Digitising Experience: The Creation and Application of Immersive Simulations in the Context of Social Work Training


  • Vanessa Ferguson Anglia Ruskin University
  • Paul Driver Anglia Ruskin University




Background: Detailed and elaborate spatial simulations are commonly used in the education and training of healthcare professionals. Learners benefit from replica operating theatres and clinical skills environments that enable them to gain insight from the hands-on aspect of authentic scenarios that permit them to apply there what they have learned in context. However, these physical recreations are expensive to build extremely rare in the context of social work training. Digital learning spaces are typically two dimensional. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) consist of pages that can be scrolled through and content such as text, images and video, which can be embedded to provide learners with input material and tasks. In this paper, we will explore the creation and deployment of three-dimensional digital spaces that afford social work students the opportunity to explore and interact within simulations of authentic real-world environments.


We will also examine how digital inscription—the addition of information such as questions, prompts and interactive media—can be used to support students in the development of observation skills and critical thinking. Our objective is to improve the learning experience for social work students, train safer social workers, and explore the feasibility of using digital simulations to train real-world skills.

Method: Within all UK social work training programmes there is an expectation that students will practise skills in a suitable environment prior to service-user contact. Therefore, we decided to investigate the practicalities and impact of creating immersive digital media to explore real-world scenarios that would otherwise be extremely challenging to access at this point in their training. For instance, a service user’s home and a psychiatric facility. This included a number of 360-degree immersive exercises to facilitate deep learning through the act of placing oneself in the shoes of another in order to understand their behaviour. This approach to teaching and learning has the added benefit of not only aiding meaningful learning, but also supporting students’ development of a wide range of social and professional skills.

Outcome: This is an ongoing multi-disciplinary project and, so far, the results indicate that students engaging with the 360-degree video scenarios have been able to grasp threshold concepts that would otherwise been difficult to teach. In addition to this, there is also accumulating evidence that the use of this technology has produced higher levels of engagement and an overall  improvement in module evaluation. Data is still being collected and the results will be shared at the workshop in 2018. These training packages have been integrated into other health courses, including mental health nursing and approved mental health professional (AMHP) training.

Implications: The application of immersive, interactive digital learning scenarios will improve learning and have a positive effect on student engagement and satisfaction.

Author Biographies

Vanessa Ferguson, Anglia Ruskin University

Vanessa is a principal lecturer for social work lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK.  Vanessa worked in the adult mental health field for 7 years as a social worker, as an Approved Mental Health Practitioner and Team Leader for an adult crisis team before becoming a lecturer. Vanessa has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Sociology, and a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a post graduate certificate in Higher Education. She recently became a fellow of the HE academy. Vanessa has a continued interest in mental health training.

Paul Driver, Anglia Ruskin University

Paul is a Senior Educational Technologist at Anglia Ruskin University. He has 25 years of teaching experience and holds an M.A. in Creative Media Practice (Education). He is an award-winning materials writer, a teacher trainer, graphic designer and book illustrator. Paul’s research interests span across many fields, exploring the roles of technology, virtual reality, game design, play, and embodied cognition


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How to Cite

Ferguson, V., & Driver, P. (2019). Digitising Experience: The Creation and Application of Immersive Simulations in the Context of Social Work Training. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 16(1-2), 38-50. https://doi.org/10.1921/jpts.v16i1.1227