Augmented reality transforms learning in professional training

In this piece, our contributor Éric Thibault presents how virtual reality can transform professional training. Specifically, he presents how Microsoft's HoloLens™ goggles are being integrated into teaching at the Centre intégré de formation et d'innovation technologique (CIFIT) in Victoriaville.

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ATTENTION! The English translation is automated - Errors (sometimes hilarious!) can creep in! ;)

By Éric Thibault, Pedagogical Advisor at the RÉCIT National Service in Professional Training (RÉCIT-FP)

In this piece, our contributor Éric Thibault presents how virtual reality can transform professional training. Specifically, he presents how Microsoft's HoloLens™ goggles are being integrated into teaching at the Centre intégré de formation et d'innovation technologique (CIFIT) in Victoriaville.

Imagine you are a learner. You have a complex task to complete, which requires you to follow an equally complicated work procedure. Your teacher places a helmet on your head with glasses that allow you to continue to see the real world. Surprise! The work instructions appear. A demonstration video starts, you don't need it at the time, you manipulate it and place it out of your field of vision. Arrows appear in your vision to show you which component you need to work on. 

After each manipulation, you interact with the interface to indicate that the operation is duly completed. Unfortunately, one part is more difficult to disassemble. You are stuck. Using the interface, you make a video conference call. Surprisingly, it is another student who answers. He shows you the disassembly steps with arrows and sends you a video demonstration file and a PDF guide provided by the part manufacturer, which you can consult in real time with your caller. You finish your task quickly, without having left your workplace, without feeling like you asked for help, but with the feeling of efficiency and collaboration.

This situation is not science fiction. It is the reality of many companies. Companies like Hewlett-Packard and Mercedes-Benz are already using this technology for remote assistance (see videos at the end of this article). While the cost may seem high at first, these glasses quickly become cost-effective once you start to see the time savings a company can realize by avoiding travel, having a quicker return to production after a shutdown, or simply by facilitating the training of new employees. So, with a little imagination, this technology can be integrated very well into professional training.

A new look in professional training

The arrival of Microsoft™ HoloLens™ glasses brings technology into the classroom that will change the way we plan and teach and enable an immersive learning experience. 

First of all, augmented reality is a very different technology from virtual reality. They should not be confused. 

Virtual reality is a virtual environment that fully engulfs the user with real content (photo or video), computer-generated content or a combination of both. Virtual reality allows the user to be immersed in a situation where they can simply be a spectator or interact with projected elements. Virtual reality usually requires the use of a specific headset. 

Augmented reality consists of superimposing computer-generated content in the learner's view. Whether it's a team call, video clips, photos, directions, a PDF document or a questionnaire, the user never completely loses his relationship with his environment. One of the advantages of this technology is that the content can be geolocated. 

Augmented reality is already present in many schools. It is mostly used with an electronic tablet or glasses specific to this use. 

Making the leap into augmented reality

The Centre intégré de formation et d'innovation technologique (CIFIT) in Victoriaville has taken the plunge into augmented reality. The RÉCIT FP (Vocational Training) and RÉCIT VT (Vocational Training) teams went to the Industrial Mechanics and Electromechanics Department to experiment with this technology and discuss the integration of this technology with the Centre's team.

According to Jean Proulx, project-based learning is "a systemic process of knowledge acquisition and transfer during which the learner anticipates, plans and carries out, within a given time, alone or with peers and under the supervision of a teacher, an observable activity that results, in a pedagogical context, in an assessable finished product.

Proulx, Jean. Project-based learning. P.32, PUQ, 2004.

The Training Centre has a good reputation for pedagogical and technological innovation. François Manningham, teacher in electromechanics, and his colleague Stéphane Girard explain this by the team's desire to always innovate. 

For example, for their concurrent clientele, the team is offering a project to build a robotic arm. The learners will assimilate the basics of computer-aided design, the calibration of a 3D printer, the mechanical assembly, the electronics related to the project and the programming of it. During this project, learners move quickly from theory to practice in order to integrate and apply the new knowledge. This is a great example of project-based learning.

During a tour, Messrs. Manningham and Girard explained to us what, pedagogically, Microsoft's HoloLens™ goggles add value to teaching. According to their experiences, they allow for truly immersive learning situations and autonomous or semi-autonomous learning. 

