Development of a Virtual Tutor within a Simulated Working Environment
Peter C. Pel
and Rob M. M. Kommeren
Peter Pel Productions, Burg. De Roocklaan 21, 4611 LB, Bergen op Zoom, The Netherlands
Q-Cumber Software & Services, Nieuwe Weg 6, 4861 PZ, Chaam, The Netherlands
Keywords: Simulation of Workplaces, Virtual Vocational Training, Intelligent Tutor, Webbased, Simulation Engine.
Abstract: A simulation engine will be presented through which interactive virtual vocational environments were
realized. In this simulation students could act as employees in a simulated company and as such gain
experience and skills for their future profession. The simulations that are based on this simulation engine are
simulations of practical situations that are being used in the secondary vocational education in the
department of economics in the Netherlands. For the past six years this system has been totally redesigned
and adapted to meet the requirements of the educational field. Now, thousands of users will be able to use
this new simulation environment through the internet. At this moment an intelligent tutoring system is
developed and will be tested. The simulation environment becomes now a full adaptive learning
environment. During the workshop a demonstration will be given, showing the different possibilities of the
system. Also the problems of filling the rules, decisions and content of the intelligent tutoring system will be
To prepare the students in the Dutch vocational
education system better on the real working
situation, the former BIT Foundation
simulation environments for training practice in a
simulated workplace for economic and
administrative training.
In these environments the students could make
themselves familiar with a real workplace. Class-
rooms were transformed to business places with all
the real stuff and tasks.
Because it was very difficult to create a
continuous stream of communication with the outer
world, the BIT Foundation started working together
with Peter Pel in 1996 who developed a special
computer system, the simulation engine.
This simulation engine creates a virtual dynamic
interactive working environment, wherein the
communication with and feedback from the outer
world happens in a natural way, triggered by the
actions of the student.
Now divided and merged into the SPL Foundation and the
Engine Foundation.
Each student has his own ‘workplace’ in a
professional environment. There he or she plays
the role of an employee. That means that the
students have to behave themselves as if they
are working in a real company with all the rules
and agreements that belong to that company.
The simulation environment gives possibilities
for the training of skills, competence and
attitude to work, all in a relative safe situation.
In some of the environments the students will
work independently, in other environments they
work as a team. But in all cases they have the
experience that their actions do influence the
work of other (virtual) people and that the most
work is a reaction to the actions of others.
The simulation environment consists of a lot of
more or less complex problem solving situations
which influence each other.
A complete learning process will be offered by
creating sessions that are build on scenarios that
start simple and increase in complexity.
Besides of the learning aspect there is also a
‘fun’ aspect.
C. Pel P. and M. M. Kommeren R..
THE VIRTUAL TUTOR - Development of a Virtual Tutor within a Simulated Working Environment.
DOI: 10.5220/0003966601910194
In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2012), pages 191-194
ISBN: 978-989-8565-07-5
2012 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
There are 7 educational principles that form the
foundation for the simulation engine:
People are interested in, driven and guided by
real life, so therefore you must create a learning
environment that is similar to real life.
Every learning starts with a problem situation. If
we can’t bring the student in a problem
situation, there will be no base motivation for
learning something. Therefore, we have to
create a learning environment with a great
variety of situations that need problem solving.
For the learner it has to be his personal problem.
Nobody is inclined to solve the problems of
others. Therefore, we have to create a situation
where the student can identify him/herself with
the problem situation.
In real life problems will never come on their
own. Most of our life can be typed as a multi
problem situation. Simple problems can be very
difficult when they are part of a more complex
situation. Often we will solve simple problems
in a completely different way because we are
also solving other problems. Therefore we have
to create a real life situation with a whole range
of problems.
Problems only exist in a social context. If we
are just alone in this world there is no need to
solve anything! Thus, we must bring the
learning situation back to the basic social level.
Faults don’t exist in real life. If you do
something you always have the idea that you do
the right thing. Nobody plans to do things
wrong. Only after we have learned that the
outcomes are not what we expected, we realize
that we have to act in another way next time.
Besides that, mostly the social environment
judges about the outcomes of your acting, and
often there isn’t one right outcome for everyone.
For a good learning outcome the students need
feedback in the way and at the moment it should
come in real life.
Often students in vocational education lost their
interest in learning in a theoretical way.
Therefore we have to give learning more ‘fun’.
By bringing in the virtual simulation engine in the
former working environments build by the BIT
Foundation, it became possible to control the
dynamics and the communication with the outer
world. It also gave the opportunity to evaluate the
actions of the students in a real life way.
Figure 1: The classroom as working place.
The simulation package consists of a content free
modular program engine and a database system
which drives the program.
With a library of many different objects it is
possible to create any wished simulation
There are objects for creating the navigation
environment: i.e. rooms, corridors, objects for
filling the rooms with furniture and technical
equipment: bookcases, cupboards, objects for
communicating with the outer world: telephones,
mobiles, fax machines, objects for transportation and
navigation and all kind of simulated applications on
a simulated computer.
