I went to the British Institute of Learning & Development (TheBILD) Connect event today. The topic of our deliberations was Virtual Learning Environments – a subject that has held my interest for a long time although I have never had much experience of the sort of VLE that our hosts, Aviation Training International (ATIL), provide to Army pilots in training at their facility near Andover. The meeting was held in the delightful Army Air Museum and those of us of a certain age spent lunchtime admiring the wonderful exhibits, bringing back memories of childhood – Eagle Comics, Airfix models and, dare I say it, Biggles!
The presentations included an excellent demo of OLIVE with delegates being treated to a virtual role play in real time of a check point training exercise in a virtual Baghdad with players from all over the western world. Fascinating to see how it’s possible to create such a realistic scenario which in conventional terms would have cost thousands of dollars to create, not to mention the overhead time in travelling to a venue.
The high point of the day was a visit to ATIL’s training centre where they help Apache air and ground crews learn the skills necessary to become effective. This is real state of the art boys toys! The simulator alone cost several million dollars and would make the eyes of the most serious video gamer water.
All this technology got me thinking about this question of virtual learning. And I started to ask myself whether, in fact, all training is about creating a “virtual” environment in which trainees can practice. The environment is inside the mind of the trainee and the skill of the trainer is to help them with making it as “real” as possible. The technology is useful in creating a medium – especially in situations where the cognitive load is very high or where there are logistical challenges such as the role play in “Baghdad” or where a very high degree of realism is needed and using the real world is too expensive or inaccessible.
Maybe I am stating the blindingly obvious, but the main take home for me was that, whatever the content, context or medium, the actual psychological process of learning, both individually and collectively, remains critical and transcends the other aspects. The ATIL work seems to be very thoroughly engineered for learning whereas, to me, the Baghdad checkpoint may well have been part of a longer process in which learning was well engineered, but this was harder to see. Designing programmes without embedding the fundamental learning architecture is likely to lead to ineffective learning, however good the technology or material.
This is what learning professionals must equip themselves with above all else and we need to be getting help from the experts in cognitive science, psychology, neurology, etc so that we can turn their theory into practical world changing work.