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no longer a moonshot: how immersive learning is transforming space exploration

At Allen Interactions, we're focused on optimizing human performance through strategic consulting, talent enrichment, and emerging technology and the impact it can create on the world around us. IBM research revealed that immersive learning, including extended reality (XR), simulations, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) can cut training time by up to 40%, as well as boost performance by an astonishing 70%. In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of immersive training to create safe, realistic, and effective learning.

Perhaps one of the most exciting uses of immersive training has been the waves that it has created within the consumer space travel industry. With the recent growth in this area, non-professionals have been able to experience what had traditionally been an elusive occupation. 

Making the cut for space exploration: then vs. now

In September 2021, immersive simulations and technology completely revolutionized the accessibility of skills acquisition for space exploration - but In the past, this was nearly impossible for most people. The Right Stuff, a book written in 1979 by the late Tom Wolfe, explained what it took to become an astronaut. The preparation took a two-year mission planning process, including formal and additional immersive technical training. 

A few of the strenuous requirements included:

  • Being in top physical and mental shape
  • Being an experienced pilot
  • You could not be over the age of 40, and no taller than 5'11  (they have since increased this to six feet) 
  • Courses in rocket science, medical procedures, and spacecraft engineering
  • Public speaking courses to be media-ready for when they came back from their missions
  • Survival training
  • Clean medical history, including no occasional migraines
  • Hundreds of hours of high-performance aircraft training

 

Unlocking once-in-a-lifetime opportunities through immersive training

Needless to say, the barriers to entry in space exploration were incredibly high - and for many, this was unattainable within their lifetime. As the decades passed, innovations and scientific breakthroughs have combined to help us understand more about what is possible - and how we can create a more inclusive space exploration experience.

In contrast, today's version of "The Right Stuff" means you could win a lottery as part of a program for civilians going to space, like in the case of SpaceX Inspiration4. SpaceX went through a training process for what was called the Inspiration4 mission. In addition to this training, they created a simulator where you can try to dock the Dragon Capsule to the International Space Station. Don't let the gamification aspect fool you - this is trickier than most video games!

Above: The SpaceX Dragon Capsule

In just five months, these civilians went into an orbital space mission. Behind the groundbreaking mission was also an incredible training experience the team had undergone. In the next section, we'll talk a little bit about that to give some context to where immersive simulations and advanced technologies can speed the learning process and give that muscle memory and spatial awareness in emerging industries.

Why immersive training is so effective

In the case of Inspiriation4, the training made the impossible possible. Immersive training, including AR, XR, VR, and MR offers many opportunities for high-risk industries to provide efficient training in highly contextual environments. The creation of these immersive training experiences requires selective fidelity or the level of sensory fidelity needed for training to be successful.  Many of today’s largest organizations are already using immersive learning and training with Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality solutions. 

 

 

Among the growing number of benefits of immersive training, there are many demonstrated rewards to both organizations and learners, including:

  • Fostering a safe training environment for learners to explore decision-making and consequences
  • Reducing wear and tear of equipment
  • Providing cost-effective solutions to on-the-job training
  • Improving information retention
  • Reducing on-the-job injuries and accidents
  • Increased learner engagement
  • Increased analytics and insights on learner activity

Using CCAF to develop immersive learning experiences

When we think of the potential that immersive training has for organizational growth and recreational activities, the key to success lies within effective learning design. When we want to develop learning that provides practical lessons that give learners opportunities to experiment in a safe environment, CCAF components can help to create an interactive and fun approach to gaining skills in both traditional e-learning and immersive learning-based settings. Let's take a look at what this might look like in virtual reality training. 

Context: Context in the form of service is referred to as situated learning, which is defined as “learning that includes learners in cooperative activities where they are challenged to use a combination of critical thinking and kinesthetic abilities”. This is a very specific form of training that is very realistic, and there is a lot of research that this context leads to a high rate of skill transfer. VR is a great tool for this, especially when it comes to places and scenarios you can't easily replicate in the real world. 

Social-Emotional Context: The other people around you and you can create within VR situations where you have multiple people or situations, social situations or scenarios that are brought to such life that you feel the emotional responses. Putting learning into a social-emotional context can also reduce anxiety while learners adapt to new behaviors and situations, as they have already simulated specific scenarios.

Challenge: Like other training, you want to set up challenges and build meaningful goals to drive learner motivation. This means striking a balance to create an optimal level of challenge, just like any good game. You want to make sure it's challenging enough to be exciting, but not too challenging to frustrate people–or bore them. 

Activity: In a VR environment, learning becomes performative and engages much more than just our critical thinking skills.  In this emerging area, the idea of embodied cognition allows us to learn not just with our heads, but with our bodies, our emotions, and our whole body. Using VR is truly more engaging when it comes to a well-rounded learning experience, and there's a lot of new research coming out to support its effectiveness.

Feedback: Learning is all about understanding natural consequences. In the Dragon Capsule ISS example, you see the impact of missing the mark. Although this could be disastrous, VR allows us a realistic, yet safe setting to build competency and confidence in our skills.

Ultimately, all of these components aid in building a rich and fulfilling learning experience that can result in powerful performance outcomes. 

Allen and Nova Space go for the gold

In August 2022, Allen Interactions and Nova Space were honored to win the gold coveted Brandon Hall Group Gold award for excellence in the Best Advance in Custom Content category for Nova’s Professional Space Development Program.

This training uses industry experience and research through several prominent civilian and Government organizations to identify learning objectives. Addressing both industry standard practices and knowledge, innovative topics, established topics, and lessons learned, no other course encompasses the scope of material covered. 

Through a modular approach to distributing practice of core skills, identification of skill gaps, and simulated environments, this program effectively supports learning objectives and retention of material for all students and learning styles. Every interaction in the course supports core learning objectives. By developing interactions that bridge several topics, this program challenges learners by utilizing simulations and visualizing the consequences of decision-making in this new environment.

Learn more about the Professional Space Development Program »

 

When it comes to better learning, the sky is the limit

The Inspiration4 mission and our work with Nova Space are just a few examples of the immersive learning that is transforming industries and reimagining the future of work. With a strategic approach to learner engagement and authentic representations of real-world choices, skill applications, and consequences, immersive learning shows us that the powers of effective learning are truly limitless - and can hold the potential that we have only ever dreamed of.



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About Author

Brooks Canavesi
Brooks Canavesi

Brooks Canavesi is a technologist with experience spanning standards, emerging technologies, learning, and science.  Brooks is a former enterprise software developer turned solutions architect professional with expertise in software architecture, IoT (Internet of Things), enterprise mobility, emerging technology, business development, and product management.  Brooks has focused on bridging the gap between technology and business outcomes to top national logos. Currently, he’s a strategic consultant with hands-on experience identifying practical business opportunities, inspiring team commitment, and liaising with key stakeholders.  Brooks architects technology, research, and innovative solutions for Fortune 500 companies, Government entities, and emerging brands.  His team has built award-winning products and delivered solutions that support millions of users.

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