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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Training for a Critical Incident in a 3D Virtual Environment

In many organizations, people need to receive training for unlikely but possible events (such as a blow out on an oil rig or the blow out of two engines on an airplane because of bird strikes.). These are critical incidents and 3D learning environments can help people prepare and train for these events.

Training in the MMORPG America's Army

The critical incident learning environment in 3D is when the learner is placed into an environment or situation similar to the real event in which they must use their prior knowledge to solve a problem. This could involve placing the learner into the middle of a disaster like a chemical spill or the aftermath of a hurricane, or into a more benign environment like a retail store where a shop lifting incident is occurring or a street corner during a drug buy. It could even be dealing with a crisis as part of a typical job, like what to do if, during surgery, a patient has a heart attack.

As an example of how effective a virtual world can be for teaching how to respond to a critical incident, witness the life saving heroics of a gentleman named Paxton Galvanek. Galvanek, then only twenty-eight year-old, received “medical training” while playing the MMORPG America’s Army. In the 3D learning space, he learned to evaluate and prioritize casualties, control bleeding, recognize and treat shock, and administer aid when victims are not breathing.

Galvanek helped rescue two victims from an overturned SUV on the shoulder of a North Carolina interstate. He was the first one on the scene and was able to safely remove both individuals from the smoking vehicle. He then properly assessed and treated their wounds, which included bruises, scrapes, head trauma and the loss of two fingers.

"Because of the training he received in America's Army's virtual classroom, Mr. Galvanek had mastered the basics of first aid and had the confidence to take appropriate action when others might do nothing. He took the initiative to assess the situation, prioritize actions and apply the correct procedures," said Colonel Casey Wardynski, America's Army Project Director.

In the critical incident 3D learning design, the learner must respond to the situation properly by applying what she has previously learned. The facilitator can serve as part of the incident, or as an external observer who monitors and records the actions of the learner.
The three-dimensional aspect of this learning adds to the realism of the event. If multiple people are involved, the instruction can incorporate aspects of teamwork, collaboration, and co-creation into the learning outcomes of the critical incident.

The critical incident learning environment places learners into a situation similar to the real event, where they must use their prior knowledge to solve a problem. This use of a virtual world challenges team members to respond together to resolve an issue, incident, or problem. The individuals must act and react as they would during the actual incident. Immersion in a virtual world and then being forced to solve an unexpected problem provides learning in both the affective and cognitive domains. Figure 5.9 shows one of the authors, dressed as a fireman, preparing to extinguish a virtual fire caused by a sudden car accident in a virtual immersive environment (VIE).

An advantage of this design is that learners are immersed in a dangerous situation, but are not actually in danger. This design captures the learners’ attention and provides them with a realistic environment in which they are forced to work together to solve an issue and are forced to think rapidly, as they would in the actual situation. It also provides an advantage over a simulation of a dangerous situation since the VIE involves multiple participants and in addition to learning how to react to the incident, the participants must learn to work together as they would in the event of the actual incident.

Include the time it takes to program and develop explosions, spills, and similar disasters. It also takes time to program the various mechanisms such as fire hoses and other instruments to deal with the disaster. It can also be difficult for a facilitator to view all of a participant’s actions when so much is occurring at one time. Also coordinating all the people who are involved takes some work. Another caution is that while critical incident training in virtual worlds can increase the number of times a team can train together, it cannot totally replace physical drills or practice, most of the elements involved with critical incidents are psychomotor skills and, therefore, do require actual hands on practice in addition to the virtual world practice.
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