What might an educational activity designed for these glasses look like?

First, in order to spatially locate the activities, the user must scan a QR code, "quick response code", to launch the activity. Then, all additions are geolocated to the exact location desired by the designer of the learning activity. Then, quizzes can be integrated during the work sequence. The answers to these questionnaires and the photos taken by the learner can be analyzed by the teacher to provide feedback. 

In addition, since the glasses are a Microsoft product, they seamlessly integrate with the Office suite tools. In the same vein, Microsoft has developed several apps for the HoloLens™ glasses, which simplifies the design of learning activities.

On the other hand, the glasses can project a 3D image of a part or an assembly in the learner's vision. Moreover, the learner can even move the different parts projected in his field of vision to visualize the interior of an assembly. This allows the learner to walk around the outside of the projection, take it apart and see the inside of it. 

Of course, the teaching team must master one or more computer-aided design (CAD) software, for example Solidworks or Onshape[1]. Moreover, being connected to the Internet, the glasses have access to all available databases. Thus, the student can search for information on a manufacturer's website, order the part, follow up and visualize the 3D file if it is available, and all this, during the repair. The learner's gain in autonomy is significant.

At the same time, multiple students equipped with HoloLens™ goggles or tablets can intervene in the same environment and see the same projections, allowing for collaboration, unlike virtual reality goggles, which typically allow only one learner to experience an environment.

The use of the glasses is not limited to the learner's experience. The teacher can perform a demonstration with the glasses. For example, explore the inside of a mechanical assembly and share their vision with other HoloLens™ glasses or project what is in their field of view onto computers, tablets, cell phones or a projector.

Educational planning and experimentation

At CIFIT, we don't mess around with instructional planning. Mélissa Barthell, the training center's pedagogical advisor, specifies that before integrating glasses into their teaching, teachers must discuss their pedagogical intentions as a team. 

What skill element should be taught? How do they plan to teach it? What is the added value of using such technology? Thus, reflection and instructional planning are encouraged at CIFIT. Since the arrival of this technology coincides with the implementation of the new electromechanics training program, it allows for a fresh look at the teaching of skills. 

In addition, the glasses allow to record the manipulations made by the learner and thus become an addition that allows to evaluate the process without being next to the learner during the whole operation. 

However, given the novelty of this technology, the team admits to being in a learning period. In fact, it is among the first center teams in Quebec, in vocational training, to use these glasses. They cannot yet rely on the experience of other users. 

Thus, before integrating any new technology, it is important to experiment before integrating it into the classroom. We only have to remember the arrival of projectors in the classrooms. It was a real revolution that took us a while to get used to... but we would never go back.

A business card for the Centre

From the point of view of Assistant Director Alexandre Néron, the addition of this technology is an excellent calling card for the Centre. First of all, it conveys a positive image to employers in the region. The tool demonstrates the coherence of the Centre's orientations by training a workforce capable of adapting to the latest technologies, and placement for internships is facilitated. 

This type of technology also attracts the attention of potential students and demonstrates to the general public that the training center is not just a place of teaching, but a place of innovation. Finally, Mr. Néron adds that a center that is equipped with the latest technology stimulates an appetite for innovation among teachers, which is very gratifying for them. So everyone wins when they innovate.

Despite the very high purchase cost, the autonomous or semi-autonomous learning offered by HoloLens™ glasses is a nice addition to a training center. This type of learning seems to enhance autonomy and frees up the instructor to focus on coaching other students. Moreover, it is well known that learners like new technologies and companies have a positive view of training centers that innovate. Furthermore, the motivation and commitment of the teachers was palpable during our visit.

So the only question is how to finance this kind of project! For answers, contact your RÉCIT advisor; he or she may have some good ideas for you...

Thank you to the Centre intégré de formation et d'innovation technologique (CIFIT) of Victoriaville!

Special thanks to :

  • Alexandre Néron (Assistant Director)
  • Melissa Barthell (Educational Consultant)
  • François Manningham (department head for the industrial mechanics program)
  • Stéphane Girard (department head for the electromechanical program)
  • Dany Paradis (teacher who piloted the HoloLens™ deployment at CIFIT)

[1] Training on OnShape software is available on the Campus-RÉCIT website.

In addition :

An HP® Hewlett-Packard video

A video from Mercedes-Benz

Training offered with Deepsight software

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