When someone says the words ‘virtual reality’, many of us still imagine something along the lines of Futurama – talking robots, time travel and spaceships. But in reality, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR), is already here – and the pilots, firefighters, surgeons (and many more jobs) of today and tomorrow are using VR/AR to train and upskill.
When a learner is immersed in virtual reality, they are seeing an entirely artificial environment that has been built for a certain scenario. Augmented reality on the other hand, uses our real environment and overlays animation or information on it – think of it as ‘adding more’ to our reality. Some common examples of AR in our daily lives include the viral phone app game Pokemon Go and Instagram story filters.
The case for VR and AR in education and training leans on the four basic learning styles – visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinetic. With students’ attention spans being affected by more distractions than ever, more and more education providers are searching for new tools to engage their learners in a more visual and kinetic way. This new style of learning is not only proving to be engaging, but can also solve a lot of training problems, especially for industries and jobs that may have an element of danger.
We’ve been increasingly seeing more industries embrace virtual and augmented reality for training, especially in jobs that could have dangerous consequences if mistakes are made or the job requires exposure to situations that are too dangerous for untrained workers, such as firefighting.
With places like Australia and the US often being badly affected by extreme wildfires, some fire departments have taken on VR technology to train firefighters. Australian company FLAIM Systems focuses on virtual scenarios that are too dangerous to recreate in the real world, being able to virtually recreate fire, smoke, water, water hose force, heat (up to 100 degrees Celsius), and fire-extinguishing foam.
Another common example is training pilots. Flight simulators have been used to train pilots for over 80 years, but more recently technology like VR headsets have been adopted. Here in Australia, companies like VisionTek are developing mixed reality training and assessment solutions for government, civil and industrial training.
Some schools have also been taking advantage of Google’s affordable Cardboard VR headsets to learn about history, science, the arts and the natural world by going on ‘adventures’, or immersive simulated experiences.
We’re also seeing some schools using AR in science classes to do the classic frog dissection, using Froggipedia – an AR app that lets students study and dissect the internal organs of a frog.
Frog dissection isn’t the only surgery AR can help with. Microsoft’s HoloLens can also assist with neurosurgery (check out this amazing tech in the video below).
And, with digital success stories such as medical students at the Uni of California Irvine scoring 23% higher on national exams after being equipped with iPads in class, there is a big opportunity to keep developing and trialling technology for training and education.
The VET sector is continuously trying to improve, and move beyond problems and barriers such as:
VR is one way VET can solve these problems. Training benefits include:
Assessment is moving towards an immersive experience. When a student is participating in work-based learning they may feel pressured in a real-world environment to not make mistakes. VR and AR can allow students to experience the same real-world scenario or event without fear of real-world consequences. One of aXcelerate's amazing clients, JB Hunter, is one of the leading RTOs who use VR for their assessment. JB Hunter has had over 1000 students completing blended online and virtual reality assessment over the past 12 months using our aXcelerate LMS and Assessment Engine – with exciting further developments to come.
Tailoring assessment to the type of student and study is viewed by many education experts as important. Sir Ken Robinson talked about a young girl who everyone thought had a learning problem as she couldn’t keep still in class, who then became a famous choreographer after a doctor advised her to go to a dance school—the lesson being everyone has their own unique make-up, talents and character. We can see how assessment has responded to cases like this over time, with examples such as in this Jisc UK study where dance students were assessed using 360° cameras rather than writing an essay—showing assessment capabilities are broader than one might think, and are able to be specifically catered to all fields of training and study.
Although using virtual and augmented reality tech has many benefits (and is also pretty cool), it does come with some challenges. As you’re probably aware, purchasing this technology and equipment, developing learning content with it and maintaining the virtual classroom environment is expensive. There’s also the technical stability of the virtual classroom to think about, as well as access to instructional designers familiar with VR/AR, and of course, compliance.
However, the cost of these technologies is reducing over time, and is expected to be much more affordable in the future, and things like facial recognition and blockchain technology for validation aim to assist providers with compliance.
Although emerging technologies such as VR could increase engagement levels and enhance the ‘online’ learning experience, while also enhancing students’ work-readiness after graduation, NCVER found the technology factor was not as important as the relationship between the trainer and student, and how much engagement can come from that. Training providers need to remember to place the trainer-student relationship impact first, as well as curriculum and instructional design, and then consider using new technologies for enhancing training engagement.
With some industries, such as aged care, it's difficult to gain adequate skills and experience from online and/or virtual training. However, it's hard to know the limits of the possibilities of VR/AR technology, as with further developments we can see things like sensitively calibrated controls accurately recreate the situation for more industries.
Although we’re yet to see VR and AR become mainstream in VET, we’re likely to see more and more training organisations take on this new reality for their business in the future.
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