opinion


How 5G will transform learning from early years to in-work training

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Ashleigh Timmins, Sector Technology Specialist at BT, reflects on the impact 5G technology will have on training and education.

In the post COVID-19 era, as students and teachers acclimatise to what comes next, the educational landscape is accelerating towards its own digital transformation. Due to the disruption to studies and working imposed by the pandemic, most educational institutions were forced to pivot to remote learning and find alternative, but technologically accessible, ways to reach students and employees.

As a result, the majority of classrooms have embraced some form of virtual learning which is highly dependent on video conferencing and other virtual applications.

But this shift hasn’t impacted the education sector alone—many industries, where learning and training is critical, have been impacted, and new ways to conduct this must be uncovered. The integration of 5G into the learning experience is set to enable greater educational access and experiences, and also improve the quality of the entire learning experience. So how can 5G enable smarter classrooms and workspaces to support both the academic and upskilling aspirations of students and professionals?

The use of 5G has the capability to deliver significant performance and Quality of Service (QoS) benefits across a range of emerging educational applications and use cases. Increased bandwidth, reduced latency, and support for a security framework that the mobile network provides can all help to redefine digital teaching tools to deliver a more immersive, and memorable, learning experience not only for students, but for working professionals too. In addition, 5G private networks can deliver speed, coverage, reliability and low-latency characteristics which are ideal for supporting the needs of university campus networks, as well as factory, warehouse and other working environments. This makes it easier for students and trainees to access classes and programs and embrace new learning opportunities irrespective of their location.

AR, VR and XR: setting new standards for teaching and training

5G has the potential to offer some of the most compelling and engaging innovations in education and in-work training. The integration of more advanced digital technology into teaching and training processes is currently being explored with exciting results. For instance, the forces of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Extended Reality (XR) are propelling education into a more experiential dimension. 5G connectivity – with its ultra-low latency and high bandwidth characteristics – enables teachers to make use of mixed reality applications across all areas of the education spectrum, empowering them to create more opportunities for students and trainees to understand what they’re learning in a more engaging and interactive context. The advantage of mixed reality in education and training environments is that they promote deeper instinctual understanding of the subject matter: by making learning immersive through the use of headsets, visors and sensors, teachers can explain complex and abstract concepts to students in an experientially rich environment.

Earlier this year, BT collaborated with North Lanarkshire council to deliver the first 5G enabled classroom to Scotland. Relying on the high quality of service (QoS) network connections delivered through BT’s EE 5G network, a 360-degree room creates a digital projection to bring a variety of worlds and terrains into an immersive experience for students. The greater bandwidth delivered by 5G means that educators can live stream virtually from any location with minimal disruption and connect many more devices than on previous networks. Students can enjoy a rich learning experience that might include observing lions as if on a safari, seeing the Northern Lights up close, or experiencing the view from mount Everest’s summit. The initiative is one of many examples of how BT is bringing the digital fabric to more communities across the UK through innovative technology and ultra-fast connectivity.

In an adjacent example, the First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was able to watch a teaching scenario delivered by the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre in Glasgow, from her office in Edinburgh – delivered over the public 5G network. By extending the learning experience to reach different locations it demonstrates the transformative power of 5G, challenging the need for people to be present in a physical classroom setting, reducing travel and its associated impacts – and increasing access to experts and facilities regardless of location.

Training without limits

Outside of the classroom, 5G is transforming the way workers learn their craft and develop skills. In addition to acquiring new capabilities and opening up opportunities for professional advancement, mixed reality applications can also enhance employee engagement, reduce training costs and lower learning curves. In certain verticals such as manufacturing and logistics, AR and VR based training allow for a more seamless transition from theory to practice: XR headsets can provide real-time, step by step instructions and allow trainers to provide live feedback during practice. The technology is particularly beneficial for hands-on, practical labour as trainees can learn faster, at regular intervals, and in a safer and controlled simulated environment. Mixed reality over 5G can even add a sense of touch to practical lessons with the tactile internet playing a pivotal role in manual training and skills development. Real-time haptic feedback in response to limb movements requires latency of under 20 milliseconds which only becomes possible with 5G.

BT is proactively exploring the potential for 5G enabled AR experiences in training scenarios: Working with Belfast Harbour and mixed reality partners Ubimax and VRtuoso, the shipping hub has proved itself to be the ideal setting for 5G immersive experiences in support of training. The port is currently using VRtuoso virtual reality technology to create immersive training experiences, with multiple users connecting into a shared real-time, training demonstration. The immersive learning experience brings it much closer to real life perception, resulting in higher levels of engagement and mnemonic retention. For example, trainee port operatives can inspect the harbour’s cranes under the remote guidance of expert trainers based at head office. Wearing an AR headset and camera connected to a 5G device, the trainer observes the work of the trainee in real time, and the trainee receives step-by-step maintenance and remote support via an application server in the cloud.

Secure training in 5G private networks

Due to the distributed nature of campus environments, universities and other higher-education institutions can benefit from the technical advantages that private 5G networks deliver. Universities are beginning to explore the potential of 5G applications that enrich the learning experiences of students and put a more impactful set of teaching tools into the hands of lecturers. 5G private networks make it possible for universities to deliver higher QoS connectivity and securely distribute the learning content in ways that are not possible in public setting. Sensitive information such as medical records and academic research data can be safely shared on a defined need-to-know basis, managed by the university.

Transforming education and training

5G is showing potential to revolutionize the way students and trainees learn and the tools we use for that. Virtual classrooms and training workshops break the dependencies from having to cater for the capacity of physical facilities and eliminates the risks associated with hazardous work environments. Both of these aspects can bring significant savings to the teaching and training process. Mixed reality and tactile learning provide a more immersive and memorable experience, potentially resulting in more streamlined training paths. With its collaboration with academic and industrial partners, BT is at the forefront of this educational revolution in the UK, providing infrastructure, connectivity, and expertise to enable and explore this new range of applications.

 

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