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Combining VR, recommendation algorithms, MOOCs, trials & shorter courses to create a more personalized, adaptive learning environment

A complete change to current education systems, using a platform and the above technologies to help users choose the best courses for them.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan

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According to Forbes, 2013, there are twice as many unhappy workers in the workplace as there are happy ones. I believe a large reason for this is that people study courses that do not suit them, either because they were misinformed when choosing it, or they are doing it to keep their parents happy, assuming there will be a 'safe job' at the end of it. It is evident that this is not the case, as AI and automation eliminate more and more jobs each day. My proposed system aims to overcome this by combining existing technologies, courses and institutions.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Imagine a platform where users of all ages can discover their dream career and how to achieve it. Whether in secondary school or a mature adult, the platform would allow you to enter the subjects you have studied, your grades, your rating of those courses, your work experience, and your interests. It would then use recommendation algorithms like Netflix or Amazon to suggest careers that may suit your interests and natural aptitudes. 

The user would then be able to use a Virtual Reality (VR) set to experience a 'Day in the Life of' these suggested careers. So, for example, the platform analyses your interests and aptitudes and figures you might be suited to Design Engineering, it would bring you to VR experiences of people working in these kind of jobs, and let the user virtually participate in the job. After experiencing a number of these, and rating them, the platform would improve its suggestion, before providing you with the ultimate list of personalized future careers. Thanks to employers' participation with the platform, users would be informed of the types of courses employers would be looking for in future employees. Again, if the user believed he was destined for a future in Design Engineering in the medical sector, they would be informed of the ideal degrees, supplementary courses and work experience to aim for. For example, a degree in  Product Design or Engineering, some online courses in Business, Materials and Biology, and experience working hands-on with people. The user would then be able to use a VR set to experience typical lectures and workshops in these courses, as well as access other students' and lecturers' feedback on them before signing up to one for years.

While most employers will still look for traditional undergraduate (and often Masters) degrees, it would be optimum for this system to allow people to trial their recommended courses for a few weeks before committing to anything. Even then, assuming they like at least one of these recommended courses and wish to pursue it, they should be able to pursue it at a general level for a year before committing to a 4 year degree, giving them the option to switch if they decide they would rather something else. After all, the majority of these people would be 17-19 year olds, and it's difficult to figure out what you want that early in life, especially with an ever-changing work environment looming over you. The platform, however, could even take this into account, warning users that certain courses/careers have, for example, a 50% chance of being automated within the next 10 years.

The platform would link people to their ideal institutions, degrees, supplementary online courses, etc. By doing this, it could work somewhat like LinkedIn, whereby employers could see all the different subjects and courses a user has done, their interests and even the different 'Day in the Life of's they've tried. By sharing a VR experience of their company and various job positions on the platform, employers will be able to interview people who have trained themselves specifically for these job roles, thus making life happier for both the employee and the employer. Meanwhile, if universities share 'Day in the Life of's for their various courses, they will likely get people better suited to their courses and who are genuinely interested, improving the quality of the class and ensuring happy students and lecturers. For example, Computer Games Development courses will be filled more with people with a prior understanding of the course outline, rather than people merely interested in computer games but without the ability and/or work ethic to excel at the field, as is the current case in many of these university courses, implying massive drop-out rates.

This system, unlike the current system, would not encourage doing a college course just for the sake of it. Likewise, for older users who wish to change career it would figure out the optimum online courses or other solutions before suggesting a full college degree. For example, if the platform helps you realize that being a mechanic would be your ideal career, it would recommend useful online courses and help you find internships/apprenticeships. Location settings would also alert you to upcoming talks, presentations etc. based on your interests.

The combination of online courses, shorter courses, trial courses and informed students with personalized goals should create an agile, adaptive learning environment for all, whereby users know what they want to do in life and the education they need to get there. This should lead to a happier workforce with optimum output.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

1. It is designed for anyone wishing to pursue education. Whether a secondary school student or a mature adult, it will help ensure that you study courses that suit you and prepare you for your dream job. 2. Universities will gain by receiving studies who are suited to their courses and who are willing to try harder. 3. Employers will have opportunities to employ workers with the ideal skillset. It ensures a better fit between people and jobs, as well as happiness in jobs.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

