Immersive technology: building a new world in employee training

Photo by Zen Chung

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought seismic changes to the way we work, there has been a clear need for more efforts in reskilling and upskilling. Says Rayvan Ho, Founder and CEO of ACKTEC, a Singapore based edtech startup, “In 2019, only 17% of employees in Singapore reported being satisfied with the company’s L&D, with 40% of workers quitting their jobs due to lack of skills training.”

Yet without targeted and effective training, he reminds us, companies risk “throwing money into the void”. On the other hand, new developments such as immersive technology, where virtual reality simulates real-world experiences and tools, can help to bring training further.  

SMEhorizon speaks to Paul Juwono, Director, School of Professional & Specialist Education, BCA Academy, on how immersive technology has not only helped continue training with the onset of COVID-19, but also helped the school improve it’s offerings. We also hear insights from Rayvan Ho, whose company, ACKTEC, has helped BCA academy incorporate immersive training and other technologies.

Targeted and effective training

As the education and training arm of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Singapore, BCA Academy has been providing quality training and education pathways for a diverse group of audience since its establishment in 1984.  It offers a wide range of built environment programmes which are rigorous and practice-oriented. 

Commenting on effective corporate training, Ho shares that it has to be targeted and effective. “Learning must happen at the right time,” he says. “Learning cannot be excised from real-world situations. Effective learning is applied learning: What they learn needs to be immediately put into practice in a relevant situation. With prompt feedback, they can quickly understand their shortcomings and gaps in learning, and internalize what they’ve practiced.”

Ho also reminds us of the need for relevant training “Present corporate training is standardised and implemented at specific phases across all employees, which may have little immediate relevance to their role. Rather than this, training needs to address the immediate requirements of their jobs.

“Effective training addresses problems and issues directly at-hand, so employees can immediately put what they have learnt into practice,” he emphasises.

Digitalisation and mobile technology can help faciliate these improvements. Juwono shares that BCA had been working with ACKTEC to leverage on e-learning and immersive learning prior to COVID-19. However, as Ho shares, there was a more general tendency by corporations to eschew such educational technologies in favour of more traditional methods such as classroom learning which seemed to be working well.

Changing mindsets in the face of the pandemic

COVID-19, predictably, dramatically changed mindsets. “With COVID-19, rapid digitalisation became a necessity, as both asynchronous (online) and blended (self-directed and online) became the new normal, replacing traditional F2F training,” shares Ho. He predicts “a permanent and strong shift towards digital lifestyles globally, into a new normal — a world of remote everything.”

Similarly, Juwono said that COVID-19 cemented the need to embark on all types of training to help his institution train better. “ACKTEC collaborated with BCA Academy to create online training materials for the Covid-Safe Workers’ training in bite-sized and interactive graphical and video format with minimum text within a short time frame.

“The training was delivered in asynchronous mode in 8 languages including English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and others. This has allowed BCA Academy to roll out the course quickly to enable a safe restart for the industry.    

Immersive Technology

With Immersive technology, explains Ho, virtual reality simulates real-world experiences and tools. “Augmented reality and 3D simulation allow users to be able to visualise and operate machinery and practice real-life scenarios  — even from remote locations, or where equipment may not be available or expensive to procure.

“Immersive learning brings forth interaction on the content which videos and text can’t, improving retention as well as learning in the flow of work, with learning that is more aligned with real-world work experiences. Data and analytics also allows training providers to personalize the training and address each learners specific needs.

“Immersive learning is best used in any operative learning, in cases where the users need to understand the environment and setting,” he explains. These include in banking, where trainees learn content through 360 VR with AI avatars, or in the construction sector, where operators of vehicles or construction equipment need to understand the parts and practice SOPs.

For BCA academy, there was an initial period of adjustment before the benefits were seen. Shares Juwono, “At the start, people were not so open to the need for immersive learning, but over time they realised that it was necessary, especially when it came to enhancing learning for technical work. ACKTEC was able to host the training modules so that they could be accessed by a large volume of learners through mobile devices and provided professional support and prompt responses. “

Immersing ourselves into the future

Juwono shares that beyond the immediate needs of dealing with COVID-19’s restrictions,BCA academy is consistently looking out for new technology to support growing learning needs from their academy. They plan to development more learning content after COVID-19. “For example,” he says, “we have explored using Smart Goggles for overseas remote marking.” They have also looked into technological solutions for examination and remote invigilation of overseas training centres.

For Ho, the digitalisation of training and education does not only benefit the training companies and corporations, but also the trainees. “Importantly,” he says, “a key aspect of our value proposition to the learner is that ACKTEC is making jobs a lot more accessible online, by making relevant training available wherever, whenever. Our immersive learning platform facilitates skills upgrading, leading to higher paying jobs in a new world of remote everything.”