Rob Theriault M.E.T., BHSc, CCP(f) Immersive Technology Manager

Learning by doing is the best way for things to sink in, but it isn’t always possible to be truly hands on. 

Thanks to technology and virtual reality, we’re getting closer to mimicking real life and giving students a chance to enhance their learning. 

It’s called immersive learning, which uses VR to simulate real-world scenarios, allowing students to feel an element of presence, like they’re really there.

VRpatients, a VR tool for EMS, nursing and other medical fields, allows students to train in virtual reality, giving them real life situations without any negative real life consequences.  

Rob Theriault, the Immersive Technology Manager at Georgian College in Ontario, Canada calls it immersive virtual reality.

“It’s learning where you’re oblivious to the real world and completely immersed in another world. You’re wearing a virtual reality headset that gives a pretty wide field of view and you look up, down, sideways, and you see a completely different world.”

He says learning this way is experiential, so students are learning in the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains at the same time.   

“Doing anything with your hands and making decisions always results in greater retention, and when it comes to skills performance, there is research to support that.”

Immersive virtual learning is different than just watching a video or a lecture.

“When I have a video conference with students, I don’t really feel present with them. Generally, I’m lecturing with them on mute and I’ll unmute them so we can have conversations sometimes, but you’re never really looking your students in the eye,” Theriault says. “You’re not really getting that sense of presence on a 2D screen but you do get that in virtual reality which is quite compelling.”

Theriault has been a paramedic for more than 30 years and says VR and VRpatients take his brain to another place, making it easier to suspend disbelief and act according to the situation he is seeing. 

“I actually got a similar twinge of adrenaline that I get as a paramedic in the field when I see someone who’s really sick and I think I need to assess and treat this person quickly before they get worse. That doesn’t typically happen in the lab. I felt like it was in the room. The context was so powerful.”

Repetition is also an important part of immersive learning. 

“It’s something students may not get the opportunity to do in a [traditional] lab and there may be limited time to play the lead role as an EMS provider,” he says, adding this happens at every school. 

During Canada’s 14 week semester, students might get at most a dozen opportunities to lead a call. Using VR, a student might be able to be a leader about 50 times. 

The analytics available from VR allow instructors to respond to any mistakes students make.

“They can repeat it and then get right eventually,” Theriault says, adding it is difficult to repeat a scenario in a traditional lab setting. “In VR, you could do it over and over again till you get it right and that’s really groundbreaking.”

A place where Theriault says VR also shines in EMS training is providing context – a part of immersive learning. Labs are usually sterile-looking, hospital-type environments free of distractions. 

“[With VR] the context is you’re in someone’s apartment, or you’re in a nightclub for a shooting, or you’re down the embankment on the side of the highway, or you’re on the shoulder of the highway looking after a trauma patient and there are cars whizzing by. That context is really powerful and you can’t get that in a lab.”

The changing avatars available with VR is also important to the training experience. 

“In a lab at school, you get great hands-on experience and you train, but you’ve got either students role-playing the patient or you’ve got manikins, so it’s limited,” he says. “It’s the same students and the same manikins every day, but yet the instructor is asking you to take a leap of faith by asking you to imagine this is a 16-year-old asthmatic who’s struggling to breathe, but you’re looking at this plastic manikin who’s not doing much of anything.”

Tools like VRpatients allow students to listen to the avatar’s lungs and identify abnormal sounds, which isn’t possible with a basic manikin or role playing.

“You’ve got someone who clearly appears to be struggling to breathe and you listen to their lungs and you hear wheezing throughout their lungs.  You’ve got the appearance of someone who is anxious and whose chest is heaving. That kind of context gives you a more immersive and realistic feeling of a real call.”

VR also allows instructors and employers to see how people react to certain stressful and high pressure situations they may not see every day. 

“You can measure stress levels and you can tailor [a student’s] learning so that your students are doing scenarios that maybe start at low acuity and eventually build over time so that you’re building stress resilience into your training with VR.”

Training for high-acuity, low occurring incidents often come at a high financial cost, especially if they involve multiple agencies. Theriault says going through similar scenarios in VR is less involved and can even allow each student to play a lead role.

“You could put a student through 30 to 40 different mass casualty incidents [using VR] over the course of a year or two at minimal cost.”

When you’re ready to look for a VR solution to your training needs, look no further than VRpatients. 

As an industry leader navigating the remote learning world, the people at VRpatients know you are always looking to optimize your educational toolset. VRpatients increases knowledge retention and builds stress inoculation, all for a fraction of the price of traditional sim training.

Contact us to schedule a demo or to learn more about how VRpatients can help you get the most out of your precious training dollars.