Man using VR headset
10 Oct 2016

Enlighten article featured in the Times

Innovative teaching through technology

Virtual and augmented reality programmes developed by Enlighten are helping students in mainstream and prison education to achieve higher grades

With the rapid development of virtual and augmented reality, particularly in gaming, it’s only a matter of time before this technology is harnessed and fully implemented into the education and training market.

Suzanne Edwards, head of education and qualification design at Enlighten, says: “It’s great that learners are beginning to experience VR/AR on programmes of study but, as our research shows, education needs more support and investment to take full advantage of these innovative mediums.”

With further education aiming to meet the criteria specified in the FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) agenda, schools working towards areas highlighted in the Department for Education’s 2020 Vision and prisons needing to address areas in the Unlocking Potential document, Enlighten have noticed a huge growth in demand for their quality eLearning services.

“After using AR enhanced resources, which allowed learners to recap on demonstrations before attempting the practical activity, success rates were an amazing 100 per cent”

Virtual and augmented reality are the next wave of computer technology. The ability to be transported to other places, to be fully immersed in experiences, and to feel like you’re really there opens up unimagined ways for educators to interact and communicate.

Steve Wileman, head of technology and development at Enlighten, conducted a two-year study on the use of augmented reality in education. The results of this were both significant and unexpected. The average success rate year-on-year for practical assessment was 50-60 per cent. However, after using AR enhanced resources, which allowed learners to recap on demonstrations before attempting the practical activity, success rates were an amazing 100 per cent. The following year this remained significantly higher than previous years at 95 per cent.

Possible reasons for this improvement include the facility for learners to recap easily and all learners able to see the demo from a consistent viewpoint. The use of images and video, rather than text, ensured that information was easier for low-level learners to access.

This proved equally true for learners with a language barrier to overcome

As a direct consequence of the learner improvements, waste was significantly reduced; tutors did not have to repeat demos and learners made significantly fewer mistakes. Cost-savings and return on investment were clearly visible.

Enlighten have identified a natural progression and are developing virtual and augmented reality learning packages for both mainstream and prison education.

Research is currently being carried out by Enlighten into the potential benefits of virtual reality in a prison environment. This stems from the findings and recommendations set out in Dame Sally Coates’ Unlocking Potential report, which says in the introduction: “More bespoke learning as well as private study for prisoners can be facilitated by smarter use of ICT.”

These notoriously difficult to engage, disaffected learners, many of whom did not complete compulsory education, need something different to inspire them. What better way to engage and motivate them than to put them at the forefront of innovative technology-led education delivery.

Currently it is near impossible for prisoners to gain real-world experience, develop the required soft skills and become familiar with up-to-date technology.

By providing learners with virtual access to a building site, a sports stadium or a kitchen to identify hazards, carry out risk assessments, and follow health and safety procedures, they are gaining practical work experience in a safe and secure way.

Transferrable skills can be developed through our virtual and augmented reality scenario-based programmes. These demonstrate the effects of behaviour choices in various situations and allow learners to see how changing behaviour can change outcomes. Learners, including those in prison, who are taking art classes can take part in our virtual field trips, enriching their learning experience by allowing them to “visit” the Louvre and other art galleries, and offering them other global opportunities, albeit in a virtual way.

Enlighten are currently working with more than 70 forward-thinking educational establishments, such as the Blended Learning Consortium, to raise awareness of VR/AR through their Ready Learner One campaign.

And Enlighten’s innovative resources, supported by various awarding bodies, including SFEDI Awards and the IOEE (Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs), have the advantage of allowing tutors to record and assess learners. These results feed into individual learning plans that ensure learners have met all targets, and can go on to become valuable and more employable members of society.

Enlighten are currently seeking collaborative partners to aid the development of a virtual reality programme of study that meets all these requirements, and therefore improves employability skills and helps reduce reoffending.