Developing Competency in the Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP) sector - Part 3

Authors: Robert Hanna (Learning & Development Expert, GreenAscot Technologies), Craig Hasilo (Chief Scientific Officer - CellCAN)


Part 3 of 4 - Insights into recent developments in learning technology

Learning technology has been evolving rapidly in recent years and has most significantly made entirely new ways delivering training and testing for understanding possible. The pendulum has found a new center, in which the role of technology is blended with traditional methods to improve effectiveness and efficiency. Its role has added significance in crisis situations, adding resilience to ongoing operations. A robust online presence allows for a greater reach, whether across a country, continent, or overseas. It allows the organisation to address unique challenges, such as social distancing, and increased costs and difficulty of travel. It also enables the coordination of standardized training across jurisdictions.

AR: Augmented Reality overlays virtual objects in the real-world view.

MR: Mixed Reality works like AR, but the virtual objects interact with objects in the real-world view.

VR: Virtual Reality immerses the user in a 100% rendered environment.

Rendering: Digital representations of virtual worlds and objects.

The challenge in applying augmented (AR), mixed (MR), and virtual reality (VR) learning technologies in ATMP technical training is realism. The leaps forward in this area since the 2013 release of the Oculus Rift DK1 are making the  technology increasingly practical.1 Reflecting the pace of jargon as a measure of progress, these technologies are now known collectively as ‘Extended Reality (XR)’2. Continuous improvements in XR have largely resolved problems related to user disorientation, and improvements in screen resolution have made it possible to render environments in compelling detail. 

Currently, there are many choices of mature XR headsets on the market, many of which are open to the development of custom content. Development ecosystems like Unity or Blender offer powerful free functionality across many devices, which helps to mitigate development risks and ensuring compatibility and flexibility of use.

Within the ATMP sector, haptic gloves, which track hand movement and restrict each finger’s range of motion to simulate touch and texture, may turn out to be the most essential complement to XR for the ATMP sector. Innovation in haptic gloves continues at a fast pace and will allow for a realistic simulation involving equipment and tool manipulation in virtual environments.

Being able to manipulate objects in a virtual world does not make for compelling training on its own: unless a process is simulated, the virtual environment would be largely limited to practising simple repetitive tasks. A virtual environment that simulates an entire production line, in operation, would provide the basis for any number of scenarios, from common procedures to challenging scenarios that the students must solve by developing and demonstrating competence in pre-defined areas. It also has the important capability of simulating all possible error codes from the equipment, which is not something that can be practised in a live production environment.

Rendered environments in ATMP or even the wider biopharmaceutical world, are incredibly rare. Moving ATMP training into the world of XR means that the first mover will incur heavy costs that may not be easily justified.

Simulations with varying degrees of XR have been in common use for training civil and military pilots for more than a generation – pilots practice procedures and life-and-death scenarios to experience foreseeable risky scenarios before they run into them in real life with a full manifest of passengers. It is a USD $3.7 billion market that is projected to grow by more than 25% by 2025 as it answers the development challenges of the aviation sector.3

In the absence of XR, simulations are commonly used in leadership and back office functions for the purposes of broader understanding of a business or market, interactions between different departments, and developing decision-making competence. Realistic business simulations like IndustryMasters use real-world data to test scenarios to develop not only decision-making, aptitude, and skills, but also to refine strategic planning. Operational simulations like those of Rockwell Automation allow manufacturing lines to be simulated in minute operational detail. Such simulations started as complex paper-based exercises delivered in traditional classroom settings: They are now intuitive, web-based, multiplayer learning and experimentation tools used in operations, the board room, and in higher education, and can be delivered remotely across the globe.

When used for building competency, e-learning modules are best combined with other training activities; in learning & development, this is called a ‘blended learning’. The inherent challenge of e-learning on its own is the need to design and include sufficient cohesive interactivity to make the learning engaging. When this challenge is overcome, a blended approach can be the best way to deliver knowledge efficiently and flexibly, freeing up face-to-face time for practical work such as laboratory manipulation or role play.4 Learners can then return to the e-learning to review and confirm what they have learned, allowing organisations to track results and certify them for the targeted competencies as they continue to master their craft with practise.

A Learning Management System (LMS), such as Moodle or Litmos (SAP), is a useful planning and execution tool that secures Return on investment (ROI) in learning investments. It houses digital learning content, including e-learning modules, XR content, and simulations; most importantly, it also makes the crucial link between learning assessments, competency models, and Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS).5

But how do you evaluate the training return on investment? After looking into the evolution of training as a source of competitive advantage, the benefits and implications of competency models in the ATMP sector and the recent developments in learning technology, the next chapter will provide insights as to how to evaluate the training return on investment.

Stay tuned for the last article of this four parts series!


1 Wikipedia, Oculus Rift, (15 July 2020).

2 Bernard Marr, What Is Extended Reality Technology? A Simple Explanation For Anyone, (August 12 2019).

3 Research & Markets, Commercial and Military Flight Simulation Market Insights to 2025, (February 19, 2020), 

4 Clifford Maxwell, What Bended Learning Is – And Isn’t, (March 4, 2016).

5 Christopher Pappas, What Is A Learning Management System? LMS Basic Functions And Features You Must Know, (December 3, 2017).