Imagining the future of VocTech

Emerging technologies are transforming the possibilities for delivering really engaging digital learning. With a focus on users, we have the hardware and software to make new experiences accessible at an increasingly low cost.

At the same time, smart artificial intelligence can remove some of the routine tasks from managing the learning process, allowing teachers and trainers more time to use their expertise to support learners directly.

The new tech available in XR (augmented or virtual reality) gives learners the chance to immerse themselves in the learning task, developing muscle memory as well as gaining knowledge. It can be deployed where it is too risky, too expensive or simply too complicated to gain access to real workplaces to give learners an idea of what the experience is like in real life.

Ufi projects have tackled the challenge of implementing VR/AR solutions in a number of projects, in sectors as diverse as construction, manufacturing, first-responder training, empathy and soft skills development and river pilot training.

Bodyswaps is developing a Virtual Reality (VR) learning platform and content library offered as a service to businesses that uses VR and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide soft skills training similar in performance to expert coaching and role-playing, but close to the cost and scalability of eLearning. Many sectors are going through significant transformation through automation and digital innovation, not least those which have traditionally been labour intensive such as retail or transport. In this new realm, companies increasingly depend on employees’ soft skills to add operational value. Therefore, rapidly developing the soft skills of the workforces is critical. Virtual and augmented reality has very high potential to enable access to soft skills training at scale. The Bodyswaps platform empowers learners to safely practice their skills and measure their progress through a library of VR role-play simulations. The company’s most recent innovation is a job interview simulator, focused on improving university students’ career chances. With Bodyswaps, organisations of all sizes can boost and scale their training programmes with affordable learning experiences far more effectively than with traditional online exercises or even facilitated role-playing. Ufi invested in Bodyswaps in September 2020 alongside Haatch Ventures and a group of private investors. This investment fits with our focus on investing to help people learn the essential skills needed for work, now and in the future – including interpersonal skills.

Other projects Ufi have funded in this space include Bridgewater and Taunton College’s ‘PRACTICE’, Contented Brothers ‘The Difficult Conversation Trainer’, First Step Trust’s project ‘Smart Pathways’, NIACRO’s ‘SITE IT’, BTLK’s ‘Tripping the Thames’, TalkOutVR’s COPS, LIVES Covid-response project – also supported by TalkOutVR. And in AR, National Composite Centre’s ‘LayupRite’.

In the emerging field of Artificial Intelligence, Ufi projects have addressed the challenges of student advice and induction, assessment and personalised learning.

Taking English and maths GCSE resits after a less-than successful experience in school is hard – both for the learner and the teacher trying to motivate and support them. FE Colleges were looking for a better way to help learners succeed. CENTURY is the tried and tested intelligent intervention tool that combines artificial intelligence with the latest research in learning science and neuroscience. It creates constantly adapting, personalised pathways for every student and powerful intervention data for teachers.

Over the past year, CENTURY has been piloting the use of their AI platform to demonstrate its potential to support learning in FE. Their focus is on the impact of AI technology in English and Maths as part of an independent or blended learning strategy for learners who are undertaking resits in these subjects.

Their intelligent intervention tool works with Colleges to stretch and support every student, instantly addressing gaps in knowledge, remedying misconceptions, and providing resources for teacher-led learning sessions. This, in turn, frees up the time teachers spend on marking and feedback to make effective use of classroom time.

Other Ufi funded projects involving AI solutions are Bolton College’s ‘ADA’ and ‘FirstPass’, and AI-assisted decision making in FLUENCE.

These technologies are enabling innovators to not only redefine what is possible but also to build more inclusive and learner-centered models of delivery.

Scanning the horizon, we anticipate metaverse technology will support entirely new approaches to learn, collaborate and demonstrate skills. Blockchain and micro credential technologies will provide new tools for learners to evidence their competencies. We also expect a seismic shift in modes of assessment where AI technologies make high stake examinations redundant.

Over the last 18 months, we have witnessed an unprecedented acceleration in the adoption of digital technology to support learning. The challenge now is to maintain this pace whilst ensuring that no one is left behind.

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