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Four reasons to use serious games, simulations and virtual worlds for education and training

It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to serious games, simulations and virtual world technologies, but like all tools there are situations when they are and aren’t useful.

Serious games, simulations and virtual worlds are best used when traditional, real world learning methods are one or more of the following;

  1. expensive
  2. dangerous
  3. logistically impossible
  4. boring

Let’s examine each of these points.

1.  Expensive

With the cost of real world materials going up, and the cost of digital content going down, cost is increasingly a good reason to use serious games and simulations.

One of the best and oldest examples of this is flight simulators.  With planes and fuel costing a small fortune, airlines have for many years now used simulators to train pilots.

The biotechnology simulations we have developed for Monash University and BioCSL are another example – the equipment and materials used in creating these drugs can cost millions of dollars.  By simulating these activities students and workers can get experience of these processes at a small fraction of the cost.

2.  Dangerous

After the aviation industry, the military is the second largest user of simulation and serious game technologies.  Soldiers can train for a wide variety of battle scenarios without the risk of harm to themselves or others.

Likewise our nursing simulations allow students to practice procedures such as the administration of an IV fluid without putting real patients at risk.

Our electrotechnology simulation allows students to practice installing an electrical service in a new residence without the risk of electric shock.

Learning by making mistakes can be very powerful, but in dangerous situations is often only possible with simulation or serious game technologies.

3. Logistically impossible

The third largest use of simulations and serious game technologies is in health.  Virtual patients(both physical and digital) allow students to practice a wide range of procedures which would otherwise be impossible to co-ordinate in the real world.

Our Vplay product allows GPs to practice cultural skills with a range of patients, once again learning from mistakes.  Likewise our pharmacy simulators allow students to practice making medicine in a sterile environment, something they do not have access to in the real world.

4.  Boring

Our occupational health and safety serious game, the Whitecard Game, targets young school leavers who are just starting an apprenticeship and need to learn about workplace hazards.

It’s important that this content is presented in an engaging fashion, as many of these young people do not respond well to traditional learning.   Engaging students in this manner can ensure that when they do set foot on a worksite they know what hazards to look out for.

Learner engagement is often viewed as simply making things easier for the student – but this is very important when you are considering issues like safety.

Another way we use serious games and simulations to engage learners is by putting information into context.  Our business simulations created for University of Melbourne take traditionally dry topics and wrap them in an engaging story line, engaging students and allowing them to learn through play and experience rather than simply memorising facts.

When shouldn’t I use serious games and simulations?

Your use case should match at least a few of the reasons given above.

If you find the opposite is true – perhaps these technologies are not the right solution.

For example, let’s look at the potential for a ‘how to tie your shoelace’ simulation;

  • It’s not expensive to do in the real world.  It’s free or very cheap.
  • It is not a dangerous activity.
  • It’s logistically very easy.  Shoes and laces are common and accessible.
  • It’s not something that can be made more exciting by using digital technologies – in fact doing it in the real world is much more tactile and enjoyable.

Consider your audience

Another thing to consider is your learners.  If they are not comfortable using these types of technologies then you may like to either reconsider using serious games and simulations, or factor this into your design.

For younger cohorts where we know most learners will be gamers and quite tech savvy, we often design more game like simulations which allow users to navigate the digital environment themselves.  If we were dealing with an audience with a different skill set, for example retired builders, we would consider simplifying the user interface and making navigation more automated.

In conclusion

Serious games, simulations and virtual worlds all have their uses, and most organisations should be using them a lot more for education and training.   However as with all tools, it’s best not to get too carried away by the shiny things, and to really consider the best way you can achieve your desired learning outcomes.

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VR is finally coming of age

For those of you who are very young or not so into sci-fi, the name Oztron was inspired by Tron, a 1982 movie where a computer programmer is sucked into his computer and needed to interact with the virtual world to escape.

The first time I tried to build a virtual world was back in 1999, when I attempted to build a virtual nightclub using VRML, or virtual reality modeling language.  It was way beyond me and I ended up building a somewhat less interactive online environment using flash.

In 2005 I discovered Second Life, which finally made building virtual worlds possible.  It continues to this day, however truly immersive one’s self requires quite a vivid imagination.

Throughout this time there were several VR headsets from companies like Nvidia, but they were very expensive and had a small field of view, and their use was mainly confined to university and software company laboratories.

For those of you who haven’t yet tried one, a VR headset is basically a big pair of goggles with a screen or screens where you are looking.  Put them on and you leave reality and enter ‘virtual reality.’

In 2012 the Oculus Rift came into being.  This headset, although quite clunky and low resolution, was affordable, and finally allowed the user to immerse themselves in virtual environments.  The technology was not perfect but it inspired development which is still increasing exponentially.  Oculus was bought by Facebook for $2 billion USD, which might seem like a lot.  Well, it is a lot – but try VR just once and you will understand why.

Next month, November 2015, the first consumer version VR headset will be released, the GearVR.  The GearVR is designed to work by using Samsung flagship phones, such as the Note and S series.

‘Innovator’ versions of this headset are already available in Samsung stores in Australia – they are compatible with the Note 4 and S6 and provide the smoothest and most impressive introduction to virtual reality currently available.

But now for the exciting part – over the coming months many more VR headsets will be released for the average consumer.  These headsets are more high powered than the GearVR.

  • Oculus CV1, now backed by Facebook – available Q1 2016 (requires PC)
  • HTC Vive, a collaboration between HTC and Valve Corporation – available Xmas 2015, full release Q1 2016 (requires PC)
  • Project Morpheus, a Playstation compatible headset developed by Sony – available Q1 2016 (requires PS4)
  • Microsoft Hololens, combining virtual reality with augmented reality – developer version available Q1 2016 (requires PC)

The world as we know it is about to change.  For the better?  Yes, absolutely!

Imagine being able to attend any event in the world, live.

Imagine being able to travel without leaving your lounge room.

Imagine not just watching a movie, but being one of the characters in it.

VR is going to be to television what television was to radio and photographs.

If you haven’t tried it – give us a call and I am happy to come and show you the GearVR.   It’s an experience you won’t forget.

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Utilizing Virtual and Personal Learning Environments for Optimal Learning

Co-written with my long term and valued colleague Dr. Stefan Schutt from Victoria University, our chapter Eight Years of Utilizing Virtual Worlds for Education: A View from the Trenches is the first chapter in the book Utilizing Virtual and Personal Learning Environments for Optimal Learning – now available through IGI Global.

The chapter discusses our experiences since 2006 deploying virtual worlds for training within secondary and special schools, vocational education, higher education, private industry and the community sector, as well as the factors involved – including technological change, organisational politics, pedagogical fashions, changes in policy and funding environments, and the human aspects of working with teachers and students.

If you are interested in reading the chapter please let me know, or it is available from the IGI Global online bookstore or online database(use code LIB25 for a 25% discount).