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Virtual Reality as a Comprehensive Training Tool

Authors:
  • Instituto Nacional de Electricidad y Energías Limpias - INEEL

Abstract and Figures

Experiences on development of training systems based on non immersive Virtual Reality are described. It is discussed about factors that make VR a tool to create content and learning contexts so that instruction can be more efficient. The systems allow risk free training of highly dangerous live line maintenance procedures and keep records of trainees' progress, among other things.
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Virtual Reality as a Comprehensive Training Tool
Miguel Pérez-Ramírez1, Norma J. Ontiveros-Hernández2
1Virtual Reality Group. Electrical Research Institute (IIE)
Reforma 113. Col Palmira Cuernavaca Mor. México CP 62490
2Instituto Tecnológico de Zacatepec (ITZ)
Calzada Tecnológico No. 27. Zacatepec, Morelos, México C.P. 62780
mperez@iie.org.mx, njoh_314@yahoo.com.mx
Abstract: Experiences on development of training systems based on non
immersive Virtual Reality are described. It is discussed about factors that
make VR a tool to create content and learning contexts so that instruction
can be more efficient. The systems allow risk free training of highly
dangerous live line maintenance procedures and keep records of trainees’
progress, among other things.
Keywords: Virtual reality, training, learning process
1 Introduction
The aim of this paper is to describe the architecture followed in development of different
training systems based on Virtual Reality (VR) and shows that this kind of systems allows
integrating different influencing factors or dimensions of a learning process. In other
words VR not only is helpful in the creation of learning content but also in the integration
and creation of learning contexts.
A learning context is conceived as the sum of factors which intervene in a
specific learning process. From this point of view and unlike traditional instruction which
is usually considered incomplete and less efficient, we follow the comprehensive
approaches to learning; where the more dimensions are integrated in a learning process
the more efficient is the instruction to reach a specified learning goal.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: Section 2 discusses about learning
approaches and adopts the integration idea of the comprehensive approach. Section 3
provides a brief definition of VR, describes the architecture of the VR for training as well
as a brief description of the development methodology used, a preliminary study about the
efficiency of the systems, and shows evidences of the comprehensive approach in these
systems. Section 4 includes some conclusions and it is followed by a list o references.
2 Learning approaches: discussion
Some authors [7] criticize the traditional instruction methods for the cognitive domain,
which rely on textbooks and basic practical lessons, pointing out that they pose various
limitations in assisting learners in recalling or recognizing knowledge, and developing
their understandings, intellectual abilities and skills.
Intuitively, from having a group of students, all of them with different skills, we
can envisage that the traditional instructional method will match the skills of a subset of
the group of students, but not with the rest of the group. At most there will be some
students that will be demanded different levels of extra effort to learn and get the same
performance that those students in the matching group, other simply might quit.
Different approaches and theories have arisen to improve learning. Theories and
methods such as conductism, constructivism and others might be included here, but from
the intuition above we can observe that learning process requires a more comprehensive
view so that instruction can impact learning in a broader audience.
One of the problems here is that instructional design usually does not target
groups of students with the same skills; rather they are applied to a heterogeneous
audience of learners each one with different skills. Thus, there are also comprehensive
approaches, for instance Chen et al. [6] propose a theoretical framework based on
integrative goals and principles for multimedia. Here integrative goals for instructional
design [10], is based on the idea that design begins with the identification of learning
goals (for instance baking a cake). Goals are sometimes conceived as objectives reflecting
human performance, and sometimes as learning outcomes implying the acquired
capabilities for those performances. Then integrative goals deal with a combination of
several individual objectives that are to be integrated into a comprehensive learning goal.
2.1 Multidimensional approach to learning
Following the comprehensive approaches and the use of technology, when dealing with
instruction, there is a variety of different dimension or factors which intervene in a
learning process (Fig. 1) and that must be considered if we want to accomplish the main
goal of any instruction task (knowledge transference). These dimensions can vary on
different situations, some are mentioned here.
Learner- instructor dimensions: Regarding the people involved, two dimensions can
be identified in getting the knowledge transference goal. In case of students, this goal
is to accommodate a new piece of information or a new arrangement of information
into their knowledge repository within their brains. When this is achieved, learners
might modify their behavior or points of view, augmenting their skills, etc. For
instructors this goal should be to teach and have evidence that the knowledge has been
really transferred to the brain of the students. These dimensions also involve, a
perhaps just assumed, but decisive demand in order to get a combined effort to get the
training goal namely, learners must really want to learn and instructors must really
want to teach.
