Immersive Learning: Expert Roundtable

Representatives from IEEE, Glartek, Moth+Flame, and VirtualiSurg speak on the latest industry trends and insight

Mixed RealityInsights

Published: May 15, 2024


Rory Greener

Immersive learning solutions are becoming increasingly valuable by providing engaging, safe, and repeatable virtual training scenarios, which help businesses today save money, leverage learner performance metrics, and solve problems.

The demand for new skills is rising due to ongoing digital transformation and disruption. In fact, 87% of companies report a significant skills gap in their teams.

However, providing traditional educational experiences to employees is challenging, especially with the increasing prevalence of hybrid and remote work, which makes it difficult to ensure that every employee has access to the same practical training to the same practical training opportunities.

To break down some of the latest Immersive Learning trends, XR Today compiled expert insight from:

  • Jennifer Rogers, Executive Officer, Learning Technology Standards Committee at the IEEE
  • Bruno Duarte Glartek CEO
  • Jack Makhlouf, VP Partnerships, Moth+Flame
  • Nicolas Mignan, CEO & Co-Founder of VirtualiSurg

How can Businesses Tailor Immersive Training Programs to Address Specific Skill Gaps and Knowledge Requirements?

Jennifer Rogers 

All associates or frontline workers, all the way up through leadership, need the opportunity not only to take in information or knowledge but also to demonstrate skill or capability on the job. 

From an industrial perspective, people play a huge role and must make critical decisions that impact not only themselves and their organization but also the environment.  

When we think about how we want to tailor immersive experiences to maximize skill development, businesses should first start by clearly describing the human behaviours they’re looking to see in the workplace.  

The first thing organisations must consider is what people need to do on the job. It’s essential, particularly as we look at immersive experiences because we increasingly have the opportunity to measure the behaviours or actions someone takes while in a scenario. So it’s critical that businesses get pretty specific about what behaviours they’re looking to track. 

The second area of focus should be on situations and context. Be very clear about those situations or contexts and whether human behaviour should change in different situations or stay consistent.  

That varies in industrial environments. We’ll often look at this around the framework of risk. The desired human response in a particular scenario depends on the level of risk and the organization’s strategic risk tolerance, but being clear about expectations and measuring them accordingly ensures that people are prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow. 

The last thing I would say is that organizations should be able to track progress over time across experiences. From an immersive perspective, we lose much of the efficiency around showing skill development in the workforce when we don’t treat the learner as the same person throughout all of a company’s different digital modalities – XR or otherwise.  

We must remember that if we don’t describe those situations, contacts, and behaviours consistently across all experiences, we cannot show skill development within individuals over time, particularly acknowledging that they’ll be in and out of different training and workforce enablement modalities from an upskilling perspective throughout their career. 

The good news is that there are many open source standards that already exist and provide the appropriate syntax to describe everything I’ve just spoken about. More progressive organisations are already starting to organise themselves to really take advantage of them with regards to measuring workforce development in immersive environments. 

Bruno Duarte 

The first step to introducing immersive training programs should focus on addressing the shortcomings of legacy training methods. Immersive training isn’t just an update on inroom or 2D training, it is a new way of understanding what training is. 

Immersive training is concerned with providing trainees with more autonomy to learn and challenge themselves. It allows new workers to experience real situations in simulated environments, marking a departure from theoretical or abstract learning. 

Nonetheless, immersive training functionalities must be tailored according to the skills gaps and previously identified needs of workers. This can be done using a skills matrix or even by testing those skills using immersive functionalities. 

In the context of our work in the manufacturing industry, immersive training provides new interactive learning experiences based on hands-on practice using Augmented Reality. 

The introduction of Augmented experiences allows a real-world contextualization without the risks commonly associated with industrial training. Immersive training includes AR and 3D models of machines and equipment, for instance, found on assembly lines. 

Contextualized information can easily be adapted to different scenarios, processes, trainees, and teams, with limited efforts for managers and limited risk for trainees. 

Jack Makhlouf 

Designed well, immersive learning programs offer a distinct advantage in rapidly closing skill gaps compared to traditional 2D e-learning or classroom-based training reliant on Powerpoint presentations.

By immersing learners in realistic scenarios, providing immediate feedback, and enabling skill demonstration, these programs facilitate benchmarking and the measurement of proficiency down to a skill level. Immersive learning is about learning-by-doing not just reading and clicking the next button.   

