Harness the Future Through the CPA Metaverse, School of Innovation by Patricia O’Neill & Aisling Mooney
Harness the Future Through the CPA Metaverse, School of Innovation
by Patricia O’Neill & Aisling Mooney
CPA Ireland is the first Professional Accountancy Body in the world to leverage virtual reality (VR) technology to create a gamified, experiential training programme. From idea germination to the launch of the CPA Metaverse, the team behind this exciting and innovative programme grew from being complete VR novices to patient facilitators. The learning curve has been steep but the journey has been exciting and worthwhile.
The metaverse is a virtual world being built in the extended reality (XR) space that combines augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR). Users in this virtual space can interact with other users and things in one or more computer-generated worlds using specialized technology that is quickly becoming ubiquitous.
(Harvard Business Publishing, November 2022)
Harness the future through the cpa metaverse cover
At the Skillnet Ireland Convention in April 2022 Susan Talbot of the Immersive Technology Skillnet and Camille Donegan, Director of Eirmersive cited that the retention rate for learning through immersive technology is 75%. This figure in itself is impressive but, when compared to the 5-10% retention rate for classroom learning, it is exceptional.

It is clear that the opportunities presented by immersive technology are extraordinary.

What has CPA Ireland created?
Designed with Sia Partners for students and fully qualified accountants, we have created a safe space to practise activities and increase knowledge retention through a collaborative, gamified and practical learning experience for the adoption of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the workplace.

RPA, more commonly known as digitalisation, is a complex and, to some, an uninteresting topic that can be challenging to understand.

Virtual Reality has the power to make difficult, abstract concepts more concrete, making it an ideal learning channel for training accountants on the organisational applicability of RPA. In the CPA Metaverse we have created engaging and fun ways to understand the benefits, opportunities and challenges of implementing RPA in an organisation.

By requiring learners to work as a team and using gamification, experiential learning and data visualisation, CPA Ireland has created an environment that greatly increases the engagement, understanding and confidence of the user. This is the foundation on which the CPA Metaverse, School of Innovation is built.

What are the benefits of Immersive Learning?
The high retention percentage rate is not the only impressive figure.

Research conducted by PWC on the effectiveness of VR training highlights its many benefits:

  • Increased Confidence:
    Virtual reality (VR) learners were up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned after training—a 40% improvement over classroom and 35% improvement over e-learning.
  • Improved Focus:
    VR learners were up to four times more focused than e-learners.
  • Speed of Learning:
    VR learners completed training on average four times faster than classroom training and 1.5 times faster than those learning though more traditional online learning tools.
  • Connection with Material:
    VR learners were 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more connected than e-learners.

Additionally, immersive learning creates an exceptionally engaging learning experience.

  • Provides a psychologically safe environment to try new things, make mistakes and practice new skills and behaviours.
  • Enables members and students to collaborate and learn together in an entirely new way no matter where they are physically located.
  • Provides multiple ways to learn – from practical application, to engaging with and observing simulations, to reflecting on what went right/wrong, to real-time feedback.
“While we teach, we learn.”
– Seneca
Virtual reality is also an excellent platform for collaborative learning, the benefits of which cannot be overstated. By working in groups to complete learning tasks, participants will devise strategies, discuss problems, and re-assess their approach.

In order to do this, learners must articulate their own understanding of a topic which, in turn, helps all team members to grasp new concepts.

How can we best use it?
Once we were aware of the multiple benefits of immersive learning, the next step was to decide how to take advantage of it.

A key challenge some of our accountancy students face is the lack of opportunity for on-the-job training in Digitalisation, or Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This issue is significant because those students who select Data Analytics as one of their Strategic Level subjects may not have the opportunity to apply their academic learning in the workplace. Data visualisation within the VR platform will build on the content of the Data Analytics Syllabus.

The students will be able to integrate their learning in VR within the overall “on the job” training requirements needed to become fully qualified. Training in the Metaverse will then be demonstrated through real life application within their workplaces.

A key benefit of learning in VR is the ability to replicate real world scenarios in the virtual world. This provides learners with a hazard-free environment to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and try again. By practising in virtual reality, we reduce the potential for the negative impact incorrect decisions have in the real world.

We had found the ideal scenario to pilot a programme using immersive technology: Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

woman in suit writing on whiteboard with dry erase marker
Why train accountants in Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
The impact of digitalisation on accountancy has been profound, reshaping the profession in unprecedented ways. This transformative process has streamlined traditional accounting practices, and enhanced efficiency, accuracy and accessibility. RPA is revolutionising the way accountants and finance professionals handle repetitive and rule-based tasks.

With the rapid growth of Python as a programming language for automation purposes, coupled with the power of tools like Google Colab, accountants now have an extensive toolkit at their disposal, allowing them to provide more comprehensive insights and help businesses make data-driven decisions.

