Skills training is far more effective when participants are actively engaged in the learning process. We know this intuitively from our own exper
ience: hands-on practice and collaborative exercises and other “active learning” techniques are far more stimulating than powerpoint slides and training manuals. And research has proven that such stimulation and engagement result in higher proficiency and longer knowledge retention.
Training professionals are using a spectrum of reality technologies to put these active learning principles into practice. Let’s take a look at three modalities that are employed in skills training — 360° Video, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality — to see how effectively they each engage participants.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then moving pictures are that much more engaging and informative. 360° video goes a step further by allowing the user to control the point of view of a prerecorded scene.
In the 360° video example shown here, police trainees can control the viewing angle as they learn how to perform a Pursuit Intervention Technique to safely stop a fleeing car.
360° video is limited as a training tool. The available experience remains the same every time. To make a change, the video needs to be re-recorded. And critically important for our purposes — the active learning experience of 360° video is constrained by the user’s inability to interact with the environment and encounter a response by the environment
AR is similar to 360° video in allowing observers to control the viewing angle, but AR does so in real time, as the viewer observes their actual physical surroundings. As the name indicates, augmented reality layers additional content to enrich the user’s perception of the real-world scene.
This additional content can appear on the surface, annotating real objects with relevant text or images. And AR can also allow users to visualize objects below the surface — like Superman’s x-ray vision. For example, in the video below, augmented reality reveals the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing components hidden behind the walls and ceilings of a construction site.
Augmented reality offers an information-rich experience. Users can not only look up and down and all around as they can with 360° video, but AR also allows them to see more than what is visible on the surface and to follow what interests them in order to gain deeper understanding.
However, augmented reality, like 360° video, cannot fully engage users in active learning: the realism of the user viewing the actual physical world does not afford the dynamic interactive experience that makes virtual reality especially effective at multimodal learning.
Because it is not limited by the constraints of the physical world, virtual reality can deliver a more interactive learning experience than 360° video and AR. As a simulated environment, VR can often provide a more authentic training experience, with trainees encountering various random challenges, under differing lifelike conditions, as they would in actual work situations.
VR allows trainees to repeatedly practice skills to develop proficiency and confidence, thereby gaining the equivalent of on-the-job experience. And they can practice dangerous operations without risking safety or equipment.
Trainees develop proficiency by perceiving the situation, taking action and receiving immediate realistic feedback on the consequences of their actions. This process of learning by trial and error has been proven to result in better understanding and longer knowledge retention. Neuroscientists call this type of of active learning “the perception-action cycle.” And let’s not overlook another important benefit of virtual reality: like gaming, it can be fun. Trainees are cognitively engaged in an immersive experience, while interactively practicing skills. They are motivated to concentrate their mental energies to gain proficiency and succeed at tasks. That’s active learning at its best.