Organizations now have several options: 

  • Buy skill-based immersive learning experiences “Off-the-Shelf” (by topic or learning goal) and integrate them into program or curriculum designs aligned with learner personas and journeys that address a skill gap 
  • Develop an immersive learning experience “In House from Scratch” in a 3D tool like Unity or Unreal, etc. by bringing on skilled 3D developers and ux designers and rollout a custom app that targets closing an identified skill gap or capability 
  • Hire an XR studio who can do design and develop an end-to-end immersive learning experiences with targeted skill and engagement measurement capabilities 
  • Utilize a No Code or Low Code Content Authoring tools to create scalable content with skill and engagement measurement, UX design consistency, distribution, and maintenance as a SaaS platform 

In full disclosure, this is squarely in the daily conversation and work that we do here at Moth+Flame as we specialize in custom immersive solutions, offering both a content library and a No Code immersive authoring solution driven by AI-Avatars. 

When ready-made immersive experiences miss the mark on tackling an organization’s unique skill gaps, custom solutions step in. This need is especially noticeable in Government/DOD and Enterprise sectors, where lifelike virtual environments set the stage for simulations. Here, learners can dive in, practice real-world scenarios, make mistakes without consequences, get instant feedback, and have their skills accurately measured. 

With advancements in Generative AI (GenAI) and the emerging DIY nature of immersive content development, there is an opportunity to empower learning and development professionals (or who are familiar with the organization’s specific skill gaps) to create immersive experiences without programming or development expertise.

Similar to how Articulate and Adobe Captivate transformed e-learning creation, we envision a similar trajectory for no-code immersive learning creation, enabling organizations to tailor skilling programs at scale.  

Nicolas Mignan 

Immersive technologies, such as virtual reality (VR), offer immense potential in training soft skills. In the surgical world, anatomical subjects (i.e. cadavers) can be limiting in their training capabilities, such as its inability to reproduce certain ‘live’ complications that surgeons need to anticipate in certain procedures, and that it cannot be demonstrated on more than once.

VR is able to bridge such a gap in the form of digital twins, when it recreates complex surgical procedures as a true-to-life immersive experience which offers unlimited practice and the ability to train more people simultaneously.

Like aeroplane pilots who are required to clock in extensive training hours in a full flight simulator, VirtualiSurg’s medical-grade XR simulators are tailored to train surgeons, nurses and students in various operating scenarios, guiding them through hazardous journeys in the operating theatre to ensure maximum success and technical mastery. 

One example of such a tailored immersive training program is VirtualiSurg’s latest launch, XR ALIF, which pioneers how young surgeons learn, practise and master the highly complex spinal surgery technique, Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion. 

When medical technology leader Johnson & Johnson MedTech through Ethicon Inc, selected VirtualiSurg to create the newly launched XR ALIF, alongside three esteemed French surgeons, Prof. Jérôme Allain, Prof. Nicolas Lonjon and Dr. Jean Meyblum – the objective was to train young surgeons to master this challenging spinal surgery procedure, which many consider a high-stress procedure they are least prepared for, given not only limited access to optimal training, but also its highly specialised techniques that are challenging to both teach and learn. 

The first of its kind, XR ALIF enables young surgeons to train in immersive experience, with conditions identical to those of a real operating theatre, with patented Haptic technology that provides surgeons with life-mimicking touch sensations for a 360-degree experience. 

How can Businesses Ensure these Platforms are Scalable? 

Nicolas Mignan 

At its heart, VirtualiSurg is about the power of connection: Our technology fundamentally fosters a positive effect by offering greater access to world-class medical training, in the name of maximum productivity and efficiency, while enriching the collective learning experience. 

Anatomical subjects are innately single-use and highly costly, and not to mention its various ethical clauses, will exhaust its usage the moment it is practised on.

Furthermore, the operating room physically limits access to just the few learning surgeons crowding around the master surgeon, who are barely able to watch a live, one-time procedure, with the exact experience itself further limited to the one surgeon handling the instrument at any given moment. 

On the contrary, VirtualiSurg’s XR platform for surgical training is exactly designed to overcome these challenges and scale its reach to accommodate a growing learner base.  

Through XR, VirtualiSurg can simultaneously reach hundreds or even tens of thousands around the world, connecting in real-time to learn new techniques together.

It is designed for unlimited practice while continuously upgrading to the latest softwares and teachings available at a markedly lower cost – with just the initial investment in the beginning. 

VirtualiSurg’s very purpose is to make healthcare more accessible, by providing healthcare providers with the aforementioned optimal environment to boost surgical excellence.  

The way to successfully scale such a technology starts with the first step of confidence in the immense potential of XR training. In fact, VirtualiSurg successfully introduced its XR training programs at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, where skill proficiency improved drastically across its nursing team, and directly improved patient care at a large scale. 