Instructional model dimension: Regarding instructional model as another dimension,
different have been proposed (e.g. Conductivism, Constructivism, etc.) each having
strengths and weaknesses. They all provide some truth and some approach for learning
improvement (e.g. learning centered on instructors, learning centered in students,
learning centered on instructor-student interaction, etc.). There might be cases where a
model is used effectively that even uninterested students are involved and guided to a
specific learning goal. However, depending on the instruction domain, a model or
combination of models must be selected in order to make the instruction efficient.
Instructional domain dimension: Instructional domain is another dimension; it is not
the same football training, which is mostly a physical activity than a physics lesson
which might be mostly theoretical. It is clear that each domain demands specific
abilities from learners, but also determines which instructional method can be better to
reach an instructional goal.
Learning channels dimension: One more dimension is set up by different kinds of
students according to the learning channels that they prefer when learning or that
makes learning easier to them. Usually three different kinds of learners are identified
according to dominant learning channel, namely auditory for those who learn better by
hearing, visual for those who learn better through visualization and kinesthetic for
those who learn better by manipulating objects. Students also involve different mood
and emotional states, different skills, etc., which in combination with learning
channels intervene in learning efficiency. We do not use only one learning channel;
most people learn better by using more than one at once. If instructional design and
content includes stimuli elements for the three learning channels, the efficiency will
cover a broader audience.
Fig. 1. Different dimension intervene in a knowledge transference task
Different other dimensions can be present in the learning process. The term
learning context1 (LC) might be used to group the different dimensions involved in any
specific learning process. LC can include personal learning contexts (PLC) which are
subsets of dimensions attached to specific persons either learners or instructors. We can
1 Here the term “context” is borrowed from NLP community where it is defined as a set of
consistent statements describing a set of beliefs of a person. Thus unlike learning environment
which includes external elements that influence a learning process [15], learning context pretends to
be a personal internal view of an environment and so a more complete and precise view of the
learning factors influencing such learning process.
Dimension 1
Dimension 2
Dimension n
Instructor Learner Learning Goal
identify group learning contexts (GLC), which can be restricted to the sum of PLC of
learners and instructor involved in specific learning process.
Comprehensive approaches to learning are based on theories such as the
integrative goals theory. Following these approaches, identifying, integrating and
considering LC into the learning process would provide an efficient and more complete
tool to reach a learning goal.
Traditional instruction methods can be considered incomplete in the sense that
they do not involve different dimension present in the learning process. For instance, in
some latin-american countries, there are educative institutions which rate the efficiency of
instructors based on the percentage of failed or graduated students. This is a shortsighted
point of view because it does not consider all the dimensions involved, learners might
think that learning process is only responsibility of instructors. This stance seems to
charge instructors with all the responsibility which is clearly an incomplete view for
evaluating learning efficiency and even worst, it might convey a wrong message to some
students and to some education authorities. Even the use of technology might provide
incomplete methods. Distance learning can be an alternative for inaccessible education
problems. However, if in a distance course the instructional content is just delivered to
students altogether with guidelines to follow, and then learning evaluations are demanded,
the student-instructor interaction can be reduced. It might be well suited for self learning
oriented people but leaves out other kinds of learners.
On the other hand the ideal learning context might be almost impossible, unless
instruction is personalized, in whose case might be less practical and surely expensive.
We have to content ourselves with including the most dimensions as possible in a learning
process, but perhaps more important is to be aware of the different dimensions intervening
in specific learning processes.
2.2 Technology in learning processes
Technology has proved to be useful as a learning tool. Technology has contributed to
reach learning goals by providing tools such as learning objects and learning objects
repositories, learning management systems (LMS), content management systems (CMS),
intelligent tutorial systems (ITS), and virtual reality for training, among others.
Furthermore, there is a key point in using technology in the comprehensive approaches; it
might allows us integration of different dimensions involved in the learning process, so it
provides a tools to rise efficiency of learning processes. Among the successful
technologies for training is Virtual Reality (VR).
