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How Black6 Labs is transforming education and training with Extended Reality

October 1, 2021

Thank you to Rikky Burkett, CEO of Black6 Labs, for sitting down with us to chat about his work in being the first in the world to develop a virtual environment that supports learning and assessment, tracks competency outcomes, monitors and stores data, and integrates with learning management systems. Rikky is also Executive Director of Paradigm Training.

Since COVID-19, many training organisations have had to change the way they think about how they deliver training and assessment. Face to face training and other traditional methods have become increasingly difficult to manage, while travel restrictions, class size limitations, unsafe environments and so many other factors have been extremely limiting on training. Extended and mixed reality has risen to the forefront of the conversation around training and assessment. With extended reality environments becoming more realistic, and the technology more cost-effective, the future of education and training is virtually on our doorstep.

What is extended reality (XR), and why is it different from virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)?

VR is when a learner is immersed in an entirely artificial environment that has been built for a certain scenario. On the other hand, AR uses our real environment and overlays animation or information onto it – think of it as ‘adding more’ to our reality. 

XR essentially encompasses both VR and AR, as well as mixed reality (MR). This means that XR allows the learner to become completely immersed in the virtual environment by combining any part of the real world with any part of the virtual world. An example of this is a flight simulation where the pilot is still interacting with their real kneeboard and seeing their own hands, but within a virtual environment. 

Black6 Labs

The first spark of an idea for a company like Black6 Labs began at the beginning of Black6 CEO Rikky Burkett’s career in VET around 20 years ago. Oculus, the Facebook-owned VR equipment company, was a source of initial inspiration. Years later, Rikky has been at the helm of Black6, driving the development of technology that is changing not only education and training, but the way we interact across many industries. 

The name ‘Black6 Labs’ comes from a combination of a few things, including Black Ops and the 6 degrees of freedom, but it really stems from the high level of innovation and research they’ve developed around AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities within education and extended reality. Black6 specialises in creating XR training and educational assessment solutions. Through using AI training and assessment in cutting edge simulated virtual environments, their technology allows for complete immersion with real educational outcomes. 

The aim of Black6’s technology is to connect the learner through mind and body into the virtual environment in order to gain unconscious competence much faster than any other traditional method. Their focus is to develop virtual environments that are so realistic that the learner is completely immersed and ‘forgets’ they’re in a virtual world.

Think of Neo in The Matrix practicing martial arts – it’s all about learning from repetition in a virtual environment where you’re free to try again as many times as you need to.

Extended Reality Assessment

ASQA states that a simulated workplace ‘must replicate real workplace conditions to allow demonstration of the performance evidence in the assessment requirements’. As XR technology has advanced to become more realistic than ever, systems like Black6 are able to achieve this requirement of realistic immersive learning environments, alongside AI-based assessment tracking and maximising learner outcomes. 

What does this look like for learners and assessors?

In a virtual assessment, the learner will wear a headset to enter the virtual space. Then, the training organisation has three options to assess the learner: 

  1. The assessor joins the learner in the virtual space with their own headset to observe the assessment – an example of this could be a flight instructor in Melbourne and the learner pilot in Brisbane, but both of them are virtually in the aircraft through their headsets. 
  2. Instead of being in the virtual environment, the assessor watches the learner’s actions in the virtual environment on a screen. The video of the assessment piece can then also be viewed afterwards.
  3. An AI assessor is used (a real assessor isn’t needed to observe the assessment with this option). 

With any of these options, the time needed for an assessor to be physically present to monitor competency is reduced as the system assists with measuring competency, while minimising subjectivity and other human factors.

Using an AI assessor – instant feedback

An AI trainer or assessor will be able to give instant feedback to the learner after an action. An example of this could be the action of shooting a gun. If the learner shoots incorrectly, the AI assessor can instantly say, for example, that the learner’s hand was off by 10%, and then draw a line where their hand should have been. 

