New VR training platform helps students safely explore laboratory work

Stereoscape collaborated with Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute (Stadin AO) to create a unique VR learning platform that helps students safely explore laboratory work. 

(last update 10 months ago)

Stereoscape collaborated with Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute (Stadin AO) to create a unique VR learning platform that helps students safely explore laboratory work. 

Johanna Hemminki from Stadin AO, Iiro Pylväläinen from City of Helsinki’s Education Division and Stereoscape’s experience designer Sannimari Honkanen share insights from the process. 

This blog post is also available in Finnish.

VR training for laboratory technology students of Stadin AO

Watch the video to see the VR learning platform in action, and how we used Simlab software to build the virtual environment.

Why create a VR training platform for laboratory work?

Stadin AO needed a new, engaging and motivating training tool that would facilitate vocational learning for students from diverse backgrounds and abilities. VR training is unique in its ability to offer a ‘learning by doing’ experience without any real-life danger to students. Dangerous situations like laboratory emergencies or accidents can be safely practised until students feel comfortable to move into a real-world laboratory. 

“In the VR training environment students can safely learn about challenging and dangerous laboratory practices.”

Johanna Hemminki, Expert in Digital Pedagogy, City of Helsinki, Stadin AO

Various studies to date have shown that immersive VR training improves student motivation, enjoyment and performance. Learning efficiency and retention differences compared to traditional class-room based teaching methods are particularly marked when teaching physical skills such as laboratory work, because VR training allows students to rehearse tasks in a simulated physical environment. Other benefits of VR training include instant feedback on completed tasks and improved consistency of the learning experience.

What is the VR training platform like?

“The virtual laboratory is easily accessible to all kinds of students, including those with limited digital or Finnish language skills.” 

Sannimari Honkanen, User Experience Lead, Stereoscape

The VR learning platform features a virtual laboratory space which students can explore at their own pace while completing several different exercises. The exercises are interactive and spatially oriented, combining information with practical tasks which together create a feeling of ‘learning by doing’. Various elements of gamification such as multiple choice questions and timed exercises are included to improve student motivation. The multiple choice questions are available both in written and audio versions to support various learning styles. 

How does the VR training platform work in practice?

Students are given access to a VR headset (Pico Neo 3 or Meta Quest 2) and a hand controller. In the first exercise, students enter a virtual laboratory and are given instructions for moving and operating in the space. They then are asked to study the warning labels of various chemical containers at their own pace, and organise the containers according to their properties, such as corrosiveness, flammability, toxicity etc.

In the second exercise students are asked to study a virtual safety data sheet and respond to multiple choice questions about various substances and safety protocols. The questions range from properties of specific chemicals to safety practices such as what to do when one comes into physical contact with a dangerous substance. The platform immediately responds to incorrect answers and prompts the student to study the topic further. 

Further exercises include freely exploring what happens when various substances are combined – resulting in fire and other potentially dangerous chemical reactions; exploring various safety-related items from personal protective equipment (PPE) to emergency exits and first aid kits; first aid training; learning about common laboratory equipment and processes such as distillation, filtering and evaporation, and correct storage of various chemicals. The exercises are broken down into individual modules, which means they can be completed by the student at their own pace and repeated individually if needed.

How was the VR training platform created? 

Stereoscape and Stadin AO worked closely together to create the scenarios and exercises for the VR training platform. The process started with a design sprint attended by teachers, digital pedagogy and VR experts from Stadin AO, and UX designer, 3D experts and producer from Stereoscape, who together formulated the detailed training content. 

“Stereoscape’s solution stood out for their partnership with SimLab, whose node-based programming makes it easy to create new VR content.”

Iiro Pylväläinen, Key Account Manager, City of Helsinki’s Education Division 

Stereoscape designed and created the VR experience and the virtual laboratory space including 3D models for the various laboratory objects. The assets were imported into Stereoscape’s partner company SimLab Soft’s VR studio, where the interactive and navigation features including grabbing, moving, selecting and rotating objects were created. 

One of the clear strengths of the SimLab platform is that it allows fast content-creation thanks to its node-based programming. The completed training content is accessed by downloading it from SimLab’s cloud-based VR viewer. Using SimLab’s Admin mode, teachers can easily monitor student’s progress such as tasks completed. It is also possible to integrate the SimLab platform to various LMS systems.

How is user experience design included in the development of the VR training platform?

As VR design partner on this project, Stereoscape brings to the table years of experience in co-designing learning environments in close collaboration with educational organisations and teachers. While the teachers have the pedagogical knowledge and experience, Stereoscape contributes with a deep understanding of how to present information in the VR environment to maximise learning outcomes. Part of this process is knowing how to simplify and organise the information content down to accessible and easily understandable chunks. 

“Understanding information architecture and user experience are key in designing VR training content that is motivating, engaging and ultimately successful.”

Sannimari Honkanen, User Experience Lead, Stereoscape

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