We speak to Nik McKiernan, Learning Development Programme Manager at Severn Trent, ahead of her conference session at the virtual CIPD Festival of Work on 11 June 2020.

Nik will be presenting on 'The very real reality of AI and VR in learning - delivering immersive learning experiences in practice' in the Supporting our People through Well-being and Technology stream. ​

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I have a passion to equip people to be the best they can be. Whether that’s through the design of learning solutions, or directly through my role as a leader, fostering a culture of continuous improvement. I have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience around learning and business improvement since I started off working life as an IT trainer (back in the days of DOS and Windows 3.1!). I’ve been especially curious to learn more about the brain, devouring any new learning on the application of neuroscience to learning and development.

Since I joined Severn Trent in 2006, I’ve spent many years as an internal performance coach, using lean techniques to help colleagues become equipped and curious to solve business problems every day. I’ve been in HR for the last 5 years as a L&D Manager, working across different business areas to design and implement capability development programmes.

I’m now honoured to be managing our exciting programme to set up the Severn Trent Academy, which will be a real game changer for our organisation. I’ve really valued the opportunity to explore the use of immersive learning solutions as part of our Academy programme investment. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved over the past 18 months to develop engaging and impactful blended learning interventions using virtual reality, and linked to real business problems.

We’re looking forward to your session on ‘The very real reality of AI and VR in learning – delivering immersive learning experiences in practice.’ What do you hope delegates will be able to take away and apply in their own work the very next day?
I would love for people to feel encouraged to take a next step to turn any seedling of an idea for using immersive learning into reality – be bold, go seek out a worthwhile business problem with a friendly business sponsor!

There are some great resources out there to find out more about using immersive technologies for learning, and lots of accessible and stimulating case studies, so by sharing my learning I would like to inspire others to go and seek out and learn more – I’ve found it really encouraging how much people are prepared to share their experiences, which has helped accelerate my own learning journey.

I would like to leave some food for thought (and ideally for action) to consider how immersive learning could be further explored around personal effectiveness capability.

What is the first step to incorporating immersive learning into an organisation’s digital learning programme?
The first step is to start with identifying a viable business problem, where immersive learning could play a role. Identify a part of the business where there is appetite to try something new, so you can focus efforts together on finding the right business problem. It could be a topic where you already have learning solutions in place to take it to another level, or a completely new area where learning doesn’t currently feature, depending on how bold you want to be. Although I’d recommend avoiding areas where there is already saturation of business performance improvement activities, as it will be difficult to demonstrate what impact the immersive learning solution has made.

What do the most effective immersive learning experiences have in common?
An effective immersive learning experience will enable the following:
– influences emotional states through the stimulation of the senses in a way other types of learning modalities can’t reach!
– enables learners to practice in the context of a real-world environment, and to acquire, practice and apply information all at the same time thereby enabling a deeper level of learning.
– creates a safe learning environment, enabling repetition and practice without disrupting real operations or processes.

What is your biggest piece of advice for anyone attending this year’s virtual CIPD Festival of Work? 
Try and treat the event as though you were still attending in person, by giving it your full attention allowing time to prime your brain before each session along with time immediately afterwards to actively process what you’ve learned and start creating your action plan.

Oh and follow the joining instructions step by step, in case you need to test anything out before each session begins!