In the first part of this article, David Burden, MD of virtual reality specialist Daden Ltd, introduced the different forms that VR can currently take, considering both devices and content. In this second article, he looks at the right approach L&D professionals can take to leverage this powerful new way of delivering an effective learning experience.
As previously discussed, as L&D professionals we want to leverage the benefits of engagement and immersion that VR offers, but not at the expense of very high costs and our students feeling sick, frustrated, or both! There are probably two main strands to a strategy, and, as with all learning technology, it’s all about using the appropriate technology at the appropriate time.
The “quick win” is using 3D photospheres to introduce learners to locations – a virtual building site, retail space, office environment, hospital etc. The realism of the photos and their surrounding nature gives the learner a very good idea of the space, and with even a dozen locations it will take them no more than a few minutes to click through them – minimising safety and nausea issues. Used with a headset such as Google Cardboard without a headset strap it also encourages sharing, as the experience is literally passed around, and users can always download to their own phones to re-view in their own time. Photospheres give that instant wow to get learners excited and engaged, but to actually impact much learning you probably need a more sophisticated solution.
Virtual Reality is really just an immersive 3D environment experienced through a stereoscopic headset. But there is no reason why exactly that same immersive 3D environment shouldn’t also be experienced through an ordinary PC or tablet screen, either with a first-person or third-person/avatar view, in exactly the same as any 3D computer game is normally experienced. In fact, as developers, for us the move from a 2D screen based experience to a 3D headset based experience can be purely how we set the in-world camera up, and some tweaks to the user interface. Approached like this the VR experience becomes something that users can take advantage of when it makes sense in a piece of learning, but for longer duration, location flexible use (e.g. on the bus or train) they can experience exactly the same learning on their PC or tablet. Indeed we can even support “mixed fleets”, with some users on PC, some on tablets, and some using VR headsets, but all seeing and interacting with each other in the same world. So don’t think so much about developing a VR headset specific learning experience, rather think about developing a 3D immersive learning experience for all, but where learners can also experience it in VR if they find that a more compelling, effective and comfortable way to do so.
The figure below summarises the key affordances and issues of the photosphere and 3D model approaches to VR.
The other important approach for 3D learning development (and it also applies to photospheres too) is to think in terms of authoring tools rather than bespoke development. Nowadays the L&D community is awash with 2D authoring tools such as Articulate, Elucidat and Captivate where subject matter experts can create powerful learning experiences without too much help from learning technologists. We need to be able to do the same in virtual reality and 3D too; providing a tool set which almost anyone can use to create engaging and effective learning experiences. Creating a 3D environment is going to be challenging for a long time to come, but once that environment is created (and particularly if it’s a generic environment) then authoring the learning experience on top of it can be made a relatively simple process. In fact with our Fieldscapes system we take an “eDrama” approach, getting authors to think in terms of a stage, a set, props, actions & interactions and actors – something which encourages a far more open and less linear approach to learning than many 2D tools.
So in the short-term L&D professionals should certainly be looking to give VR a try. Simple, location specific photosphere apps are probably the quickest way in. In the medium term, look at trying out 3D immersive learning authoring tools so that you can create and maintain your own learning content, even if drawing on a library of generic sets and props (although those with the budget can always have custom items made). Then deploy those 3D immersive learning experiences to all users, with the option of VR where it does make a real difference.
In the long term we are probably looking for several more generations of VR headsets, and supporting controllers, sensors and authoring tools, before true VR reaches the ubiquity that the current hype suggests is only around the corner. VR really needs to be totally immersive to make it a compelling solution that we use every day as alternative to 2D displays, and we are a long way from that.
You can hear David Burden present on ‘Enhancing the learner experience’ at the World of Learning Conference on Thursday 20th October.