All these objects can interact with the central
part of the engine that generates events and can
receive the interactions with the objects by the
The way the objects are presented in the user
interface for the student is specified by independent
environment files.
The most important part of the engine is the set
of scenario files which can be seen as the ‘musical
score’ wherein the basic elements are defined for the
behaviour of the simulation environment.
It is not the software that drives the database, but
the database that drives the software.
The basic principle behind the simulation events is
the next scheme that is based on the interaction
between a sender and a receiver ( the student). Like
in real life when a person sends a letter ( or any
other kind of message) to another person, the sender
decides what he will do when he gets his desired
answer or what he will do when he doesn’t get an
Figure 2: The basic event type.
On the other side, the receiver will receive the
message at some moment. When it is a letter, it’s
delivery will take a day or longer, when it is an
email it will come in when he starts the computer,
when it is a phone call, it comes to him directly. But
he decides when and how he will answer. In reality
his answer can take too long and come to the sender
after the sender did another action.
After bringing in an third party, where the
student acts only as the person who gives the
message to another virtual receiver (like the situation
where the student acts as employee who divides the
incoming post for other colleagues), it was possible
to create variants on the basic event type based on:
who is communicating with who, who is the waiting
party, who has to remember what, etc.
After that, scenarios could be made by making
chains of the different basic event types.
A simulation session starts with a combination of
many different scenarios which play their in a
multitasking way. During initialisation of the
simulation session all the scenario definitions will be
filled in with different data based on certain
parameters. In fact, after the first second all virtual
participants will live their own life based upon their
private and unique scenarios and dependent of the
interaction with the student. The student will
experience this situation as complex as real life.
Figure 3: Chain of events.
Based on the described principles and simulation
engine, the BIT Foundation and nowadays SPL
build a lot of simulation environments for different
vocational training situations, like:
bookkeeping, business-administration
banking, finance, insurance
logistics, retail, wholesale trade
vocational orientation
Over the last six years the whole simulation engine
has been rebuild. At this moment the new system is
implemented on one central server cluster where
about 10.000 students log in by internet and play
their simulation simultaneously. Teachers can see
the results on one place and can follow the actions of
the students. Developers are working together on
servers specific for development and fine tuning of
the simulations.
The system is more consequently divided in
three parts:
The database filled with
All the details of persons, companies, articles, etc
All the events and scenarios for the different
simulated environments
All ‘running’ events and data
The data and history of all students
The engine
The engine program is continuously creating,
scheduling and evaluating all events for all the
students for all the simulations
24 hours a day, 365 days a year
The client
Each client has his ‘simbrowser’, a rich internet
browser with all the necessary objects and
resources to present the working environment
The simbrowser communicates continuously
with the engine program and the database on the
With this 3rd generation engine it is possible to
build a worldwide learning system. Currently we are
exploring the possibility to build a 4th generation
completely based on web technology (HTML5 and
One of the main plans for this moment is to add a
intelligent virtual tutor to the system, who guides the
learners based on their behaviour and their results.
The Dutch vocational education is becoming
more and more individual: each student has his/her
own learning trajectory. Also, our simulations are
more and more used for training a specific learning
deficit. Therefore the need arises for a system that
guides the student to certain learning goals, using a
learning route that is ideal for that student.
To achieve this goal, an intelligent virtual tutor is
being developed, that can monitor the student within
the virtual learning environment, and present
him/her an ideal learning route.
This tutor can:
Diagnose where mistakes are being made
Analyze the learning deficits of the student
Present new assignments specific for those
Give advice and tips for the work involved
Give the impression that someone is watching
over his/her shoulder and helping
Apart from that, the tutor is capable to adjust the
learning tempo and style to the capabilities of the
Originally, the simulation engine was ment to
simulate ‘real practice’ so students could experience
the real world and could ‘learn by doing’. Now, the
possibility arises to use this virtual environment for
efficient training and learning routes. Every time the
student logs in, the system knows everything the
student has done in the past, and can pick up where
the student left off. Unnecessary steps are avoided.
Figure 4: Schematic overview learning route.
The contents of the tutor system is composed
with a tool that enables presenting learning material
in different ways and styles. It allows specifying
schematically different learning routes and maps.
The problem is mainly filling the contents of this
tutor system. The system can contain many
decisions and rules for following learning routes, but
this content will have to be specified by experts,
requiring analysis of learning processes based on
different learning principles.
Since every followed learning route and
corresponding results are stored in the database, the
engine becomes a powerful platform for scientific
analysis of learning in simulated practical
The virtual tutor system enables monitoring every
learning step and individual students following their
learning routes. A more scientific analysis of
achieved results is obvious, the test groups are
already stored in our database.
As the intelligent tutor is just as intelligent as the
rules it uses, it becomes more important to use
didactic analysis on learning material and to use
multiple learning principles within the system.
The authors would like to discuss with
colleagues in this working area about the problems
and challenges this brings forth.