In simulation-based health professions education, the concept of simulator fidelity is usually understood as the degree to which a simulator looks, feels, and acts like a human patient. Although this can be a useful guide in designing simulators, this definition emphasizes technological advances and physical resemblance over principles of educational effectiveness. In fact, several empirical studies have shown that the degree of fidelity appears to be independent of educational effectiveness. The authors confronted these issues while conducting a recent systematic review of simulation-based health professions education, and in this Perspective they use their experience in conducting that review to examine key concepts and assumptions surrounding the topic of fidelity in simulation.
Several concepts typically associated with fidelity are more useful in explaining educational effectiveness, such as transfer of learning, learner engagement, and suspension of disbelief. Given that these concepts more directly influence properties of the learning experience, the authors make the following recommendations: (1) abandon the term fidelity in simulation-based health professions education and replace it with terms reflecting the underlying primary concepts of physical resemblance and functional task alignment; (2) make a shift away from the current emphasis on physical resemblance to a focus on functional correspondence between the simulator and the applied context; and (3) focus on methods to enhance educational effectiveness using principles of transfer of learning, learner engagement, and suspension of disbelief. These recommendations clarify underlying concepts for researchers in simulation-based health professions education and will help advance this burgeoning field.