National Learning Network Embrace Simulation Technology
The National Learning Network (A network of 50 centres across ireland providing a range of flexible training programmes and services for people who need specialist support) have recently taken delivery of 12 high-end Digital Motorsport simulators and are using them in a range of innovative ways to help support their students learning needs.
The driving force behind this initiative is Ronan Fox, the E-Learning Teaching Enhancement Officer at NLN. A keen sim racer himself, Ronan has long understood the versatility of modern driving simulators and embarked on a mission to trial the use of digital simulation as an educational tool at his own Skills Bridge NLN centre in Mullingar .
Having previously raced in Digital Motorsports esports leagues, Ronan knew the right people to talk to about his idea and initial conversations about the concept were kicked off in early 2022.
Advancements in Simulation technology from a software, hardware and cost perspective have been huge over the past decade. These advancements have brought professional spec simulators, the kind that current F1 drivers use at home to train on, within reach of the average enthusiast.
The vast majority of driving simulators purchased for home use are for Motorsport. They are typically used as a training tool for drivers who compete in the real thing or for driver's who take part in sim racing, which is a whole new sport/industry in its own right.
The rise in popularity and awareness of sim racing through lockdown has been stratospheric - due to the unavailability of real world Motorsport, the entire Motorsport industry turned to sim racing to fill the void, culminating in digital F1 & Le Mans events (including the real drivers, commentators & pundits) being broadcast on mainstream channels such as Sky Sports.
Anyone who has owned a simulator for some time will be well aware that there is so much more you can do on your sim than just racing. For example you could drive an artic truck across Europe, in real time, making deliveries. You could hop in your dream car and take a cruise through the Wicklow mountains..or perhaps Tokyo city at night. Fan of Clarkson's farm? You could jump in to a Massey Fergussen, cultivate a field and then harvest it with your combine once your crops had grown....or you could learn the basics of how to actually drive a car in complete safety.
When you realise all these different opportunities and scenarios are available and as the National Learning Network did, you start thinking about individual students, their interests and their needs, you quickly start to see potential use cases at a group or individual level. For example, Ronan initially had a specific student and scenario in mind and was quickly able to tailor an experience to meet his specific requirements.
Ronan Fox - E-Learning Teaching Enhancement Officer at NLN:
"Paul is the student I worked with initially when the simulators were first brought in. Our organisation takes a person-centred approach with all students which give the student control of setting their own goals.
Paul's goal was to drive the family tractor but lacked the skills and confidence to do so. I designed a course to teach Paul the basics of driving, safety awareness and also to build his confidence. He had no prior experience in driving before using the simulator.
Since Paul achieved his goal, there have been many more students that have used the simulator as a training tool to prepare them for their driving exams. We incorporate the driving theory test with the simulator which makes the theory element much more practical.
I'm currently working with programme development officers and approved driving instructors to create a course that covers all aspects of the driving exam from theory to practical."
Sinéad Uí Mhurchú - Skills Bridge, NLN
"When you think of a car simulator in a room full of young adults you probably think of things like hot laps, drifting and living out your Formula 1 dream. What you probably don’t think of is a young autistic man who has been over stimulated and is now waving to the virtual crowd as he calmly navigates his way around a track.
You won’t think of a person with communication difficulties singing as she drives around Monza or the person who hates anything competitive but enjoys tipping through the abandoned roads of the Scottish Highlands without having to worry about lap times or damaging the car.
It has enabled a student with concentration issues and difficulties caused by OCD to self-advocate by selecting his preferred car, track and driving method (automatic vs manual), fulfilling his desire to drive in a safe, secure environment without any of the triggering aspects driving in real life traffic would present.
These are only some self-regulatory aspects of sim driving that we have seen in Skillsbridge – a HSE funded programme for young adults with autism and / or intellectual disabilities.
Initially the simulator was purchased to facilitate students in achieving their goal of doing the theory test and passing their driving test but in this setting, it has become so much more than that. It’s an ice breaker, a team builder, a motivator, and a way for students to manage behaviours that might be caused by stress, anxiety, changes to their routines or sensory issues. We never would have predicted that having the simulator would have this type of impact on our course, but we are delighted that it has."
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