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For those involved in the provision and consumption of further education, there are several challenges to overcome. Available finance is often limited on both the side of the education provider and the prospective learner, limiting the amount of instruction offered, and the number of people who can afford to learn.

There are many ways in which virtual reality can be used to reduce these costs and therefore make learning flexible and accessible to wider audiences. VR technology can not only cut learning expenses, but also improve the learning experience as a whole for all parties involved.

Reducing travel costs

Historically, the leading method for teaching in further education is face to face discussion between teacher or trainer and students. While there are some institutions that rely on learning over the internet, it is greatly accepted that the ability to interact in person with peers and instructors is incredibly beneficial. Interaction boosts retention rates and interest levels in students and therefore increases learning success. This, of course, means paying for a space in which people can come together, plus the time and travel costs of teachers and students alike who have to regularly commute to and from the place of learning.

With virtual reality, these costs are completely removed, while the benefits of face to face learning and discussion are retained. Students and teachers do not need to be in the same room, city or even country for them to come face to face with one another, and the commuting time is only as long as it takes to log into the VR scenario. Essentially, the time that would have been lost during travel can now be spent on more productive things, allowing teachers more time to teach, and students more time to learn.

Keeping training time at a minimum

It is now widely accepted that learning in Virtual Reality drastically increases retention rates and higher emotional engagement. This makes sense when you consider how much more you remember of an activity you physically carry out, rather than one you merely read about. Interacting with other people or the physical item you are learning about is far more immersive and engaging, and forms far stronger memories than looking at presentations and 2D diagrams.

Where learning is centred around a piece of machinery for example, diagrams and even videos cannot show you how something works as efficiently as being able to interact with it yourself. Virtual reality provides not only 3D representations of physical objects, but can also include multiple interactions that can walk a learner through otherwise incredibly complicated procedures in a straight-forward and engaging manner

As an example of how VR can be implemented for training purposes, we have worked with Inmarsat to develop a scenario where the user learns how to put together a satellite terminal from its constituent parts in a simulated desert environment. The process involves plugging in wires, finding and attaching matching pieces and flicking switches, and if not done correctly the machine will not power up. Explaining each of these stages using diagrams would take an incredibly long time, and a video of the process would have to capture many different stages and images, and probably have to be watched several times to have an effect. However, when subjects are taught in less time, training can be tailored to each learner’s specific needs. With less time needed to fully train a student, less costs are incurred and more students can be trained at the same time, reducing costs of drawn out learning times.

Plus, if a student ever needs a ‘top up’ in a particular area, or maybe if something they have learnt is subsequently altered, it is easy and inexpensive to re-do part of the training scenario, encouraging life-long learning and personal development

Less reliance on physical (and expensive) objects

When learning a language, all that is needed is a teacher, a student, and potentially some text books and stationary. However, when students need to learn to interact with physical objects, particularly in vocational training, much more equipment is required to effectively train them. Gaining access to this equipment is notoriously hard – for a start it is often expensive to purchase, especially when it will be only used for teaching rather than its actual purpose. Where the object is large or heavy for instance, learners and teachers must make the journey to wherever it is stored, incurring additional costs.

However, if the item was to be created in virtual reality, all of these challenges and their associated costs are removed. Virtual reality also dramatically helps in situations where an asset will be used up after being used for learning. Each learner can place wear and tear upon a machine they are practising on, and can possibly break or damage important and expensive parts. If a learning process involves cutting, breaking or making otherwise irrevocable changes, new stock needs to be bought for every learner, every time they go through the steps. With virtual reality, the process can be repeated time and time again, simply resetting the scene to the original condition whenever necessary.

Safely recreating danger

There are many cases where learning involves unreliability and danger, which can be difficult if not impossible to recreate without great expense. An example of this is disaster recovery or health and safety training. In real life, in order to create a scene which will allow a learner to practice their reactions to dangerous and unexpected stimuli is almost impossible to do without endangering the learner. However, in virtual reality, any conceivable situation can be simulated in as realistic a way as possible; from a nuclear reactor meltdown, to mines collapsing, to a violent attack on an office building. Not only can learners fail safely time and time again until they get it right, but they can do this without incurring any additional cost.

In addition, as everything in VR is recorded, learners can easily analyse and receive feedback on their actions after the event, making for a more meaningful learning experience.

Creating your own solutions

With education technology becoming a global phenomenon, the market is expected to grow to $252bn by 2020, it’s never been easier to be part of the digital revolution and ensure both students and staff can achieve ongoing upskilling and training.

That said, there are many education institutions and business interested in implementing VR training and education programmes but do not have the resources nor the staff required in place; in addition, some of them need customised solutions that fit their own needs. However, VR doesn’t have to be costly nor complicated, and it can help drive savings in the long run. In addition, educators can create their own VR scenarios, with the support of tools such as Immerse’s VR Platform. This way they can create, manage and distribute their own 3D assets and VR scenes, and reap the benefits of the innovative solution. The 3D assets can then be shared for use by multiple people in both VR headsets and browsers, while all interactions can be tracked for analysis for future improvement too.

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