On the 28th October, the Higher Technology Skills (HTS) academy within City College Plymouth completed the development of the college’s first-ever bespoke immersive learning experience. Funded by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) and developed with their partners The Moment and Kier Living, the desired outcomes were to produce four digital assets, which could be used within academia to improve and engage the learners understanding of hazard perception and to increase industry knowledge surrounding the use of digital technologies.
My initial desire to apply for this funding and be involved in this project came from the observations undertaken of the learners who sat within the HTS academy, along with the young people who attended careers fairs and open day events. Searching for authentic and meaningful experiences it appeared that they preferred to interact with technological resources rather than the staff members who were there to provide them with the information they had come to gain echoing recent research into the way our young people engage with digital technology and how they learn.
The shift towards the use of technology and the way physical resources such as classrooms are utilised and designed in the future will be the first step towards a much bigger reposition for academic institutions when they have to cater for these learners who may start their further and higher education journeys in the not too distant future.
A recent study by Barnes and Noble College demonstrated that Generation Z learners refused to be passive, and were not interested in simply showing up for class and taking notes in preparation for exams. Instead, they expected to be fully engaged in the learning process and thrived when they were given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience.
Referred to as “The Sharing Generation,” the generation that’s “All Technology All the Time,” and “Born Digital,” Generation Z could not be more different than previous generations. Widely regarded as describing those born as early as 1995 or as late as 2012, Gen Zers’ oldest members are now in secondary schools and colleges, and have ambitious plans for their education, their careers and their lives. (Barnes & Noble College, d.u.)
Generation Z students flourish in any learning environment where they can flex their aptitude for self-reliance and their ability to self-educate. Predisposed to learning and conducting research, they are prepared to make their own decisions based on that research – a distinct difference from previous generations who rely more heavily on friends and family. Although they are very independent and technologically well informed, Gen Zers also make no distinction between devices or online territories. For Gen Z, learning is one continuous, multifaceted, completely integrated experience – connecting social, academic and professional interests.
Whereas Gen Z learners use technology and social media as a tool, for Alpha’s it is a way of life. The term Generation Alpha applies to children born between 2011 and 2025, with an estimated 2.5 million alphas born globally every week. From a young age, Alphas would have been widely exposed to multiple digital platforms. Colleges and Universities will have to adapt to radically new ways of interacting and communicating with alphas, compared to their parents. Generation Alpha’s consumer experience will have to be seamless and integrated, with a personalised experience.
I have witnessed this first hand as have both Generation Z and Generation Alpha learners within my own home, who use much of their time to learn from short articles and YouTube clips.
In my six-year-old son’s primary school, I see a move away from the traditional structured, auditory method of learning to a visual, hands-on method. He has acquired problem-solving skills within a connected classroom and uses this to bring his learning home, showing me YouTube clips relating to advanced topics such as engineering and maths, explaining them in detail with a great deal of retained information and knowledge.
In the future connected classrooms will need to be the norm, moving away from traditional forms of interacting with learners to new ways of thinking, utilising tablets, phones, Virtual and Augmented Reality to engage and re-engage both Gen Z and Alpha learner groups. Learners will be able to contact their tutors with questions, and the norm of a row-by-row classroom could become extinct.
With this in mind along with my earlier observations, the college decided to apply for funding through the CITB’s Innovation awards programme. With digital transformation in mind both for our learners and local industry partners, the successful bid was written to bring together a programme of virtual reality experiences, ranging from a recruitment demonstration and hazard perception modules through to a digital twin of a Kier Living house.
The collaboration between academia, industry and immersive developers was key to this development as our projected audience ranged from primary school pupils through to industry experts, nevertheless, the driving factors in all of these developments were involved linked back to the audiences above ‘the future of this industry’.
So why hazard perception or health and safety I hear you ask? The honest answer goes back to my earlier observations in that today’s and tomorrow’s learners need to be engaged and re-engaged in the learning process and thrive when they are given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience. A health and safety module being taught didactically by a lecturer at the front of a classroom or lecture theatre is not such an example, and recent academic research backs this up.
Research by the Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham states
“Health and safety training can fail to motivate and engage employees and can lack relevance to real-life contexts. Our research, which has been funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, suggests that virtual environments can help address these issues, by increasing trainees’ engagement and willingness to participate in further training. There are also business benefits associated with the use of virtual environment training, such as the ability to deliver training at or near the workplace and at a time that is convenient to the employee.” (Lawson, 2019)
Previous research on human behaviour during real-world fire incidents has shown that a lack of understanding of the spread and movement of fire often means that occupants are unprepared and misjudge appropriate actions. Immersive health and safety training enables employers to train people about hazards and hazardous environments without putting anyone at risk.
This was a key focus in our development of the level 1 health and safety modules, which take into consideration the main factors of site hazards, such as slips, trips and falls, working at height and working with power tools. With these in mind and the fact that many of our 16-year-old learners have never been on or near a building site, the immersive learning experiences provide us with the opportunity to take them there, without the dangers or risks of a live site visit.
Early indications suggest that the users‘ experience is very similar to that suggested by Dr Glynn Lawson above, with high levels of retention and positive comments regarding the various module elements.
Whereas the level 1 or locked modules were originally aimed at the FE sector, many of the colleges university level construction and civil engineering students were used as focus groups to determine test the overall experience, and from this it was very quickly determined that this level of health and safety could and should be used by any level of learner within these two disciplines. This has also been echoed by industry who are now asking the college to deliver these modules to staff members who have been in construction or civil engineering for many years, utilising it as a refresher course.
The level 4 or free-roaming module is primarily aimed at learners undertaking our domestic construction module, with the aim of them taking part in the virtual experience, reviewing good and bad site practices, and therefore being able to prepare a risk and method statement based on a site, without ever having to visit. The two elements produced will count toward the learners‘ overall grade, and although we are yet to run this element and therefore unable to compare last year’s results with this year, the academy is confident that it will be an overall success based on the locked module comments.
As for the recruitment experience, which was launched in April 2019, we are now at over 500 users, with nothing but positive comments. The Higher Technology Skills staff now attend open days, careers fairs and industry events and have young, and some not so young, people queueing to take part. A recent study by IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organisation, notes that 40% of millennial parents are open to replace or supplement a human nanny with a stay-at-home robot nanny. Millennial parents are the drivers connecting their children to devices with the aim of providing a better nurturing experience. Many experts believe that engineering is driving a myriad of world-changing activities, from space exploration, drones and computer science, to health, medicine and biology; and from vehicle technology to consumer electronics, to name just a few. About three-quarters of Millennial parents of Generation Alpha kids (74 per cent) say they will encourage their child at least somewhat to consider studying and pursuing a career in engineering (including 38 per cent who will strongly encourage them) given the world-changing activities in that field (IEEE, 2017).
Their openness to their children engaging with the technology has led us on this journey to create an immersive experience for the technical generations and this is just the start.
Lance Chatfield (MBA)Academy Manager, Higher Technology Skills
City College Plymouth