Virtual Reality in Vocational Trades
Learning in virtual reality (VR) is a promising new addition to educational tools, which Roskilde University and Virtuition, together with educational experts and partners, currently focus on. We want to research the applicability of VR in the vocational and industrial arena, starting with automation.
We aim to develop more accessible, learning efficient, and affordable VR-based training for the industrial sector and vocational schools. Virtuition has developed a modular system of software components, which is used to build VR learning apps easily. This results in good time and cost savings for the companies who use this technology. The technology allows instructors to modify learning scenarios inside the VR world. Based on our work so far, we briefly present our viewpoints on benefits and challenges.
Educating professional workers and vocational students in operating and maintaining complex and expensive industrial machines and vehicles can be a tedious process. The machines and vehicles in question are not always physically accessible; they can take up a lot of space, and be expensive or occupied. Using VR instead of real machinery can solve the challenges of accessibility.
However, creating VR content and apps is time-consuming and requires a team of skilled and specialized software developers, 3D artists, and UX designers. This makes the creation of custom VR apps expensive. It can also be challenging for companies to integrate VR into their daily operations. Thorough understanding of VR is required to highlight where it can help the learning process, and where it has its limits. When designing the VR apps, problems such as cyber sickness must be well understood and addressed, in order to create a good user experience. Special infrastructure (e.g. VR rooms) should be provided, so that users have a comfortable environment, where they can engage in VR.
The latest generation of VR headsets are smaller, lighter, and wireless. The user puts on the headset and immediately finds himself inside a virtual, computer-generated environment. This can be fully interactive and the computer can simulate endless kinds of activities such as working with industrial machinery and automation robots.
Our learning scenarios are developed with pedagogics and didactics in mind, in order to ensure efficient and useful learning tools. The vocational advantages of practice learning in VR, „learning-by-doing“, are similar to a real workshop environment, where the learner interacts with machinery and maybe even a team. Our technology is additionally multi-user capable. This adds a social learning potential to the virtual learning solutions. VR can integrate “virtual teachers” who scaffold and give feedback as the learners try out solutions. Scaffolding is a learning term, which indicates an instructional technique, where the educator gradually moves the learner towards a stronger understanding, and thus stronger independence, by continuously offering tasks that matches the learner’s next level (“zone of proximal development”). Once the learner feels confident, and has built good basic knowledge from the virtual learning environment, they can move on to machinery in real life. Research shows that the usual stand-alone simulations in VR are useful for basic learning, remembering and understanding. Our work shows that with a more flexible and interactive software and pedagogical knowledge built into the software framework, it is possible to reach higher learning levels, where the student becomes able to also apply, analyze, evaluate, and even create.
The practical activity in VR supplements learning from books, lectures, or videos from the principle: The more ways you are informed of something, the higher the possibility of you remembering it. If you hear or read what you are learning, as well as try it out, experiment with it, and present something about what you have learned, that is the optimal learning situation. The contribution of VR to the multimodal approach of facilitating learning is likely to motivate a broader audience of learners, who usually prefer certain learning styles to others, while circulating different learning activities, which support the same learning aim.
Author and company biographies:
Virtuition is a software company based in Copenhagen that specializes in creating VR learning apps for vocational trades and the industrial sector.
Gustaf Stechmann is the founder and CEO of Virtuition. He is a software engineer with a degree from University of Applied Sciences in Kiel and has more than 20 years of experience in the field. An expert on AR/VR and visual computing, he wants to make VR education accessible and affordable to industrial companies and vocational schools in Denmark and worldwide.
Christine Revsbech Jensen is PhD in Educational Anthropology and postdoctoral researcher at Roskilde University. She has been an educator since 1999 and worked with vocational school development through several projects. Besides being a researcher of social and educational sciences, she functions as external examiner from Professionshøjskolernes Censorsekretariat.