Through VirtualiSurg’s immersive training experience, which was adapted to each trainee’s needs, the nursing team enjoyed a positive experience while gaining the confidence to apply their skills in otherwise stressful situations. 

Jennifer Rogers 

The first thing I always consider when talking about scalability is, once again, let’s think about people first. We’re working on many great things regarding hardware and software standards. But first and foremost, there is no point in immersive experiences without people. 

The immersive experiences themselves are in service of people. So when we deal with scalability, the first thing I always try to keep at the forefront of my mind is accessibility because that underpins a lot of other things that follow.  

Accessibility can take different forms. We can consider accessibility from a bandwidth perspective, from an access to technology perspective. Even a language perspective is important from a scalability perspective.  

It is also essential to think about it from a scaling perspective. There will be different types of hardware utilized; many of the organisations I work with are very large enterprise global organizations, so different types of hardware will work in different environments. 

Because I work in heavy industrial-and I work particularly in environments where a lot of operations happen outdoors-we may have low light, or we have too much light, or we have dust. We have all these different things that mean that in different environments, different hardware might be in play. 

It’s really important to ensure that whatever we’re putting together actually allows an experience for everyone to build their skills regardless of their environment or hardware, and that we’re not excluding anyone from a workforce development perspective by the choices we are making with immersive. 

Bruno Duarte 

Platforms featuring immersive training capabilities have to be developed with scalability in mind. Much like all sorts of productivity and management-focused platforms, it all comes down to enabling large amounts of users to leverage the solution. 

To ensure the scalability of their immersive training methods, businesses must focus on introducing cloud-based solutions that can provide quick and simple authoring and roll-out. This means that solutions can be introduced almost instantly and simultaneously across different locations and factories. 

Cloud-based solutions are known for their cost efficiency, as they do not require organizations to extensively invest in infrastructure or have dedicated teams to manage software or data. 

Scalable database solutions can also withstand large amounts of information and are designed to respond to ever-increasing amounts of data. Cloud-based solutions for immersive training can be introduced in different factories, and teams, and can help train workers to perform all sorts of processes. 

Another important aspect is the fact that these solutions can integrate with in-house HR systems to enhance businesses’ extraction of relevant information and prevent data from working in silos. In addition, they allow for constant monitoring of performance and the optimization of training methods.

Jack Makhlouf 

Evaluating immersive learning platforms requires a comprehensive assessment across various dimensions, including architecture, security, data privacy, and support and performance.

In Government/DOD and Enterprise procurement, formal Request for Proposals (RFPs) are common, often involving review committees armed with detailed rating rubrics.  

Scalability, notably in architecture, is a key consideration, with many evaluations favoring proven SaaS solutions leveraging Cloud-based infrastructure from leading providers like Google, AWS, and Azure. Additionally, there may be a preference for “in-country” solutions to address data security concerns, particularly in regions like Saudi Arabia and Australia. 

From a technical perspective, scalability assessments cover several crucial areas: 

  • Infrastructure Adaptability: Assessing the platform’s ability to maintain performance amidst increased usage, leveraging Cloud provider features like redundancy and load balancing. 
  • Multi-tenancy Support: Evaluating the platform’s capacity to manage diverse user profiles securely within a unified instance. 
  • Modular Design: Examining how easily the platform can integrate new features or functions without disrupting overall performance. 
  • Content Organization: Analyzing how content is structured for seamless access and user engagement, including AI-driven content recommendations and performance evaluation. 
  • Performance Optimization: Monitoring platform performance to identify and address potential bottlenecks or areas for improvement. 
  • User Feedback and Engagement: Evaluating mechanisms for capturing and leveraging user feedback to enhance the platform continuously. 
  • Licensing Models: Considering how licensing models support economies of scale to optimize platform investment. 

Moreover, with AI integration, understanding Generative AI (GenAI) algorithms and governance becomes crucial, especially regarding human involvement in the loop. 

How can Immersive Learning Data Help Personalize Learning Pathways, Identify Knowledge Gaps, and Continuously Improve Training Effectiveness? 

Jack Makhlouf 

We all want learning to be personalized, relevant and meaningful. Immersive learning, coupled with the insights from data analytics, holds the potential to fulfill this aspiration by providing each individual with a tailored learning journey.

By leveraging data analytics derived from immersive learning experiences, organizations can customize learning experiences to suit the unique needs of learners, optimize content delivery, and drive continuous improvement. This potential is further amplified in today’s era with the integration of AI technologies.   

