Setting sail to reshape learning: How XR redefines lifeboat training at Antwerp Maritime Academy

May 25, 2023

When it comes to digitalization, many education facilities are still testing the waters. Antwerp Maritime Academy (AMA), however, resolutely chooses the course ahead. While cherishing their 200-year heritage as Belgium’s only maritime university college, they have all eyes on the future. Just recently, for example, they introduced virtual lifeboat training – and it’s already changing the learning game at AMA.

Project details 

  • Client: Antwerp Maritime Academy
  • Challenge: Improve the learning experience with XR (Extended Reality)
  • Solution: A fully-fledged XR learning platform

The challenge: upscale students' lifeboat training skills

The nautical sciences and marine engineering students at AMA get intensive emergency, safety and security training courses. Learning the skills to safely launch and use rescue boats is an important part of that training. “It’s really difficult to board and launch lifeboats in an emergency situation. Not knowing the equipment, performing the steps in the wrong order or failing to release the lifeboat properly can result in serious accidents. Extensive practice is therefore a must,” says Inez Houben, Nautical Sciences lecturer at AMA.

The marine academy provides in-water facilities and a physical lifeboat for the practice drills, yet the number of real-life training hours is limited for practical reasons. Inez explains: “Students follow 12 hours of real-life training, as required by legislation. Still, that’s not really enough for them to fully master the drill. Organizing more sessions is expensive and practically impossible, as we only have one lifeboat. More than that, the live sessions are in a group, which makes it hard for students to practice the actions they’re struggling with individually, at their own pace.”

The solution: build a virtual lifeboat

Committed as AMA is to innovation, Inez and her colleagues were curious if XR lifeboat training could be a valuable add-on to the live sessions. That’s how they got in touch with delaware. Together, they worked on a proof of concept for an XR tool with four modes:

  • Discovery mode: first contact with learning subjects
  • Learn mode: get one-to-one instructions as natural as getting it from the actual teacher
  • Practice mode: exercise what you’ve learned with the guidance of a task list 
  • Test mode: test and evaluate skills and knowledge 

In the meantime, delaware has integrated the tool into AMA’s Learning Management System. Students can easily access the system, start practicing or testing their lifeboat launching skills, while the sessions are recorded to track their progress. Lecturers, on the other hand, can watch the trainees’ sessions in real time and provide feedback, or watch the recordings later to analyze the performance and see where improvements can be made.

We can analyze the use and results of the course in the learning management system. That helps us to constantly optimize our training sessions.
Inez Houben, Nautical Sciences lecturer at AMA

The journey: challenging...

“The collaboration was pretty intense and really valuable,” says Andy De Meyer, XR lead at delaware. “Inez and her colleagues first immersed us in the ins and outs of lifeboat equipment and launching procedures, so that we could then painstakingly translate every detail to the XR application. 

“More than that, we dived deep into teaching and learning methodologies to make sure the tool would provide the very best learning experience. That was, in fact, the most challenging part. Not from a technology point of view, but it’s difficult to determine when practice is good practice, how to formulate substantive feedback to students and how to score their proficiency. Inez and her colleagues provided great help in this too. It was an exceptionally valuable co-creation partnership.” 

... but definitely worth it

Inez confirms: "It’s been quite a ride, but really worth it. Virtual training offers plenty of benefits. Students now have the flexibility to practice whenever and wherever they want. Moreover, they can repeat the actions that they may be struggling with at their own pace, until they feel confident about their skills. This individual approach makes XR learning a great add-on to the real-life group sessions, both for the students and for us, as lecturers, as we can now track and assess each student individually.

“Moreover, we can easily analyze the use and results of the course in the learning management system. That helps us to constantly optimize our training sessions. Last but definitely not least: virtual lifeboat launch courses are 100% safe. That’s really important to us as well.”

Zoom out: SmartSkills

XR platforms for learning and assessment in any industry

Flexibility, repeatability, safety and most importantly better outcomes: XR learning platforms are great to teach complex cognitive skills – provided they ensure realistic learning experiences and are based on proven learning methodologies.

“Students will get the most effective training if they know why something is done in a particular way and really understand the procedures – not just learn them by heart,” explains Andy De Meyer. “The XR learning platform that we built is based on the renowned 4C/ID methodology. The model suggests breaking learning tasks down into smaller parts so they can be learned through repetition with enough variation and providing learners with the support and information they need to complete those tasks. All actions are tracked, recorded and integrated into the learning management systems to ensure the best learning outcomes.”

Based on the insights gained at AMA, delaware built the generic SmartSkills XR learning platform, which companies in any industry can use to help employees train specific skills.

The future of learning starts here

If you ask Inez and Andy, the XR lifeboat project – which, by the way, won the DataNews title of ICT/Digital Project of the Year 2022 – is just the beginning of XR training at the Antwerp Maritime Academy. They are currently exploring opportunities to leverage the learning platform to help the students master other practical skills. 

And there’s more. As lifeboat launching is complex and risky, legislation requires maritime professionals to regularly update their lifeboat skills. The XR learning platform could easily be utilized to help the marine industry train their personnel. “In fact, every firm facing the challenge of retaining, building and tracing knowledge could benefit from the platform to train in a safe, cost-effective and effective way,” Andy concludes.

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