Black6 and aXcelerate at Velg’s 2021 National VET Conference

Aged care example

Another example of this technology in use is in aged care. In the virtual environment of an aged care facility, the learner interacts with a meta-human called Abe that they have to take care of. Measuring competency is done through activities such as giving Abe, who is allergic to penicillin, the correct medicine. If the learner chooses medicine with penicillin, they’re deemed not yet competent. Abe the meta-human is able to display emotions and can converse with the learner.


Equipment

Headsets are key pieces of equipment for every XR experience, but there’s also the option to use haptic feedback suits. These suits are designed to immerse the body, alongside the headset immersing the mind, in the virtual environment. In the suits, learners are able to feel things like rain, electricity and even bullet impact. The headsets and suits are also able to track eye movement and detect stress levels, heart rate, eye dilation and more. By monitoring vitals, learner competency can be assessed when learning highly stressful tasks.

How does this work with a Learning Management System (LMS) and staying compliant?

What makes the Black6 system different is that it can extract the assessment pieces in the virtual world against benchmarked criteria relating to an accredited qualification or enterprise outcome (for example a certain piece of code equals the benchmark of flying at 100km per hour), store the data and export it. Using an experience application programming interface (xAPI), competency outcomes are tracked and stored and are able to be extracted for auditing and review purposes. Essentially, instead of listing the key assessment items, the software identifies it by itself. Using a LMS like aXcelerate means the assessor can complete the mapping against the assessment piece to show which key areas have been achieved. And, with AI assessment there’s no grey areas – the learner is either competent or not competent. 

What are the key benefits of using XR assessments?

Less resources needed

For any industry, all you generally need to use XR assessments is a laptop and a headset. Any tools or work spaces can all be built virtually. This is especially useful for rural and distance training, as training providers can send out headsets to their learners. Learners can then login to a portal, and complete virtual assessments with hotspot identification, which could look like a virtual model where the learner walks around and identifies certain components or flaws. 

Save money

For many industries, training in certain environments can be very expensive. For flying, a real PC21 aircraft is around $24,000 an hour to operate. With a headset, the cost comes down to your electricity, internet and licensing fee (and possibly the haptic suits).

Safety

XR also allows training providers to reduce the risk to individuals in high-risk environments like flying or firefighting. 

XR is the future

The market for XR technology is predicted to have strong and rapid growth over the next decade worldwide, and many industries are adopting the technology to retain a market edge. XR technology will affect every form of education, and many other industries such as retail, property, health and more. In fact, on a higher level it’s likely to impact and change the way we interact. 


How can training providers begin using XR for training?

It’s important that training providers start by determining what they’re trying to achieve for their learners before purchasing anything. Having a demonstration of the technology and forming a positive relationship with the XR tech provider is the key first step to embarking on the journey of providing XR training and assessment. This ensures that when the technology, units of competencies and training changes, your training organisation can avoid wasting resources by staying ahead of the game and adapting with ease. 

As well as developing virtual environments and hardware for training and assessment, Black6 offers development of training and assessment syllabuses and resources to ensure desired outcomes are achieved and benchmarks are met. Through consultation with SMEs, Black6 is able to develop a learning and assessment environment that achieves the required outcome and is completely auditable when mapped against a qualification within a governing framework such as the Australian Vocational Education and Training framework. 

Essentially, training organisations can now build whatever they want in a virtual space, assess it and export it to aXcelerate – all while maximising learner outcomes, maintaining a high standard of compliance and saving money. 

Black6's Rikky and Alex with aXcelerate at NVC 2021


To get in touch with Black6 Labs, find out more and reach out here



If you’re looking for a training management solution to manage your entire business, find out more about aXcelerate's One System SMS/LMS solution here.

Want to learn more about the future of education and training? Check out these articles:

  1. Training of the future – How VR and AR is changing education and training
  2. The Future of Australian Education is Bright — And Virtual
  3. Incorporating digital skills into VET delivery
  4. The Future World of Assessment
  5. The Future of Training and Education
  6. The challenges and opportunities for the future of VET

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