Campus Technology

Modernizing Vocational Education with Technology

By Vanessa Myers

Vocational and career training programs are among the most expensive educational programs to launch and operate. Among those, programs for the skilled trades such as electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and refrigeration have traditionally had the greatest equipment and operational costs, as well as requiring the largest amount of space.

Technology, however, is transforming what vocational and career training looks like, as well as its effectiveness. Simulated and VR education promises to mitigate the equipment and ongoing operational costs associated with trades education while simultaneously delivering improved learner outcomes when compared to traditional approaches. The result is a rapidly evolving landscape that can be difficult to navigate but offers extraordinary opportunities.

Learning a skilled trade takes time and requires immersive hands-on experience. Traditionally, that meant setting up a large lab stocked with a few pieces of expensive equipment, with students waiting in line to take a brief turn. Because of the limited amount of time, space, and resources, that’s an inefficient approach. Until recently, however, there have been few widely available alternatives.

Simulation training has been used for decades to great effect. Previously, its use was largely limited to preparing professionals like fighter pilots and surgeons for high-stakes occupations.

Research has consistently demonstrated that simulations and VR help workers in those fields improve memory and performance and reduce errors. Studies also reveal that simulations are equally effective in other areas, including skilled trades. That has driven innovative companies to develop simulation solutions for residential and commercial services that deliver the same enhanced efficiency and productivity other sectors have enjoyed for years.

Experts have identified two broad ways that people absorb information. Some people learn best by reading or listening to a lecture. Many others, however, excel through direct, tactile experience. They may struggle in a traditional classroom setting, but quickly absorb and retain information by doing.

With online simulation training led by expert instructors, students can experience a lifelike, accurate introduction to skilled trades work. Skilled trades simulations allow students to practice and refine their skills, gaining crucial experience in a risk-free environment.

When you have limited access to equipment and make a mistake, learning can be compromised. One student’s error can slow an entire class. With simulations, students are free to experiment, trying out a variety of strategies and techniques in a structured, repeatable virtual environment. Being able to practice builds confidence in addition to skills.

Simulations can improve learning and training outcomes by better engaging students. Using virtual reality within learning environments increases their enjoyment, interest, and motivation to learn. More importantly, studies have shown simulation technology and VR improve retention rates, reducing the time it takes to learn. Ultimately, students can learn more in less time.

Virtual learning environments can also be personalized to meet the needs of individual learners. Simulations can be accessed online, allowing instructors to assign them as homework and helping students practice outside of the classroom at times that work for them. Instructors, students, and lab times are all bound by time constraints, and virtual learning environments can bring increased flexibility and opportunities to learn.

Virtual and online training platforms also offer well-defined metrics for success. Without effective means to measure, you have no way of understanding how your training investment has made an impact. Advanced analytics help instructors intercept challenges more quickly. When they can identify with pinpoint accuracy students who are struggling and the subjects that are challenging them, instructors can offer support. Digital solutions like dashboards, assessments, and analytics tools enable instructors to measure individual and group progress. The data can also provide invaluable insights to guide adaptation and implementation to maximize engagement, progress, and effectiveness.

Simulations serve as an ideal preparation for fieldwork. Students who experience VR and simulation training are better equipped and more confident when they encounter real job sites. Their performance on the job tends to be more reliable, accurate, and faster than that of students who have only experienced traditional training environments. Simulations won’t replace real-world hands-on training and shouldn’t be expected to. But virtual training and simulations are proven to be essential components of a well-rounded skills learning experience and can help classrooms maximize the effectiveness of classroom and lab training.

Vanessa Myers is director of education and workforce development at Interplay Learning, the industry leader in immersive training solutions for the skilled trades.