Immersive learning experiences typically involve individuals performing or demonstrating specific skills or tasks, allowing for precise assessment against predefined benchmarks.

This data enables organizations to conduct skill gap analysis, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and delineating the learner’s proficiency baseline against the desired level of expertise.

Incremental proficiency steps can then be mapped out in the learner’s personalized learning journey. As learners progress and demonstrate higher proficiency levels through practice and feedback loops, the content dynamically adjusts based on their performance. This approach, known as prescriptive learning, goes beyond merely suggesting areas for improvement, instead dynamically adapting the content to optimize learning outcomes. 

Additionally, the power of immersive learning data extends to the realm of predictive analytics. By applying predictive analytics techniques, organizations can anticipate future learning outcomes, foresee potential challenges, and proactively address them.

This proactive approach enables organizations to allocate resources efficiently, mitigate risks, and maximize the effectiveness of their training programs. In essence, leveraging immersive learning data and predictive analytics empowers organizations to deliver personalized, adaptive, and impactful learning experiences that drive continuous improvement and enhance learner outcomes. 

Nicolas Mignan 

While immersive technologies are in its developmental stages, its potential is unmistakable with billions of dollars already being invested in its trajectory, alongside key industry players such as Apple, Meta and Nvidia paving the way for its future. In surgical training, XR will define the new generation of learning and upskilling, augmenting knowledge-sharing and technical mastery on a global scale. As with any new technology, the journey of learning and upgrading is a continuous process. 

We will only get better and better The new XR ALIF simulation was the genesis of a critical nationwide research conducted in France, undertaken to identify knowledge gaps in order to personalise learning pathways and improve effective mastery for the new generation.

Experienced neuro and spinal surgeons who are its subject experts, outstanding French surgeons Prof. Jérôme Allain, Prof. Nicolas Lonjon and Dr. Jean Meyblum  lent their expertise and contribution to the making of the XR ALIF training tool. The data, which Dr. Meyblum and Prof. Allain conducted alongside Dr. Renan Chapon, assessed the current status of the ALIF surgical techniques, as well as surgeons’ perceptions, experiences, and views on the future of XR training. 

The concluding literature offered further affirmation that a collaborative simulation tool is necessary, and highly anticipated, to boost surgical mastery at a larger and more successful scale. There was evidence of high interest in training in immersive technology, and confidence in leveraging these tools to reach mastery while respecting the personalisation of learning and its ever-evolving ways. 

And its material result, XR ALIF, is the era’s defining innovation that effectively helps young surgeons learn, practise and master the highly complex technique, Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion, in an optimised, fully immersive environment of uniquely combined XR and patented Haptic technology. 

Jennifer Rogers 

It’s incredibly important when it’s done at the level of granularity that we’ve been talking about. 

What’s important is showing effectiveness across the organization and being clear about measuring what matters. That returns to the critical processes within your business, whereby a human being needs to interact with an environment in a specific way to achieve particular goals.  

If we are clear about what behaviours we are looking to see, this clarity from an organizational perspective will show the skills that people are demonstrating and how our workforce is changing. 

If we focus on measuring the behaviours that occur in higher-risk conditions and ensuring that we’re showing that people are taking different steps or behaviours to mitigate those risks, that’s something pretty powerful.  

Bruno Duarte 

Immersive training programs must work side by side with digital solutions and functionalities that not only help train workers but also track their skills, their proficiency, and their learning curve. 

Data extracted during immersive learning is valuable for understanding the shortcomings of training programs and the struggles of trainees. However, immersive training must come as an answer to previously identified training needs and skills gaps. 

Only by understanding the struggles of each worker, for instance, using a skills matrix that tracks their proficiency in specific tasks, is it possible to implement successful immersive training.

In other words, competency mapping is vital to help inform organizations’ efforts when creating new training programs, tackling knowledge gaps, and continuously improving training strategies. 

This mapping can be delivered by introducing feedback mechanisms that work in real-time (e.g., audit trail) to enable greater visibility and allow a full tracking of operations. This includes tracking the entire learning process and its aftermath. 

During these learning programs, digital solutions can also collect, process, and automate data to reveal what can be improved and any shortcomings in the program itself. 

Will immersive learning software and hardware become commonplace in classrooms and enterprise learning institutions? 

Bruno Duarte 

Nowadays, learning methods are the target of extensive updates and transformation. 

Classrooms have expanded beyond the four walls of a school and even physical locations. Information has essentially been lifted from books to screens and, more recently, has been merged with the world around us. Digital twins, 3D models, digital augmented information, and virtual reality-based elements are certainly making their way into more learning areas and contexts. 

