Deakin University

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Effects of low- versus high-fidelity simulations on the cognitive burden and performance of entry-level paramedicine students: a mixed-methods comparison trial using eye-tracking, continuous heart rate, difficulty rating scales, video observation and interviews

journal contribution
posted on 2016-02-01, 00:00 authored by B W Mills, O B Carter, C J Rudd, L A Claxton, Nathan Ross, N A Strobel
INTRODUCTION: High-fidelity simulation-based training is often avoided for early-stage students because of the assumption that while practicing newly learned skills, they are ill suited to processing multiple demands, which can lead to "cognitive overload" and poorer learning outcomes. We tested this assumption using a mixed-methods experimental design manipulating psychological immersion. METHODS: Thirty-nine randomly assigned first-year paramedicine students completed low- or high-environmental fidelity simulations [low-environmental fidelity simulations (LF(en)S) vs. high-environmental fidelity simulation (HF(en)S)] involving a manikin with obstructed airway (SimMan3G). Psychological immersion and cognitive burden were determined via continuous heart rate, eye tracking, self-report questionnaire (National Aeronautics and Space Administration Task Load Index), independent observation, and postsimulation interviews. Performance was assessed by successful location of obstruction and time-to-termination. RESULTS: Eye tracking confirmed that students attended to multiple, concurrent stimuli in HF(en)S and interviews consistently suggested that they experienced greater psychological immersion and cognitive burden than their LF(en)S counterparts. This was confirmed by significantly higher mean heart rate (P < 0.001) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration Task Load Index mental demand (P < 0.05). Although group allocation did not influence the proportion of students who ultimately revived the patient (58% vs. 30%, P < 0.10), the HF(en)S students did so significantly more quickly (P < 0.01). The LF(en)S students had low immersion resulting in greater assessment anxiety. CONCLUSIONS: High-environmental fidelity simulation engendered immersion and a sense of urgency in students, whereas LF(en)S created assessment anxiety and slower performance. We conclude that once early-stage students have learned the basics of a clinical skill, throwing them in the "deep end" of high-fidelity simulation creates significant additional cognitive burden but this has considerable educational merit.



Simulation in healthcare






10 - 18


Lippincott William & Wilkins


Philadephia, Pa.





Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2015, Society for Simulation in Healthcare