3 Virtual Reality for training
Although Virtual Reality (VR) can be applied in different fields such as design, games,
films, simulations, visualization, etc., it also allows integration and creation of different
learning contexts which make it successful as a training tool.
Burdea and Coiffet [5] point out that training is one of the main application fields
of VR. This technology provides benefits for training which are limited in traditional
instruction. For instance, VR is ideal for dangerous training under no risk, allows
visualization from different perspectives many of them inaccessible in real environments,
allows virtual visualization of equipments, interactivity design allows active learning,
provides learners the sense of control since they can repeat a lesson as many times as they
need it and make progress at their own pace. We have also observed that interactive 3D
animated environments are frequently more attractive than manual’s photography to
learners and this plays a positive role in learning.
Regarding companies which spend high amount of economical resources in
training people, we have observed that VR systems for training tackle problems such as
the high economical cost of training due to travel and stay expenses for people who have
to move from job places to training centers. Besides this, it helps to increase the current
limited number of trained personnel.
3.1 Virtual Reality
Before carry on, it is worth to say what VR is. The concept of VR has been approached
from different perspectives and variety of terms starting with Jaron Lanier who coined the
term Virtual Reality in 1989 as a 3D interactive environment generated by computer in
which a person is immerse [3]. Other examples are ciberespacio, used by William Gibson
[11] in his Neuroromancer. Here Gibson describes a virtual shared universe, operated
within the sum of all computer networks in the world. Virtual environments consist of an
interactive deployment of images enhanced by no visual deployment such as audio and
tactile feedback in order to convince users of being immerse in a synthetic space [8]. We
have attached ourselves to the following definition.
Virtual Reality: is the electronic representation (partial or complete) of a real or
fictitious environment. Such representation can include 3D graphics and/or images, has
the property of being interactive and might or might not be immersive. [12]
Unlike Lanier definition, we have seen that immersion is not mandatory to say that a
system is based on virtual reality. In fact there is a wide variety of degrees of immersion
whose extremes are non immersive virtual reality (Fig. 2) and immersive virtual reality
(Fig. 3), in the former a user can interact with VR system by using only a mouse and a
keyboard, in the latter a systems might need some variety of devices so that a user senses
can be stimulated and user action can be monitored within the virtual environment.
Between the two extremes we can find also the so called augmented reality (Fig. 4) which
superposes virtual images to real ones so that a user is provided with a sort of
“terminator’s” vision.
Depending on the application field, sometimes immersion can be better than non
immersive systems and vice versa. Without forgetting that a non immersive system is
cheaper since it does not need VR peripheral devices for a user to be able to interact with
the virtual environment.
Fig. 2. Non immersive VR Fig. 3. Immersive VR Fig. 4. Augmented reality
3.2. VR systems architecture for training
At IIE2, different VR systems for free risk training have been developed for CFE3, most of
them are devoted to free risk training of highly dangerous maintenance procedures,
involving medium and high tension live lines maintenance.
These systems operate in three modes namely, learning, practice and evaluation
mode (Fig. 5). Before a user enters to any of these modes, the systems allows users to
visualize and manipulate catalogs of 3D models of all the tools and equipment needed for
maintenance work without being in a company’s warehouse (Fig. 6).
The main feature in the learning mode is that the system has the control and
indicates users step by step what has to be done to safely complete a maintenance
procedure. Order must be cared since omission can be fatal. The practice mode allows
users more freedom and user use this mode to go to specific steps and solve any doubt. In
the practical evaluation mode a user must achieve a maintenance procedure with no help
and errors will be recorded in a database for progress monitoring. The systems also
include theoretical evaluations based on exams integrated by multiple choices questions
whose outcomes are also recorded in a database.
The systems follow the same architecture (Fig. 7). They include the following
modules: a) users’ and courses management, b) maintenance procedures, c) licenses
management and d) interface.
Maintenance procedures: This is the main module; it contains VR scenes and
animations complemented with audio, information additional and text explanations
(scripts). It includes the three modes namely learning, practice and evaluation modes.
Users and courses management module: This module is used by the interface to
determine if a user is entitled to use the system. Three different kinds of user can be
registered in the system, namely administrators, instructors (facilitator), and students
(participants).
2 IIE is the Spanish acronym for Electrical Research Institute, in Cuernavaca, México.
3 CFE is the National Mexican electricity company
Fig. 5. Learning mode Fig. 6. Tools catalog
Licenses management module: This module is reserved only for system administrators.
