Novartis: Transforming learning with virtual reality

The Challenge

Pharmaceutical industry leader Novartis had to quickly train 100s of people on best practice production and aseptic procedures for a new leukemia treatment. They had limited physical training labs and SMEs to train people on skills where mistakes have life and death consequences. It turned to the Gronstedt Group to develop a new state-of-the-art virtual reality (VR) simulation.

The Solution

In this innovative sim, learners strap on a VR headset, grab hand controllers and step into a hyper-realistic virtual manufacturing facility to practice life-saving procedures. Walking around in a to-scale virtual reality room, they’ll weld tubes, remove bag caps, label bags, sanitize their hands, spike bags and lots, lots more. Novartis is using advanced VR methods to develop learning simulators modeled on the flight simulator, which has (up until now, anyway) been the gold standard for skill-based learning. Its employees are trained like the famed Captain Sully, who landed his disabled airliner on the Hudson River, saving scores of lives.

The sim also helps demonstrate the invisible. (If that sounds cool, wait until you
actually see it.) For instance, it’s important for techs to minimize disruption of air flow in the Biological Safety Cabinet. The VR sim demonstrates how to do this by moving the hands slowly and holding bags vertically, while not covering the air grille (which sounds simpler than it is). Thanks to the technology, learners can actually see air flow as they move around in the environment. The sim integrates an interactive lesson plan with demonstrations in the virtual environment, allowing students to watch and practice each step before they enter the real production facility. In doing so, it not only reinforces the core knowledge surrounding the processes, but as students rehearse techniques over and over in preparation for real-life performance, it actually builds muscle memory. So much research and application these days demonstrates the ways VR creates a visceral sense of “presence” – of actually being in the situation.

Learners frequently report a level of focus and immersion so powerful they lose track of time. Most importantly, VR promotes learning in the context where the skills will be applied – a quality that’s increasingly appropriate when one mistake can contaminate the entire process. The Gronstedt Group couldn’t be prouder about the opportunity to partner with such a think-forward company to bring their vision to (virtual) reality. Click here to watch a recording of our webinar with Kate Hoegenauer, Head of Training and Learning at Novartis Technical Operations (who led the development of the sim); Novartis SME Vladimir Solano; and the Gronstedt Group development team. Get an inside look at how the Pharma leader is using virtual reality learning to enable “hands-on” practice on invaluable life-saving procedures. We hope the presentation will inspire some insights on your part as you consider how to integrate VR – “the ultimate learning machine” – into your organization. The research is conclusive: Repeated actions in virtual reality alter neural wiring, in turn improving real world performance.

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