OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

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

Written by

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.

Find this idea inspiring? Add your own!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jawad

Really nice idea Michael. Let me know if you need a day in the life of a surgeon/physician video! It's also very applicable to medical students deciding on which medical specialty to pick for residency, they often can't rotate through each option. Also agree that VR gives a much better feel of the environment than 2D video.

Photo of Michael

Thanks a million man, I may have to take you up on that offer! Good point, I had only considered it on a general overview level (i.e. "Do I want to be an engineer, an accountant, a teacher, etc."). It would be cool if it could help people figure out what areas they would like to specialise in within an area like you said :)

View all comments