Experiential learning through immersion


Dr Helen Dudfield

Conventional training in high risk environments has been delivered using highly sophisticated simulation but, the downside being the high costs involved. However, over recent years, as new technologies emerge and mature, our training experts have seized the opportunity to exploit this innovative technology to train in a far cleverer, more cost-effective way.

virtual reality console being used by operator for training using headset and hand controllers

Simon Price, Capability Technical Lead, explains: “There’s substantial evidence that experiential (i.e. ‘training to do’) is a more effective way of learning than reading text books or studying in a classroom set-up. Being ‘immersed’ in a situation that’s as realistic as possible allows learners to perform activities themselves; the retention levels are far higher than in traditional learning methods, where tests have shown that half of all acquired knowledge is lost within an hour, and 99% within a month.

Experiential learning allows the trainee to consolidate memory through practice of realistic procedures and events, which is why over the years high-risk activities in hazardous sectors have been performed in realistic simulators, for example flying and mining. The recent emergence of virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (XR) as key technologies has made it possible to begin building some of those immersive experiences at a much lower cost and enabled us to offer our customers lower barriers to entry.

Simon continues: “We’ve specifically been using VR to support immersive scenarios to support team training, bringing teams of people together to train in an activity – wherever they are in the world – and enabling them to feel as though they are together, for example, in a submarine. Using this technology they can talk to each other and interact with the equipment, removing the need for large, expensive simulators that have a finite capacity.

It also means our customers can train their people anytime, anywhere. Refresher training can be delivered more flexibly, and is far more engaging for the newer generation, who are used to learning in this way; trainees are keen to do the training and wanting to carry on learning.

So, building on the heritage of traditional simulation, we’ve developed capability in these newer technologies, looking at variations of VR and mixed reality, and exploring how those can be used to transform the way our customers deliver their training. An example, being the xCITE programme demonstration for submariner training.

xCITE – xCollective Innovative Training Environment

Working together with award-winning technology providers, small medium enterprises (SMEs) and academic experts, we were able to demonstrate how we could help the Navy to meet their challenges through the use of blended, immersive and interactive 24/7 training. xCITE introduced layers of innovation, including gamification and adaptive learning, alongside team virtual reality scenario-based learning, so content and progress is personalised for each learner.

The xCITE submarine Virtual reality immerses trainees and trainers together in realistic operational scenarios to learn their role, develop and practice team skills and conduct continuation training. This capability can be used for multiple needs, for example, firefighting training, for familiarisation training for new systems or walking around platforms, and for soft skills in teams. In the new normal, distributed team training is enabled by cloud based VR, wherever and whenever with headsets deliverable to the doorstep in a scalable, enterprise solution.

Simon says: “The solution allows trainees to experience realistic and challenging real-world scenarios, safely, through virtual exploration. Team members support each other, wherever they’re located (we had trainees as far apart as Scotland and Devon), enhanced by online virtual instructors and role players connected both verbally and visually. By simply donning a headset, learners and their teams can be immersed in a virtual world, practicing all manner of complex tasks from the comfort of the classroom.”

With wireless headsets and access to them becoming better and more cost-effective, we have the opportunity to embrace this technology for future learning. “It’s a really exciting time,” says Simon. “Because there’s such a groundswell in the commercial sector around VR and a lot of money being spent in the consumer space, the cost of the devices is coming right down. With the speed at which technology is progressing it’s good for our customers to be able to leverage off that.”

Trialling xCITE on both experienced and novice submariners, we demonstrated how it can reduce training costs and the amount of sea-time required to gain qualifications. The techniques displayed through xCITE could be used across all the Armed Forces, in high-risk industries, in schools, universities, hospitals, at home, or for corporate training.

Last year, we identified a further significant customer need for these immersive environments to fully support end to end training providing performance data and so with Immerse, an innovative SME in team VR, we jointly invested in an After Action Review capability. This enables VR to provide objective measurement of performance automatically collected supported by trainer marks and feedback. This resulted in a leading analytics package that enables users to track every action a trainee takes in VR. Actions, competences and trainer comments then feed into a dashboard which provides a rich layer of actionable and auditable data.

Tom Symonds, CEO of Immerse commented “The efficacy of VR training is undisputed. But getting the most value from it and measuring your ROI requires more than anecdotal feedback. It also calls for quantifiable hard data. We have built our Immerse platform so it allows you to capture the right insights to help you maximise employee performance and improve processes."

Underpinning this is our defence research into assessment of human performance to identify sensitive measures of training effectiveness whether as an individual learner or in a collective team. These innovations support a future digital data training capability where trainee performance and competence can be automatically uploaded and shared as digital records on learning management systems.

Into the future...

Continuous technology watch, horizon scanning and developing innovative partnering with emerging technology start-ups is a crucial aspect to deliver mission led innovation – understanding what technologies are emerging, how these potentially benefit trainees and then rapidly demonstrating and testing these with clients. “It’s a balance of understanding the trainees and what their needs are, and matching those to technologies,” explains Simon.

The benefits to our customers of using experiential learning through immersion include:

  • Flexibility – 24/7 learning, anytime and anywhere
  • Engaging distributed trainees – geographically dispersed teams can learn and train together
  • Safety – allows hazardous activities to be conducted in a safe environment, and enables a trainee to fail safely and drives home learning points
  • Cost-effectiveness – relying on existing COTS technologies vastly increases affordability.

For more information about this or any other aspect of QinetiQ’s training capabilities, contact Dr Helen Dudfield