Marshall Centre is Developing Virtual Reality Learning Experiences

Marshall Centre have delivered world-class apprenticeships and training in the field of aviation, manufacturing and engineering for 100 years. In February 2020 we were delighted to be awarded main provider status, allowing us to start working with external customers outside of the Marshall Group, but just one month later we were in lockdown and, like all education providers, we had to quickly adapt to delivering our training virtually.

Our team did a superb job, and thankfully, we could continue operating; we even managed to welcome our 100th cohort of apprentices this year despite all the challenges brought about by social distancing and restrictions. Many people hope that the events of 2020 will soon be a distant memory. However, many educators suggest that blended learning (part virtual and part in-person) may continue post COVID-19, so it is vital that we ensure virtual learning is something that students want to engage with independently and, as the year comes to an end, we reflect on and learn from the challenges we faced delivering virtual training in 2020.

Virtual learning challenges
Like all educators, in 2020, the trainers at Marshall Centre had to adapt quickly to virtual delivery of lessons and this was challenging for a few reasons:

1.    Learners did not have access to components and equipment
Most of the people we train are learning about engineering, manufacturing or maintenance, so there is a technical aspect to their lessons and because learners did not have access to equipment and components to hold, examine and take apart, it was difficult for them to grasp some of the more technical aspects of their training. Although our trainers showed them components through their cameras or pictures on slide decks, that is not as effective as allowing the learners to explore the objects themselves and discover how they worked.

2.    Poor internet connection
Virtual delivery is dependent on consistent internet connection and good bandwidth, which could not always be guaranteed; trainers risked freezing mid-sentence and learners often had to repeat questions, which negatively impacted the pace of delivery and this is frustrating for all involved.

3.    Screen fatigue
The NHS reported an increase in the number of people complaining of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or screen fatigue. This is because we are not used to interacting with people in a 2-dimensional world with a restricted field of vision, where engaging in conversations that flow is challenging because we cannot read body language to determine the best time to speak, where your mind cannot wonder and you minimise peer to peer support. Now learners must concentrate more intensely to ensure they do not miss anything, which means that they become exhausted after long sessions.

Also, eye movement is restricted to short left to right flickers leading to repetitive strain causing blurry vision and dry, itchy, sore eyes. Poor posture from inappropriate work spaces, is leading to more complaints of back and neck pain and none of these things are conducive to an effective learning experience.

4.    Adapting to a new way of teaching
Our trainers were faced with challenges such as navigating new technology, adapting in-person lessons to virtual delivery at pace, finding ways to make the learning interactive, reduced feedback from the class because cameras were turned off (we do this for safeguarding purposes as we do not wish to see learners in their bedrooms) and microphones are on mute. This reduced visual and auditory feedback meaning that the trainers could not see if someone had lost focus, looked confused or laughed at a humorous anecdote, which made it challenging for our trainers to build rapport and gauge how the lessons were received.  

What we learned
We understand that the pandemic will not last forever but it gave us a unique opportunity to reflect and reimagine how we train people moving forward to reduce screen fatigue and allow the learners to manipulate three dimensional objects. If the learner cannot attend a classroom session or they would like to revise at home, we want to provide a resource that is more engaging than course notes, textbooks or slide decks.   

The future of education
As many educators call for a permanent move towards blended learning post COVID-19, we must all ensure our virtual delivery is as engaging, immersive and impactful as our in-person delivery. Webinar-style delivery was necessary during lockdown and we all did what we could to make it work but that approach alone is not the most effective virtual teaching method. Imagine immersive and gamified virtual and augmented reality micro learning experiences that supplement what learners do in the classroom or workshop. This was our starting point for the development of a virtual Marshall Centre learning space where we can deliver customised learning experiences for people in a virtual world.

How much does this cost?
Most people reading this will think, “that all sounds great but also very expensive”. Most small and medium sized enterprises can’t afford to keep up with the pace of technology innovation and when you start talking about virtual and augmented reality, most people agree that it is a powerful learning tool and the future of education but far beyond what tight L&D budgets will stretch to. However, what if the virtual reality learning experiences could be be accessed through a computer or smart phone/tablet, without the need for expensive VR headsets and the cost of delivery is fixed, so you can train two or two hundred employees at the same cost? Suddenly this option becomes more attractive.

The Virtual Marshall Centre

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Marshall Centre have developed a virtual training centre, which is a 360-degree space to create customised virtual reality learning experiences that can be accessed through a virtual reality headset, on a computer, a smartphone or a tablet, meaning companies do not need to invest in expensive equipment to take advantage of our virtual reality learning platform. These immersive learning experiences are affordable to develop and run so they are accessible to everyone in your organisation for a flat rate as there is no cost per user there is only a monthly cost per live project, which could contain many different learning experiences that every person in your business could access as often as they needed to at work or at home. The lessons are gamified and interactive, so learners will enjoy the experience and retain more information, making this a perfect supplement to our in-person delivery.

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We are currently creating our pilot learning experiences and hope to have a version ready to demonstrate the capabilities to external customers in 2021. If you would like to have a discovery conversation about how we can help you incorporate virtual reality learning experiences into your current L&D requirements, please contact us.

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