When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, technical colleges were forced to find creative solutions to their usual in-person courses. Instructors had a difficult task ahead: how could they make up for hours of laboratory and field experience when students couldn’t be on campus?
The health crisis presented technical colleges with both challenges and opportunities. As the world continues to adapt post-pandemic, schools must now make strategic decisions about how best to combine online/remote learning and in-person instruction for a blended educational experience that is both engaging and effective.
Technology is offering a game-changing option for instructors to bridge the gap between in-the-field studies and remote teaching. Virtual reality, 3D simulations and gamified classroom activities enable immersive experiences that can boost the effectiveness of learning outcomes when students are unable to be on-site.
The Benefits of Immersive Learning
The benefits of incorporating technology in a teaching environment are significant. Students in the skilled trades, for example, require critical thinking and analytical skills, and the ability to make quick diagnoses when troubleshooting and locating faults. To this end, online simulations are playing a key role for instructors “in filling the logic gap” and providing “a bridge between the lecture and the lab parts of instruction,” according to Tim Smith, HVAC expert and an assistant professor at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York for 30 years.
Smith found that through online simulations offered by Interplay Learning, he ended up spending considerably less time in the lab orienteering students on specific equipment and safety. “In this way, they hit the ground running, and I could maximize the focus on teaching rather than spending so much time on safety,” he said, adding that he also found that students, through their newly acquired diagnosis and analytical skills, were finishing lab projects much quicker.”
The PwC 2022 U.S. Metaverse Survey supports Smith’s finding, reporting that employees in VR courses can be trained up to four times faster. The survey showed that VR can help business leaders upskill their employees faster, even at a time when budgets may be shrinking, and in-person learning may be off the table.
Ultimately, the final proof is always with the skilled trades employers. “Even local employers noted the increase in critical thinking and diagnostics skills,” Smith said. “Whereas normally newly employed students would be trained by a skilled technician for up to a year, with our new students this was reduced to around two months.”
Research also shows that immersive technologies are significantly improving a learner’s ability to learn and apply skills. A 2019 study by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that medical students undergoing VR training were able to carry out certain procedures more effectively than colleagues who went through more traditional forms of learning. Lifelike visuals and tactile feedback help make experiences comparable to the real thing. The same applies to skilled trades.
Fighting The Constraints of Time
One of the biggest challenges instructors and technical colleges face today is time constraints – in terms of the time instructors can provide to each student, the amount of practice students can enjoy, and the need to make them job-ready in as short a timeframe as possible.
In such cases, designing an efficient and productive curriculum that allows for an accelerated path to completion and employment is vital. Rather than an inconsistent, patchwork program, there is a need for a highly focused approach that covers classroom learning, field application, and on-the-job experience. By leveraging technology to provide a fast-tracked pathway to learn critical skills, educators can better prepare students for life beyond the classroom.
A Safety-Focused Environment In & Outside the Classroom
Student safety at technical colleges and in the workplace is a vital mission of technical colleges today. Students need a safe, convenient place to make mistakes and gain job-ready skills before working on real equipment. In addition, instructors also need to be given the necessary time to focus on safety and mandatory compliance training in order forstudents to leave colleges well-versed in on-the-job safety hazards. Yet, it’s not always the case across technical colleges today.
Chad Soucy, who has spent 30 years in the electrical trade and over five years as an electrical instructor, has had first-hand experience with the safety issues related to electrical work.
“On Dec. 15, 1996, I was involved in a near-death arc flash event that totally changed my life forever. Since that day, I’ve made it my mission to dedicate my whole career to focusing on having a safety mindset,” Soucy said. “In my opinion, however, there is a lack of practical application of safety, so employers are forced to offer employees static training based on memorization that is very difficult to apply in an everyday situation.”
Virtual learning, however, is allowing students to safely troubleshoot in a risk-free environment. For example, 3D simulation activities from Interplay Learning allow students to practice fieldlike procedures without the fear of harming themselves, giving them more confidence for when they work on real equipment. This also allows instructors to document all training, reduce the time required to educate students on safety, and focus on the students that require the most help. Providing the bridge between lecture and hands-on training is making things safer and raising the standards in the lab.
Much like advances in visualization tools give medical students and veteran clinicians a new perspective and a safe way to practice, simulations for skilled trades look and feel realistic and provide real-time feedback on errors and comprehensive subject matter. “Since simulations remove real-life risks, students can truly focus on learning rather than fearing the consequences of an unsafe action,” Soucy said. “This allows trainers to concentrate on coaching and mentorship while learners build their confidence and trust in the process.”
Technology can also allow a greater number of apprentices to safely build up skills, make errors, take control of their learning, and confidently choose a pathway to the career in electricity that they think is best for them. “Whether in HVAC, solar, plumbing, electrical appliances or electrical safety, simulation training contributes to funneling far more confident techs into the industry that work safer and perform better, improving the reputation of the companies they work for,” Soucy said.
The virtual teaching of safety through simulations can also play an important role in complementing safety protocols taught by instructors and can also ensure that safety is standardized to the highest level, negating the danger of human error where the instructor might forget a safety protocol.
Immersive Learning in Action
Immersive learning from Interplay Learning can provide a solution to improve the efficacy of teaching post-pandemic by bridging the gap between in-the-field studies and remote instruction. Through technology like 3D simulations, instructors are able to offer their students an engaging and memorable experience that will help them learn quickly and retain critical on-the-job skills for their future careers.
Learn more about how Interplay Learning’s immersive simulations can help you increase student success rates here.