By learning how to apply sophisticated tools to automate data entry, reconciliation, financial reporting while reducing the risk of human errors & time required to complete tasks, accountants are free to focus on more strategic tasks like analysis and advisory services.

The Innovation Stations
The School of Innovation contains eight stations, each of which consists of a different game or activity. Learners work as a team to complete each activity. Each station builds on what was learned in the previous one, enabling learners to work progressively toward a stronger understanding of the topic.
Learning Process
Scavenger hunts
Working as a team, the learners search the School of Innovation for various objects which represent different aspects of the RPA solution.
Impact ranking
The learners arrange objects that represent different parts of the implementation process on podiums from least to most impactful.
Data tracks
There are three data tracks for both manual and RPA processes, representing large, medium and small data sets. The learner has the opportunity to “become” the data process and glide around the data tracks in the innovation hub and experience an RPA data set, which is fast and straight forward, and a manual data set, which is slower and less straight forward.
Data visualisation
At this station, the learners consolidate what they have learned during the previous three scavenger hunts and complete a full RPA implementation plan by once again arranging the correct objects on the appropriate podiums.
Process builder
This is a dynamic data visualisation with a multidimensional Bar graph that learners can interact with to change how that data is viewed. Here, learners have the capability to dig into data through simple filtering to view data along different dimensions. This station gives the learner an exceptional viewpoint of how data works.
Case study & elevator pitch
At the end of the VR session, learners work as a team to review a case study for an organisation that is looking into applying an RPA process. They will work together to put a plan in place for how best to adopt RPA. Once they have that finalised, they pick up a virtual phone and call the trainer in the real world to present their pitch.
CPA metaverse promotional graphic
Will it work?
There is no doubt that virtual reality will have a big impact on the future of education and training. Not just in Robotic Process Automation, as in the example of the CPA Metaverse pilot programme, and not just in sectors such as engineering and construction. Its applicability also extends to professional scepticism, sustainability, leadership skills and many other areas.

The 2022 Irish Immersive Economy Report highlighted that, in Ireland, the Immersive technology sector is currently worth over €43 million, with significant potential for future growth as 63% of businesses in the sector expect to grow in the coming 12 months.

Additionally, they highlighted that “Global spending on artificial and virtual reality in education is expected to soar from $1.8 billion to $12.6 billion annually over the next four years”.1

Using Virtual Reality as a Learning & Development tool is exciting and effective but it won’t take over from classroom, standard e-Learning or on the job training in the immediate future.

Derek Belch, founder and chief executive of Strivr, told the Financial Times this September that “Widespread use of VR for training will take time …. but Apple’s launch of an augmented reality headset and Meta’s continued investment are significant. “Meta is certainly going to push very hard on the consumer side,” he says. “Consumer ubiquity is coming in the next three to five years.”2

We were exceptionally lucky to work with Sia Partners for whom this was their 101st Metaverse project. Speaking at the CPA Metaverse launch on the 20th September Gary O’Sullivan and Catherine O’Doherty said “Sia Partners partnered with CPA Ireland to deliver this exciting initiative, bringing learning and development into the metaverse and demonstrating what this technology can bring to organisations and their members, employees or customers.

A huge congrats to Trish O’Neill, Aisling Mooney and Reidin Ni Aonghusa for a fantastic launch. And to our own amazing team Rob Nelson and Yiting Liu for delivering such a great piece of work”.

The funding from Skillnet Ireland gave us the opportunity to ‘Think Big’ and it was a pleasure to invite them to experience the programme in advance of the launch. ‘”I really valued the experience of being in the CPA Metaverse Innovation Academy. The Metaverse Academy is a unique and engaging way of learning that can make challenging training more enjoyable for the learner”, Nick McClafferty, Development Advisor, Skillnet Ireland.

Finally, we were excited, and a little nervous, to welcome our first group of members to the CPA Metaverse in October. We are very grateful for their willingness to both try something so new and to give us feedback that will help to improve our future sessions.

“The experience was novel and fascinating and a valuable insight into the future of knowledge transfer. I thoroughly enjoyed the session and found the course content more interesting when delivered through this medium”, Ken Heade, CPA Ireland member.

“There is no doubt that virtual reality will have a big impact on the future of education and training.”
  1. Source: Edweek Market Brief, Global Spending on Virtual Reality, AI in Education Poised to Skyrocket, Report Says, 17th February 2021, as highlighted in The Irish Immersive Economy Report 2022.
Patricia O’Neill headshot
Patricia O’Neill

Director, Member Services, CPA Ireland

Aisling Mooney headshot
Aisling Mooney

Member Services, CPA Ireland