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How VR Promises to Revolutionise Professional Training

While there is much to be said for learning from books and under the tutelage of professional trainers, nothing really helps a person learn something new than actually doing it. However, while no one would deny that the theoretical side of a subject is important, actually getting to be able to physically practise a new task or skill has a number of downsides too. For a start, the actual task might be inherently dangerous to either the trainee or anyone that they may be dealing with.  

Medical procedures spring to mind, where a qualifying surgeon may be training to specialise in bone setting; they can rarely arrange for training since surgery is usually an emergency procedure. Or how about dealing with an emergency situation at a nuclear power station? Understandably, Nuclear Engineers and Management tend not to want to actually turn off cooling water supplies, just to see how a trainee deals with the situation. 

Furthermore, trainers may not always be available, or there may be geographic problems that prevent the team meeting up and actually being able to carry out the training. There could even be timing conflicts. This could mean that a trainee may be in a position where they are not completely competent, and no one wants to be in a commercial airliner where the pilot is learning through trial and error.

Therefore, increasingly powerful and believable VR environments are a potential means of delivering essential hands-on training, but in a safe environment. In a virtual world, trainees can make mistakes – and learn from them – without being a danger to themselves, their trainer, someone that they may be working on or with or, in the case of doomsday nuclear scenarios, half the country. VR has a lot of potential in this field, and a growing number of developers are starting to see that.

Take, for instance Norwegian developer Connect the Dots (CDT), who have started to introduce a highly detailed medical scenarios that allow trainees to experience life in their chosen professions but without the risk. The Chief Technology Officer of the organisation, Hvard Snarby, has a strong interest in both education and technology. During his time at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, he investigated the effects of virtual reality (VR) technology on students’ academic performance. After training using VR, clinical students had a higher level of engagement and a greater ability to recall information than they did after training with traditional simulation on a medical dummy. Together with his sister, Siva Snarby, who has extensive knowledge in the areas of economics and financial management, he established CTD with the intention of assisting medical professionals in better preparing themselves for actual clinical scenarios.

Medical training is always seen as particularly difficult when it comes to training; doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are expected to perform to the highest standards every time, and failure in some way can lead to serious complications or even death of a patient, so getting it wrong is not an option. As already discussed, many medical situations are unplanned and no one should be receiving training in an emergency situation, so the possibility of being able to conduct training in a range of situations via VR is tantalising. 

However, CDT have recognised that there also has to be some kind of jeopardy in the training, otherwise it is actually unrealistic, and the trainee may not take it seriously. Therefore, the virtual package that the company has developed includes features that impact the virtual patient with them experiencing multiple negative events and even dying if the correct actions aren’t taken by the trainee. In order to achieve the feeling of reality, the virtual environment has to be suitably realistic, and the CTD system seems to have that. Anne Kristin Ihle Melby from the Norwegian Directorate of Health was given a demonstration of the system and came away suitably impressed. She said “My experience with CTD Helse was that the training situation was so realistic that I felt I was training on a real person in a real environment. I was surprised at how lifelike this was. I strongly believe that this will supplement today’s traditional training methods, and that it can enable more people to train more often. VR technology can be an important contribution to increasing competence in the health service.” Praise indeed, and with the company constantly refining their virtual environment, it is only going to become increasingly lifelike. Over at VitraMed, a realistic medical training package has been developed using Unity’s 3D Digital Twin technology complete with haptic feedback to simulate medical operations on virtual patients, and the results are looking promising.

Of course, as well as allowing a trainee to experience a situation in a realistic environment, VR training of this nature is a huge cost saving to an industry that is constantly being told to cut back, but to still deliver an excellent service. Clinicians from all over the country can participate in training thanks to this platform, which eliminates the need for them to go to a centralised location. This has the potential to save a significant amount of time and resources in a country the size of Norway. This has a tremendous amount of application in potentially inaccessible or underdeveloped regions of the world. Students not only have the opportunity to complete this training on their own, but they also have the choice to collaborate with one another while an instructor watches and provides direction. They can participate in classes and speak with one another in real time without ever having to go outside of their local communities. In addition, students are able to gain knowledge not only from their instructors but also from one another through the use of this shared experience, which is why it is considered to be an essential component of a comprehensive educational programme.

The CTD package is one of the stand-out virtual training experiences available, but others will soon learn the benefits of carrying out training in this way, and we are likely to see this a major growth industry. Other industries are seeing the potential of this too. Axon, for instance, are developing a number of virtual training environments for law enforcement agents, and German car manufacturer Volkswagen have committed themselves to a comprehensive VR training program to help new starters and those wishing to learn new skills in the workplace. 

A growing number of industries have recognised how VR training can help them, and are embracing it, and in doing so, are helping push the whole industry forward, and that, in turn, will fuel the creative minds behind VR training. It’s starting to get exciting.