The sudden need for teaching and training remotely may have highlighted the benefits of digital training, but it has also highlighted some training challenges. In this article, we explore a common challenge – how do you transfer complex training needs into a digital format?
We like a challenge at Virtual College, especially this type. We find it is the perfect opportunity to go beyond the basic e-learning authoring tools, and use different digital technology, such as 3D modelling and virtual games, expanding our understanding of how technology can help and support the learner.
Alex Bradley, a Learning Design Manager here at Virtual College, recently worked on a large-scale defence project in which different digital technologies were used to support their complex training of different types of equipment.
As part of this project, the learners had to learn about various pieces of communications equipment, including how to use them and how to maintain them. Alex explains, ‘We broke up the training into two parts – theory and practical. The theory covered how the equipment works and why it works, and the practical showed the learner how to use it. It was more in-depth and it was in this type of learning that it became really interactive. We used different types of technology at various different points, making sure it was appropriate for the learning aims.’
Standard e-learning authoring tools and animations were chosen for the theory section, as they are useful methods to introduce the piece of equipment. Basic scenarios were designed to help get the learners thinking about the equipment before they ‘used’ it.
Alex recalled how we utilised these scenarios: ‘We created a 2D scenario which helped the learners to test themselves on the equipment. It was designed from the learner’s perspective, so they were looking around their ‘environment’, and could click on arrows to shift their perspective around. They could then click on objects and answer relevant questions. Overall, it is a great way to put them into a situation and test them, so perfect for theory-type learning, but it doesn’t really provide them with a sense of having learnt how to actually use a piece of equipment.’
To help give them this sense of how to use the equipment – the aim of the practical segment – 3D modelling was used. It allowed us to create life-life reproductions of the required equipment, which was accurate in terms of what the learner has to do with it. The learners were able to move it around and interact, which allowed them to gain meaningful insights.
Alex detailed how they used 3D modelling to teach the learners how to use generators. ‘We didn’t just have to teach them how to use the generators, but how to maintain them too. Therefore, we had to replicate every part of it, including the inside. This allowed them to practice handling it and taking it part and putting back together. We’ve even set up timed exercises to text how quickly the learners can do it.’
This approach was chosen to allow the learners practise using equipment in the specific environment: ‘It allowed us to recreate a full 3D environment, in which the learner has free movement and can interact with the environment – pick equipment up, carry it around and use it as they would. This is a fantastic opportunity for the learner, as it allows them to practise as many times as they want, focus on amending any mistakes or uncertainties, and really build their confidence. On the downside, it does take money and time to build, but the end product is phenomenal.’
In our chat, Alex also detailed other forms of technology which can transform these complex training needs, the main two being Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Both of these are growing in popularity, and are becoming part of our everyday lives, especially as companies such as Google adopt them. But in relation to training both can be effective.
Virtual Reality can be used a similar way to a 3D game. It creates a virtual environment and allows the learner to interact with it through the use of a headset, and they feel fully immersed both physically and mentally.
It has varied in terms of how it has been used. It has been used as part of the onboarding process, especially for roles where they are immediately dealing with customers or are in a high-stress environment, but it has also been used to help prepare people for rare or unexpected events, such as earthquakes!
To put simply, AR enables you to look at your environment through a device such as a smart phone or a tablet (so it doesn’t present you with a new environment, unlike VR) and it places things into that environment with which you can interact.
In training it can be incredibly beneficial. This can be one way of safely using and exploring dangerous pieces of equipment, such as in the food industry, or as a way of teaching how to use, fix or maintain a piece of equipment. For example, BMW have been using it during training sessions, using visual elements to guide them through the process of assembling engines.
It is also transforming medical training. For example Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University are teaching their students anatomy through an AR headset, allowing them insights into the human body that they may not have gained otherwise. They claim that the learning has been more effective and more knowledge has been retained compared to other methods.
Let’s briefly discuss the challenges, or downsides, to these technologies. The two main ones are the cost and time it takes to develop them – they are neither quick nor cheap, and will never be chosen as a ‘sticking plaster’. When they are chosen it is for the long-term benefits of the training – and how much insight and knowledge can be gained by these approaches in comparison to others.
It is natural to think that nothing can replace working with an actual piece of equipment, and though there are strong arguments for that, using digital simulations of equipment can offer many benefits.
Using virtual or digital versions of the equipment is a great way to introduce someone to a piece of complex and potentially dangerous equipment. It is a lot safer; they can’t injure themselves, they can’t break the equipment – they can simply use the digital version in a safe environment to help familiarise themselves before they use the real thing.
Digital simulations provide unique learning opportunities which you might not get with an actual piece of equipment. For example, some companies set up digital versions of their goods, so they can deliberately break them in order for them to practise fixing them. This is a useful way to get to know a piece of equipment inside out, as well as saving you from having to damage any actual equipment!
When teaching a class about a piece of equipment, there is often only one piece available. Having digital versions available means that multiple people can use it at the same time, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity and without the pressure of having to use it for a limited time.
Training with the actual equipment means it isn’t always easily accessible, but digital versions allow the learners to access it 24/7 and practise as often as they need to.
Imagine a piece of equipment that never breaks – never needs repairs and doesn’t wear and tear – that is one of the joys of digital versions.
Overall, these approaches don’t have to replace the face-to-face and hands-on training, they can be used in a blended approach and be adopted to help enhance the learner’s experience. Imagine how beneficial it would be if learners were introduced to a piece of equipment in class, but then could go away and practise with a digital version as often as he or she likes – this would help improve their confidence dramatically.
Our experience of developing various types of training has put us in a strong position to help others develop their ideas or plans, as well as developing the training ourselves. Find out more about our bespoke training solutions, or if you would like guidance on how you could adapt a piece of training, please get in touch.