What is the Difference between Low-Fidelity and High-Fidelity Simulations?

Low-Fidelity Simulations

Low fidelity simulations mirror the actual action or scenario closely but leave out factors that the user might experience in real life. If you’ve ever visited WebMd and used their symptom checker, you have toyed with a low-fidelity simulation. The symptom checker uses a simulation of the human body that allows users to select the area where they are experiencing discomfort and then to narrow down their symptoms using a list that helps determine a possible condition or illness. The symptom checker leaves out key factors like multiple areas of pain or discomfort, previous injury, pre-existing conditions, side effects of drugs or medication, and age. However, it provides a somewhat viable alternative to what you might do in a doctor’s office upon examination – “It hurts here,” without factoring in everything else.

In training, low-fidelity simulations leave out some or many elements of the real-life experience so that the user can grasp the smaller concepts leading up to the whole of what they are learning.

High-Fidelity Simulations

High-fidelity simulations strive to be as realistic as possible and include many elements, and also simulate the relationship or interactions between said elements. The best example of a high-fidelity simulation is the flight simulator used by pilots in training. It is too expensive and frankly, too dangerous, to allow novice pilots to clock actual air time during flight school. Thus, the simulations that they practice on need to be as realistic as possible so that when they do actually graduate and become pilots, they are not overwhelmed by the differences between practice flying and actual flying. Flight simulators must factor in the size and speed of the plane, altitude, wind speed, weather conditions, and more to create a scenario in which the pilot in training can react and produce the same effect they would get in real life. Millions of dollars are invested each year to ensure that these simulations are as advanced and accurate as possible so that soon to be pilots are trained efficiently.

High-fidelity simulations mimic real life as closely as possible, and are frequently used as a substitute for hands-on training that would be too risky and cost too much to execute.

Which is better: low fidelity or high fidelity?

You may be thinking a high-fidelity simulation would be more beneficial in terms of learning and acquisition of skills, but research has shown that the type of simulation that is most useful depends on the industry. In medical training for doctors and nurses, the preference is on shorter, low-fidelity simulations that help them to master individual tasks. The main disadvantage of using high-fidelity simulations in the medical field is that they place more mental strain on the user and allow for fewer mistakes. Despite working to be as realistic as possible, high-fidelity simulations aren’t able to account for the user’s mental state and many nurses and doctors may become frustrated with the simulation and give up. For this reason, and many others, it may be better to begin with low-fidelity simulations and work towards using more complex, high-fidelity simulations in certain industries.