Granting a user’s license, requires user’s personal information as well as job
adscription to make sure the license is requested by a company’s employee.
Fig. 7: Architecture of VR training systems
3.3 Development stages of a VRS
The development of a VRS follows the stages reported in the software engineering
literature. Once we have a requirements specification and the design of the system
Virtual reality training system
CFE’s intranet
Licenses
Management
Module
System
administrator
Administra
tor
Instructor
Learner
Types of
users
Via e-mail or
telephone
Users’ and courses
management
Module
Apache server
VR Maintenance
Procedures Module
Local DB
Users’
DB
Local DB
Procedures
Help
Instruction
s
(interface, since virtual environments design, might be guided by the real environment),
these are the development stages we follow:
1. Information gathering: Depending on the application field, first we have to
determine the number of objects and their complexity that will be part of the virtual
environment. The information is video recorded so that images and physical
dimensions of the objects are available to developers (Fig. 8). If technical
specifications of equipment are available, objects measuring might not be needed.
Fig. 8: Equipment measuring Fig. 9: 3D model Fig. 10: Virtual scene
2. 3D modeling: Here all 3D objects are made to scale (Fig. 9).
3. Scene creation: In this stage, all 3D models previously created are integrated so that
a virtual scene or environment is created.
4. Animation: Here animation inherent to each 3D model is developed. For instance,
the motion of a helicopter or fan blades or the movements of a crane, etc. (Fig. 4).
5. Script elaboration: It is similar to a film script; it contains explanations and
instructions for user’s interaction.
6. Interaction and audio: Sound is added to the scene according to the objects
included. It is also implemented the interaction between user and system. Thus,
according to users’ actions, different behaviors of the scene are implemented, so
users can perceive environment reactions to their interaction.
7. Interface development: The interface integrates a virtual scene, menus, explanations
and instructions so that users’ interaction is guided (Fig5. 5, 6).
These stages are also useful to gather information about the number and complexity
of the objects to be modeled and animated. This in turn is useful to elaborate a cost-
benefit analysis and therefore to determine whether or not the system is viable.
3.4 Preliminary study of VR efficiency
A preliminary study has been conducted to see how helpful these kinds of VR systems are
in training. In this study two groups of 10 participants were randomly defined namely
GrTrad and GrALen, the former was trained under traditional instruction and the later
using a VR system. Both group had to learn one live line maintenance procedure. Then
two evaluations were applied to all the participants a theoretical one consisting of a
written exam and a practical one where couples of participants were asked to perform
some key steps of the maintenance procedure. Finally exams were marked and compared
(Figs. 11, 12); some are showed below (see [16] for detailed description of this study).
Fig. 11. Theoretical evaluation Fig. 12. Practical evaluation
These results are not still precise enough due to participants’ background. The
requisite to participate in the study was that they had no knowledge about live line
maintenance. Nevertheless, during the study we realize that although the participants
assigned for CFE were all beginners, they had already, notions in different levels, of live
line maintenance and this might have affected the results.
3.5 VR training systems vs learning context
To start with, the three modes included in the architecture of the VR systems developed,
provide students with a tool that reinforce the three stages of the learning process [13]
namely: a) receiving information, b) processing so that information is retained in memory
and c) using or applying the knowledge acquired.
In the learning mode student receive information provided by the system; the
practicing mode helps students to review information and so to process it and therefore to
retain it in memory. The practical evaluation might be considered only as a first approach
to real live line maintenance (use of knowledge acquired) which can be observed in
training sites.
Learner-instructor dimensions: Although this dimension is quite subjective we
observed that even in the validation stage when the system was yet incomplete, the
content catched the attention not only of the target audience (maintenance workers),
but also of different kinds of people including directives, female secretaries, children,
etc. They all had short time informal access to the system (they just wanted to know
what the system was about) but when they were asked about the content they all
showed evidence of having learnt and retained something in memory. The systems are
useful for instructors to teach and for students to learn even if they do not belong to
the target audience.
Instructional domain dimension: As mentioned above, the instructional domain of
these systems is the free risk training of the highly dangerous maintenance work to
medium and high tension lines. This domain involves both some theoretical
knowledge including some electrical principles and mostly a sequence of dangerous
physical activities.