While immersive learning may not necessarily be an answer to all the emerging learning challenges, it is certainly one of the answers to the advancing of teaching and learning in an age in which human-machine interaction is rapidly changing. 

In the context of industrial operations, as technology advances, training methods have become more efficient and the learning curve is increasingly shorter, with less associated costs, and a substantial reduction in risks (particularly when tasks are performed in dangerous environments). 

In schools, immersive learning can mostly help increase the speed of learning and can ensure that different themes and topics can be constantly updated and made more interactive when compared with traditional learning methods.

Nicolas Mignan 

The marvel of innovation is that, combined with the capabilities and possibilities of this modern age, one can only imagine what the future holds. Across the world, there are already versions of ‘virtual surgery’, such as the example of pre-operative intervention in virtual reality, which helps patients reduce stress before surgery by walking them through a virtual simulation of the surgical process, from the operating room to the recovery area, to offer the experience of an immersive mental rehearsal before experiencing the procedure itself.

Like a ‘digital twin’, the patient is able to experience a commonly stressful situation before it happens, to prepare themselves by getting to know ‘the unknown’ for better mental preparedness. In the educational context, digital twins have the same purpose – to recreate reality before it happens, while offering unlimited practice, reaching beyond physical limitations, and therefore, boosting mastery of the subject at an even faster rate than before. 

‘Virtual surgery’ could also be a powerful training tool for medical students. Imagine a live surgical procedure in Extended Reality, live-streamed from an operating room, to reach an audience of thousands of students across the world. 

With the simplest set up of a XR headset, controllers and wifi connection – thousands are able to log on at the same time, no matter the distance apart, to learn the technique together and afterwards, enjoy the process of unlimited practice of what they have just learned, anywhere and anytime. 

That, is the beauty of using immersive technology in learning, and its capabilities of powerful reach, to define a new era for modern learning. 

Jack Makhlouf 

From my perspective, we were transitioning out of the early adopters phase and venturing into the early majority phase of the adoption bell curve when GenAI made its entrance.

With the introduction of GenAI, the market witnessed rapid and significant productivity gains, effectively diverting attention from AR/VR initiatives in the Enterprise market.  

However, many Government and Department of Defense (DOD) use cases have demonstrated success with immersive learning and are now poised for scalability. 

Moreover, within industrial enterprise applications, digital twins and job simulations using immersive learning are progressing beyond pilot stages and scaling up. 

The prioritization of soft skills and leadership development through immersive solutions is gaining momentum as the demand for upskilling and reskilling intensifies alongside technological advancements in AI.

Similarly, there is an increasing demand for STEM programs and language training in the education sector, with initiatives scaling up beyond initial pilot phases due to their positive outcomes.  

A notable aspect contributing to the scalability of these programs is their flexibility in deployment. Unlike traditional VR/MR programs tied exclusively to headsets or hardware, these initiatives can be deployed across various modalities, such as desktop streaming and mobile devices. 

This versatility expands their reach within organizations, allowing them to impact a broader audience and facilitate widespread adoption. While VR/MR headsets are primarily used in shared and facilitated learning programs, the dominance of low-cost consumer-grade VR/MR headsets persists due to their affordability. 

However, the demand for more enterprise-grade hardware that meets security and information security needs remains a barrier to widespread adoption. The call for low-cost VR/MR solutions that also ensure the integrity of sensitive data in enterprise and government applications continues to be a critical consideration in the journey towards wide-scale adoption. 

Jennifer Rogers 

To get to a point where this fully scales across the enterprise and in all classrooms, it returns to everything we’ve said about standardization, accessibility, and working together. 

We have an opportunity here to make this work. If we silo everything off in separate applications, proprietary formats, data, and hardware, we’re going to miss the chance to scale this – from an enterprise perspective in particular.  

We have to acknowledge that we need significant effort from the entire ecosystem to get that scale; we’ve got to be able to get the price down so that we can scale around hardware and software, and start implementing standards and best practices that help tell not just a compelling story, but also provide hard metrics and business KPIs about what immersive experiences have enabled across the enterprise. Using prior “proxy” metrics created for e-Learning like completions, “time studies”, and scoring is not sufficient 

Furthermore, we need to concentrate on what I’ve been talking about around human behaviour, the standardized ways in which we describe it, and its impact on both specific scenarios and contexts within operational environments and the competency/skill profiles of individual learners. 

Once we commit to equitable ways of reaching people, providing rich experiences that truly build skill, and a standardized approach to quantifying the ways in which specific skills are developing within the workforce, immersive learning will truly scale to the point in which we can fully realize its true potential. 

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