Using immersive technologies in training for specialist roles

Our pioneering project has shown how immersive tech can support assessment and workplace learning

Our pioneering project has shown how immersive tech can support assessment and workplace learning

25 Mar 2024, 5:00

We all know the value of providing learners with industry contact. Workplace visits and work placements add genuine value to their studies and can often help them connect with career pathways they knew little about or thought out of their reach.

But employers have a limited capacity to provide these high-value, high-quality experiences that are an increasingly integral part of so many courses. How then do we plug that gap?

It’s important we do. Our role as educators goes beyond delivering course content, and some industry skills can only really be gained in the role. The more specialist the role, the truer this is.

A pioneering project at Calderdale College shows that incorporating innovative, digitally-led learning environments into our curriculum can give further education settings a big boost in supporting students into such specialist roles.

Our pilot project tested the use of simulation-based education and immersive technologies including virtual reality (VR) for formative assessment. Its aim was specifically to gauge how well this would help prepare students for gaining qualified status in the social care sector.

The pilot, funded by the NCFE Assessment Innovation Fund, highlights the diverse responses of FE students to virtual and immersive experiences of teaching, learning and assessment.

It was our T Level Digital students who actually developed the proof of concept for social care VR scenarios, which were then developed into prototype scenarios by our tech partner, Taran3D. In doing so, they incorporated elements of the T Level Health curriculum and Care Certificate Standard 15.  Our health students then undertook the scenarios both within the VR environment and also by attending practical sessions at an NHS simulation centre.

This will only be successful with adequate training and orientation

The feedback was positive. The students were particularly impressed with the simulation centre and working in a professional hospital environment. They found using VR within the classroom setting relatively realistic considering the scenarios were not final products, and they recognised the value of colleges using VR for teaching and learning.

The project ran for an academic year and delivery of the assessments was timetabled to coincide with the usual assessment points. However, as this was a bolt-on project some students felt disorientated when the new style of assessment was introduced. This raised the issues of digital disadvantage as none of our students had prior use of VR headsets. A lack of timetable flexibility to test out new approaches compounded the problem.

It also demonstrated the need to include simulation as a standard mode of assessment. This will only be successful if it is thoroughly implemented into a student’s timetable with adequate training and orientation to avoid it impacting negatively on the learner’s assessment.

The use of VR and simulation suites for learning is already offered at university level and within clinical environments for continued professional development. However, this project has showcased that with the right digital infrastructure colleges can also deliver this type of learning to a high quality. Doing so can only help to create innovative curriculums to ready students to enter industry.

Colleges can only do this if the funding is available to prioritise ongoing faculty development for effective use of immersive technologies.

The technical element of immersive technologies and simulated practice needs to be thoroughly implemented prior to using simulation for learning and assessment and fully embedded into college processes, systems and management. Training and orientation for students and staff needs to be timetabled at the beginning of the academic year to avoid the potential of student anxiety.

Project-based learning is integrated into every aspect of college life at Calderdale College. It is a critical part of the way we deliver our courses. However, the current skills required in industry go beyond what qualifications specify, and this gap is only likely to grow as technology transforms the workplace.

Closing that gap requires collaboration with employers, but it doesn’t all have to rely on physical placements. Our project shows that embedding immersive technologies into provision not only gives students the opportunities they need to prepare for the workplace but eases the strain on colleges and employers when it comes to the kind of high-quality training that helps fill job vacancies.

For more information about the pilot and to read the final report, visit the NCFE website

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