a better
outcome. Remember the old saying, I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I
learn? This is true for all law enforcement officers.
Do all that you can to foster an environment of learning in your simulation
exercises. It is this environment that will reduce agency and officer
liability. And at the end of the day it will result in the officer going home,
the public remaining safe, and the bad guy going to jail without out anyone
visiting the hospital or the morgue.
About the Author
Todd. Brown has more
than ten years of experience in training federal, state and municipal law
enforcement agencies on judgmental use of force in simulated environments as
well as in live fire environments. Brown has also trained agencies in
Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and several agencies in Europe. He holds
instructor ratings for various use of force applications such as Baton,
Firearm, Chemical Agents, Taser, etc. Brown is a member of the National
Tactical Officers Association, the International Association of Law
Enforcement Firearms Instructors, the American Society of Law Enforcement
Trainers, as well as on the technical advisory board of the Force Science
Research Center. Brown is the Chief Trainer for IES Interactive Training,
manufacturers of the Range 3000 XP4 Judgmental Use of Force Simulator. Brown
can be reached at