Virtual Apprentice

Research Supports Learning in Virtual Environments

As technologies continue to advance and become more affordable, training strategies are evolving and expanding to incorporate virtual reality as a vital component of curriculum. Many studies validate this medium as valuable and potentially critical to job training, particularly in industries where risk is part of the job .

Instructors at Loyalist College have created a ‘virtual’ fully functioning border crossing and a virtual car to train Canadian Border Services Agents. Each student takes on the role of an agent, with his/her avatar interviewing the avatars of the travelers wishing to enter Canada. A secondary training for auto searches features a virtual car that can be completely dismantled so students learn all possible places where contraband may be concealed. Students participating in the first year of the virtual border simulation achieved a grade standing that was 28% higher than the previous class who did not utilize a virtual world. The next class, using virtual environments, scored a further 9% higher.

A study reported in Science Daily shows that employee safety can be improved by using VR in health and safety training, like fire evacuation drills. In the study, trainees were immersed in a virtual fire in an office where they must navigate their way to evacuation. A comparison study was done with training done by traditional PowerPoint. The results showed a significant decrease in knowledge retention when participants trained by PowerPoint were tested one week later. In contrast, the VR trainees showed longer knowledge retention, greater engagement, and a willingness to participate in more training in the future.

A study was conducted by the Yale School of Medicine and the Queens University Department of Psychology in Belfast to demonstrate that virtual reality training can transfer technical skills to the operating room environment. The study found that surgeons trained via virtual reality performed 29% faster and made six times fewer mistakes than those trained with conventional methods.

As virtual training spreads further into business and industry, research will continue to support its use in training and education. Stay tuned.

Measurements and Analytics

We offer many arguments for the use of virtual reality immersive experiences as a core component of job training and workforce development: scalability, safety, portability, engagement, retention of instruction… volumes of research support our conviction. One of the greatest rationales for the use of this technology as an accelerant to training programs is the ability to extract significant data from the process. User metrics can range from activity tracking to eye tracking to galvanic skin response (GSR) tracking that measures a user’s stress levels. This is a wonderful overview of the value of VR metrics. I would add that it is incumbent upon the trainer to consider users’ backgrounds when evaluating their in-experience metrics. A pre-experience assessment is an important part of the training, as every user is different and needs to be evaluated that way.

The rapid acceptance of the Oculus Quest represents a sea change in actual usage of VR

It was for us!

Prior to the Quest arriving, challenging experiences would need to be used on a head-mounted display such as the HTC Vive. A wonderful headset, but you were required to run it from a powerful gaming laptop via a cable, i.e. tethered. The Quest is completely self-contained and you can be up and running in seconds without getting trapped in your own wiring. Powerful, portable, and relatively inexpensive the Quest will be the headset of choice until Quest 2 arrives. Oculus Quest - Game Changer for VR acceptance

Why Virtual Apprentice?

One of the biggest obstacles to scaling up apprenticeships in the United States is employers’ reluctance to invest in the upfront costs of training workers who could take their skills elsewhere before those costs are recouped, an issue that has bedeviled work force development for generations.

Supporters of apprenticeships say expanding them would help young people more than proposals to cancel student debt or make college free put forth by Democratic presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“When you push through an academic-only approach, that’s going to disadvantage people who learn better by doing,” said Robert Lerman, a fellow at the Urban Institute who has researched apprenticeships around the world.

Although most apprenticeships are still in skilled trades, such as plumbing and electrical work, in the past two years more than 700 programs have been created in white-collar or “new collar” fields such as cybersecurity, financial services, information technology and health care, according to Labor Department data.

The desire to expand apprenticeships reflects a rare area of bipartisan agreement. “We would like to focus bipartisan efforts on modernizing the existing system,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education & Skills at New America.

Virtual Apprentice does just this. We bring traditional apprenticeship programs into Industry 4.0 with virtual training on untethered headsets, making training scalable, more affordable, portable and safe. Trainees can practice requisite job skills at any place and at any time, without the use of expensive equipment, or risk of personal injury. Virtual Apprentice is an innovation that enhances, supports and modernizes the existing apprentice system.

Why Immersive Tech?

Why virtual reality? Or, broader still, why immersive technology – the overarching name of the category which includes augmented reality and mixed reality.  While not exactly new, why are we using them as the game-changing core of our new business and how did they become so important?

Stating the obvious – technology improvements move at the speed of light. Moore’s Law has applied for the last 55 years; the cost of technology has decreased at the same time as it has gotten faster, smaller, and more powerful.  Only two years ago, a VR system required a gaming laptop that linked by cable to a headset and cost $2500. Today, the hugely successful untethered Oculus Quest costs only $400. The Unity VR development platform and more affordable ways to create and acquire 3D models have made content creation a smoother process.

The quality of original and novel content is critical. We soon saw the effect our immersive virtual reality experiences had on people.  Everyone who put on a headset and swam with sharks or watched a total solar eclipse was blown away. At the 2018 USA Science & Engineering Festival, over 3,000 kids (and adults) were absolutely enthralled with our work – who knew that lessons on bioluminescence could be fun?

The success of our educational VR at the Festival made it clear that the real benefit for this technology existed not in experiences that take you on top of a mountain or under the sea, but ones that were more practical.  Immersive technologies are best employed to educate, train, teach, and practice. We’re not the only ones who believe this - countless research studies support it.

Whether you are learning how to fix a carburetor or install a new hip, practice done in your workplace environment is proven to be more effective than lectures, videos, or books.  Not only that, whatever the lesson, you can repeat it again and again.  Anywhere.  Anytime.

We are true believers in apprenticeships and see VR learning as an enhancement to the traditional model. Training in a virtual environment offers a level of consistency that mentoring can’t. Every trainee receives the same instruction every time, and in-depth analytics can be used to measure performance and refine the training process.

Once created, tested, and vetted, a VR training experience can be copied and installed in multiple headsets.  It can even be sent to trainees out in the field, eliminating the time and expense of travel to training sites.

We believe that we are at the cusp of a massive shift in how workers of the future will learn. Digital disruption has completely upended the global economy and along with it the very nature of work. Manufacturing, retail, medicine, and the service sector are completely different than they were 20 years ago and now require a workforce retrained in new and pertinent skills.

Our team at Virtual Apprentice is convinced that immersive technologies will be THE game changer in preparing today’s workforce to handle tomorrow’s work.