My insights of the education system are based on Ireland, and while I feel that the overall procedure is similar worldwide (go to school, then secondary school, pick a course, do it for 4 years, hope you like it, try to do a job or get a masters), I would appreciate insights and advice from different countries and cultures.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I can go to friends working in fields ranging from medical device design to accounting to teaching, and ask them to record a 'day in the life of' video. I can do the same for corresponding lectures in these courses. I can then take these to local secondary schools and see if it gives students a better understanding of what their ideal future career may be. I can also speak with companies, university staff, college students, secondary students and mature adults on their thoughts on the idea.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have a BSc in Product Design & Technology and I am currently doing a Masters by Research in New Product Development Engineering. I worked for a year as a Design Engineer in a medical devices company, and have worked on college projects with several companies and consultancies, from Logitech to Molex. I am the lead designer for a sustainability start-up which has been shortlisted in competitions by MIT Climate CoLab and Accenture.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gregory Wilson

Hi Michael,

Really like this idea. Love the VR day in the life concept. This could allow students to quickly explore a greater range of career choices before deciding on a major. Could this be implemented in A personal learning assistant ? I eventually want to build this for a Microsoft Surface type device. Definitely interested in collaborating!

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan

I think it could definitely be implemented with your idea and would love to collaborate if either of us get through to the next stage!

Only Microsoft Surface? Or mobile also?

I really like your emphasis on voice and text recognition, as this is such a preferred topic among tech companies at the moment. It shouldn't be long before an AI assistant could interpret a podcast and generate a quick test for you after to reinforce your learning. As you said in one of your comments, the idea of tailored, personal assistance throughout college would be great. Similar to my idea, it could help you figure out what courses and careers would suit you, recommend ones you would like based on what podcasts and videos you like, etc. College can be a struggle and I imagine people often feel like they are fighting it alone, especially in courses with little group work. As well as that, lecturers are often too busy (or too intimidating) to provide feedback, and so being able to rely on a personal assistant as a friend, guide and assessor would be cool :)

Photo of Gregory Wilson

Mobile would be the first iteration of this idea as devices like Surface aren't cheap enough to be mainstream yet. Also a mobile platform could easily implement the VR "day in the life" feature of your idea (using Google Cardboard). I've been inspired by this article: , which talks about how qualified low income students don't even consider top schools and how high schools have a 1-400+ college counselor to students ratio. I think a first iteration of the personal learning assistant should be preparing students for the college selection process.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan

VR headsets are continuously becoming more accessible indeed, however I'm not entirely sure how easy it would be to actually produce the VR material. An early-stage model might just use video, as long as it's depicting the real-life environment of that job, and not just a flashy advertisement for it.

I just read the article you linked, very interesting, and a sad truth. It's really not fair, especially for those who work hard and get high grades, but can't afford a good college, or even any college. With your system, would you still envision students going to college like this and using your system as an aid, or could it be part of a broader system whereby education and physical campuses are more open? I guess that might be a future vision, best to start with the AI tool as it can be implemented now and developed for the future vision also.

The counselor to students ratio is ridiculous! As well as the ratio, from my experience, a lot of these counselors aren't very well qualified for these positions either. And there is no way that even the best counselor could work as well as some software that knows every career option out there and can analyse a person's skills and interests to suggest the most suitable ones.

While it may be difficult to fix this economic divide, it should be possible to at least help these students pick the education/career best suited to them. Then, once they're there, your app should help them make the most out of all the resources out there. This in itself would be a huge achievement. I believe it's important to consider that, education should be considered the same way as brands and services today; it's not about creating/selling a product/service, it's about creating an experience. Adopting a human-centred design approach should help us achieve this engaging experience that people, especially millennials crave today.

Photo of Gregory Wilson

Getting the VR content shouldn't be hard at all. You just have to convince people to wear 360 cameras to work and then edit the video to just show their most engaging moments of the day. I played around with this specific camera: , and it works pretty well. It even does live streaming so students could follow along in realtime. You can use larger 360 cameras ( to capture whole environments instead of focusing on one person.

I think the first version would be an aid starting in a student's sophomore year in high school and going through his/her entire time in college. Definitely the future vision would be for the system to almost become a "college" on its own or at least handle the curriculum part.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan

Oh okay, I didn't realise it was so easy! Obviously it would be nice to have more interactive VR experiences in the future, but videos with something like the Gear would be a great start. Do you know if many schools in America have started to introduce VR for recreational and/or educational use?

I like the sound of that. I feel that, because students use apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat so much, the UI of the app will have to be really appealing. I know that in Ireland, school and university sites where students download lecture slides don't have particularly appealing design, especially compared to other sites and apps used by students for recreation. It will be important to keep it simple and stylish.

Photo of Gregory Wilson

Yes, Google Cardboard is a VR device that is starting to be integrated in educational use because it is so cheap and students can use their own phones to engage with it.

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