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James Hayes is reinventing the way healthcare students learn their skills.

He’s combined Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) simulation, big data, AI, and adaptive learning to deliver virtual medical coaching.

“This came about because of two experiences. I was lecturing about medical imaging and realised it could be done better if you combined data analytics and a virtual environment. I also found myself asking why the supermarket my students visited knew more about their buying habits than I knew about their learning habits?”

His solution was Virtual Medical Coaching, the world’s first Edtech VR simulation company which enables students to learn complex or dangerous healthcare tasks in a safe, immersive, and realistic environment.

Together with their XR platform partners Skiltics Health they are “combining big data analytics and a virtual reality environment to find out what the student knows and teach what the student doesn’t know.”

This is more than just learning, though. Hayes calls it the “democratisation of education where a student can see their progress at two weeks, four weeks, two years. What we do at the moment is wait for those end-of-year exams to find out if they’ve passed or got a B instead of the critical A – and that’s too late.”

“If we’re seeing students progress as they move through the year, we can assess whether they need more study or extra tutorials or even show them that they have reached the desired competence in an area to allow them to move on. We push the students more but always being aware of their capabilities so they are never out of their depth. We can test and stretch the student in a way that the current system can’t achieve.”

He cites an experience from his own lecturing. “I taught undergraduate physics and had a student with a Masters in physics in my class. Why? It turned out they knew 90 percent of their course and were there to brush up on the 10 percent. This is not the right way to train healthcare professionals. Some of these students are paying for five- or six-years’ learning – we need to be doing it better.”

“Take midwifery as an example. We can coach using a safe, immersive environment and then we can “add” complications when we see the student is ready for them. When that midwife gets into the hospital environment with a patient, they’re able to say “I’ve got this. I was doing this in VR last week”.

“Isn’t this a better way to coach midwives and isn’t it a better experience for the patient if they’re not surrounded by five students learning to be midwives and another 10 watching, should complications arise?”

Because it’s virtual, this sort of medical coaching isn’t dependent on location or affected by events such as Covid-19. “When universities shut for months, we worked directly with about 2000 students globally to keep their studies going, and they were ahead of those whose studies were interrupted.”

Ara Institute of Canterbury is the first tertiary education institute in the world to give students a hands-on experience with VR simulation. They’re using it in radiography and for midwifery.

Hayes says by using VR simulation rather than relying solely on clinical education in a hospital, students will learn more effectively and more quickly. “We’re freeing up time, teaching more effectively and freeing the academic or specialist to research, refresh course material, and work with smaller groups of people rather than a lecture hall full of students.”

Looking ahead, Hayes says they hope to release modules for CT, MRI, mammography, and radiation safety, and possibly obstetrics.

Why did the online world know more about Hayes’ students than he did? Because they’re immersed in technology and understand how to use it in real life.


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