Why is immersion your best ally in virtual training ?
What is Immersion ? (Part 1/2)
Why is it an essential ally in training?

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Immersion is the fact of finding oneself in a foreign environment without direct contact with one's familiar environment (cf. Larousse dictionary). In simulation, immersion can be obtained by deceiving one or more of the senses (in general sight and hearing, sometimes proprioception, more rarely touch and exceptionally smell, etc.) to "trick the brain into believing" that it is in a specific medium (the simulated medium).

Therefore in a piloting simulation, the immersion will consist in tricking the user's brain into imagining themseleves more at the controls of an aircraft than sitting in an office, facing a computer. Obviously, the brain does not let itself be totally fooled and the user always knows where they really are (if only because they remember sitting a few minutes earlier in front of a computer and not in the cockpit of a plane…). But if the immersion is sufficient, the brain will eventually accept the cohabitation of environments (real and simulated) and begin to act in the simulated environment in the same way as it would in an equivalent real environment.

The immersion can be defined as satisfactory when the user's physiological reactions (heart rate, sweating, hypervigilance, etc.) begin to tune more into the interactions with the simulated environment than those with the real environment.

What is the interest of immersion in simulation ?

Driving simulation can have two different, but not necessarily contradictory, goals: training and fun. Immersion serves both of these purposes. An overview of the psychological properties of immersion is presented in the study by G. Makransky and G.B. Petersen [2].
 

Educational interest


The educational value of simulation is obvious. By putting a user in the environment they must learn to master, we put them in the best possible conditions to learn how to properly interact with this environment.

Learning is best when it is active and participatory.

Thus, an airplane student pilot in a flight simulator can understand the effects of their actions on flight and acquire the reflex actions of piloting in a manner equivalent to what they would have experienced at the controls of an aircraft in flight . Equivalent but not identical. However, the financial cost of an hour of flight in a simulator is much less than on a real plane, as is the risk-taking.

The advantage of getting a good immersion in this case is to minimize the differences between the simulated environment and a real environment equivalent from the point of view of the student's brain.

To be effective, a good airplane piloting simulator must therefore put the student in a situation where their body will be able to interact with the simulated aircraft in the same way as it would in a real airplane:

- The aircraft controls must have the same ergonomics (position, shape and effort to operate them),

- Information from the simulated environment must reach the user through the same physical senses (sight, hearing, touch, proprioception, equilibrioception, etc.),

- The simulated environment must offer enough stimuli to the student's brain so that the latter is more concerned with its interactions with the simulated environment than with the differences that exist between the latter and reality. That is, simulated events must occur very often ...

Under these conditions, training on a simulator will be optimal and it will allow the student to progress in a manner equivalent to what they would have obtained in flight, but at a financial cost and a very largely reduced risk.

The second major advantage of immersion in the context of flight training is its ability to place the student in borderline situations without putting them in danger.

You never acquire a skill better than when you have actually experienced a situation.

The ultimate goal of pilot training is to enable them to react correctly to a dangerous situation to ensure their safety, that of their aircraft and those around them. The simulation then becomes more effective than the real situation because it makes it possible to reproduce the worst situations (breakdowns, competing traffic, weather, etc.) without real risk. In this context, a sufficiently immersive simulation is able to deceive the student's brain enough to trigger the same physiological mechanisms in him that he would have to manage or counter in a real situation.


Recreational interest


The ludic value of immersion in simulation does not directly serve the need for training, but rather promotes it.

By placing the learner in a piloting situation that is as realistic as possible, an immersive simulator will be able to deceive the user enough to put them in a real flight situation, and this will have an impact on his perception of the passage of time.

For example, a flight situation with a navigation exercise that includes long phases of transit between turning points often proves to be soporific for the student if they feel that they are not actually flying the aircraft. Twenty minutes staring at a screen while waiting to reach a position feels excessively long to someone sitting at a computer. Those same 20 minutes would feel shorter for the same student aboard an actual airplane, even in steady level flight. Experience shows that a user remains more focused if the simulation immerses them well enough in the exercise situation.

To be continued :
In the 2nd part of this article, we will cover how to make immersion effective thanks to the illusion of certain senses in particular: proprioception, sight, haptics and equilibrioception.

Some references

[1] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immersion_(réalité_virtuelle) (consulté le 10.02.2021)
[2] Makransky, G., Petersen, G.B. The Cognitive Affective Model of Immersive Learning (CAMIL): a Theoretical Research-Based Model of Learning in Immersive Virtual Reality. Educ Psychol Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-020-09586-2


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Immersion and time perception

Concentration is improved, boredom is avoided, when immersion is optimal.

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