Learning channels dimension: A study mentioned in [14] shows that we have roughly
the same preference for three learning channels:
a) 37% of learning is haptic or kinesthetic, through moving, touching and doing.
b) 29% of learning is visual, through pictures and images.
c) 34% of learning is auditory, through sounds and words.
However, it is known that more than one sensory channel can be used at once while
learning. Within study strategies literature, this is referred to as multimodal study strategy
and according to Fleming [9], the majority as approximately 60% of any population fits
that category. Each learning style uses different part of the brain, so the more channels are
involved during learning, we remember more of what we learn [2].
Although there is a number of learning styles mentioned in learning literature
[1;9] such as read/write, logical, verbal, etc., we focused on the three primary sensory
learning channels [4] whose preference percentages were listed above; a VR system for
training can be able to stimulate learning channels in some degree. Thus, whatever the
channel is best for a student to learn, he/she still can benefit from a VR system as a
learning tool. The system can include images, text and animations for those visual
students. All the explanations provided in text are also reproduced in audio for those who
prefer the aural learning style (although sound can be turned off under demand).
Regarding the kinesthetic oriented students, thus far, they can interact with the system by
using a keyboard and a mouse. An immersive system might provide more kinesthetic
stimulus, but they are still expensive.
Instructional model dimension
The practice mode, the interaction and repetition capability as well as the self learning
facilities of the systems are helpful not only in constructing the users’ knowledge within
this instructional domain but to some extent, also they allow active learning and
stimulates the kinesthetic learning channel of learners.
Company dimension
The instructional domain is established by the company which also demands free risk
training even though the real maintenance activities are highly dangerous. It also demands
progress monitoring, controlled access to the systems and their instructional content, self
learning capability, formal course training, among other factors. The architecture
described covers all these demands.
4 Conclusions
The closest work that we have found related to VR systems for maintenance training
within the electrical sector [17], describes an immersive prototype which includes only
one procedure. Some differences are: being immersive the prototype involves an extra
cost derived of peripherals use which in turn reduces availability; unlike this prototype,
the systems we develop are used in real training and include at least 40 different
procedures. The prototype was developed using WTK which is not available anymore and
it does not keep records of learning progress. Regarding the use of virtual reality, it should
have the advantages of this technology.
Experience in development of non immersive VR systems for training shows that
VR is useful in integration of learning contexts; this makes it an efficient learning tool.
We realize that 3D scenes and animations are appealing to people, no matter whether they
are adults or children and no matter whether they are professional or not. Somehow the
property of been able to create virtual contexts enables VR as a learning tool. It has been
observed that introduction of VR in training, impacts not only training itself but also costs
and modifies the way in which training is managed mainly in companies. For instance,
one of the indicators used to measure training is the number of hours per person per year.
When VR systems are available to potential learners, in some cases they spend many
more hours than those defined by the company, mainly when they can install the system
in a lap top that they can take home. These extra hours do not imply instructors’ hours,
which reduces costs. One last comments is that there might be instructional domains
where learners can self learn using a system whose instructional content is comprehensive
and really well done. In such cases presence of instructor might not be determinant for
trainees. Nevertheless, for the systems mentioned here, this is not the case. Live line
maintenance procedures involve a high risk, instructors agree that a first mistake can be
the last one due that accidents are usually fatal and lives are lost. Live lines maintenance
involves physical activity which is not provided by a non immersive VR training system,
perhaps an immersive systems including peripheral devices such as pole, tools, cables,
etc., might include it. The point here is that these systems are not entitled to emit a
certificate to enable people to perform live line maintenance; this must be responsibility of
a human instructor who will have to cover the physical and practical training.
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... The virtual reality is the electronic representation (partial or complete) of a real or fictitious environment. Such representation can include 3D graphics and/or images, has the property of being interactive and might or might not be immersive (Pérez and Ontiveros, 2009). ...
... In education and training, VR allows the construction and integration of different learning contexts that make it successful as a learning tool (Pérez-Ramírez & Ontiveros Hernández, 2009, Pantelidis, 2009). In accordance with pioneer works (Burdea & Coiffet, 2003) and recent works (Fuchs, Moreau & Guitton, 2011), training is one of the main fields for VR application, as it possesses characteristics that are either inexistent or they are limited in traditional instruction, such as virtual navigation within inaccessible or dangerous places. ...
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