Simulations, virtual reality and serious gaming offer important advantages in remote learning


With uncertainty continuing over the COVID-19 global pandemic and the possibility of another wave of the infections returning in the fall, many Canadian postsecondary institutions, including York University, are turning to online learning to deliver course content.

While technology offers many advantages, computer screens are blurred when it comes to infusing important experiential learning into an online course. A new player in the education space is sharpening the focus on experiential education in online learning through the power of simulations.

Eva Peisachovich
Eva Peisachovich

Enter SimXSpace, co-founded by Professors Eva Peisachovich, Lora Appel and Celina Da Silva from the Faculty of Health, SimXSpace brings together Virtual Reality, Simulated Person Methodology (SPM) and Serious Gaming into a single online resource and it has the potential to dramatically transform online learning.

“There’s a lot of content and research underway around experiential education,” says Peisachovich. “SimXSpace brings experiential education together with different kinds of simulations and these simulations can be offered online. Simulations bring theory and practice together in a valuable way, offering learners the opportunity to really apply their understanding of complex principles, while honing their professional skills.”

Lora Appel
Lora Appel

SimXSpace brings together experts in education, technology, and healthcare to provide opportunities for applied research and experiences. “The knowledge generated from our studies and initiatives not only present solutions to very acute situations, like the one we face now (remote learning, virtual healthcare), but also build on the body of knowledge that will help guide us into the inevitable digital future, with greater understanding and empathy for the human condition,” explains Appel.

Peisachovich uses nursing as an example. When it comes to teaching nursing, the most impactful and practical experiences help students translate theory into practice. SPM uses carefully trained actors or volunteers known as simulated persons or SPs to portray patients who present with symptoms of medical conditions. One SP may present in a clinical setting with symptoms of high blood pressure, another may exhibit signs of a stroke, heart attack, shock, or an injury. Each SP is carefully trained to provide feedback to the nursing students. Through this interaction, nursing students learn to observe the “patient” and ask the most effective questions, thereby elevating their abilities to assess and triage the patient’s condition. Originally conducted in person within a classroom or clinical setting, SimXSpace has recently launched a new “virtual simulated persons” technology.

Another powerful learning tool is Virtual Reality, which uses simulations as a way around the geographical separation associated with remote learning. Imagine being able to transport students virtually into a Syrian Refugee Camp so that they can understand the lived experiences of refugees or have students experience a moment in the life of a patient diagnosed with a stoke. It is completely possible with the CVRriculum Program offered by SimXSpace, which embeds virtual reality as an experiential education tool to help teach empathy, understanding and enhanced human skills about important issues.

Celina Da Silva
Celina Da Silva

Serious Gaming is a new entry to the simulation learning environment. It uses simulations in a customized gaming environment that can be built to address the specific learning objective. The SimXSpace team (researchers, research assistants, SP trainers and a coordinator) is building an environment with different projects that interweave the three elements of virtual reality, simulated persons, and serious gaming. “With our collective expertise and there are projects that use SPs to create scenarios that we embed into the serious games we create,” says Da Silva.

The power and potential of SimXSpace is unlimited. In addition to nursing, members of the SimXSpace team have collaborated with different faculties, divisions and centres across the University, including social work, education, health, law, business, and equity.

When the Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion (CHREI) at York University was looking for a way to enhance its human rights training for York orientation leaders, it turned to SimXSpace and more specifically to its Simulated Person Methodology Lab for a solution. SimXSpace worked with CHREI to produce a simulated scenario that featured a trained actor, or simulated person (SP), who embodied a non-binary student who had to report gender discrimination.

“Strategies such as recognizing a human rights issue, demonstrating active listening, and communicating empathy were brought to life through the simulation with the SP and this provided opportunities for students to process their reactions and practice in a guided environment,” says Peisachovich. “The use of SPM brought together theory and practice and enabled learners to apply their understanding of complex human rights principles, while honing their professional skills including addressing racism, microaggressions, challenging unconscious biases and fostering positive and inclusive spaces.”

Marian MacGregor, executive director of the centre agrees and feels SimXSpace “effectively engaged students in an experiential education exercise that leveraged their capacity to act as champions for change, with practice and reflection.”

“I loved the fact that we got an actual actor to practice with,” said one student who participated in the training. “It felt more real and I liked how the environment was meant to be challenging but also supportive, so we could ask for help.”

To learn more, visit SimXSpace online or contact the SimXSpace coordinator at

To learn more about the diversity of applications of simulations at York University, read about the  Faculty of Education here, the School of Nursing here, the School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences here, and the School of Social Work here.

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor