Virtual Reality and Learning Development

A new film announced at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival is offering viewers the chance to see life through the eyes of a 12-year-old Syrian refugee and what’s it like to live life inside one of the world’s largest refugee camps. This is one on of four films available through the new United Nations Virtual Reality app.

This story got me thinking about VR and learning. As we know, video has become a popular delivery mode for e-learning. It’s mobile compatible, chunkable and pervasive. VR feels like the natural evolution of this format.

Although VR is in its very early stages within the learning area, there are numerous studies that indicate that the adoption and utilisation of VR is primed for solid growth.

Link to Goldman Sachs Report on VR & AR from January 13, 2016

Immersive virtual reality is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. It is created by surrounding the user of the VR system with an environment, sound and other stimuli that provide a total engrossing environment of immersion, imagination and interaction to increase engagement.

VR has its founding in the gaming industry which is still the biggest vertical for VR tech. With the constant blending of entertainment and learning, there are some really interesting VR applications possible in learning and development utilising it’s engaging and immersive mode of delivering content.

Here at Redwood, we got our first taste of VR more than 10 years ago when we built a custom VR golf simulation. At the time the hardware was pretty clunky, expensive with high latency and programming the simulation was quite difficult.

Now, VR content can be created by recording scenes with a 360-degree camera with the output of either still images or video or by creating computer generated 3D models. Hotspots can be setup in the scene that can show info within the scene or link to other scenes.

One of the hurdles to developing a good VR experience is designing how to naturally navigate through the learning environment, depending on the viewing hardware things like eye tracking, pointing/tracking in space and physical hand controls are possible.

VR and Learning Examples:

VR can be utilised for training both hard and soft skills.

Google has created the Expeditions Tool Kit that teachers can use take their class on virtual tours of things like coral reefs and the surface of Mars!

A natural fit for VR and learning is communication skills – for example practising a sales pitch or presentation. Here is a great example of a VR tool that helps you practice a presentation in front of a virtual audience.

Another example is Employee Onboarding Program where new employees can be taken through an office, factory or job site. Learning about things like Health and Safety, meeting colleagues, learning how to use the photocopier and, importantly, where the bathrooms are located.

Probably the area of training where VR truly excels is subject matter that is risky from a cost or personal safety perspective. It allows a learner to practice and apply procedures in an environment that simulate real life situations. For example, a fire safety sim that through observation and interacting with the environment you practice and learn how to safely resolve the situation.

Tools & Hardware:

The cost of hardware to capture and display has come down and the quality has gone up – viewers like the Samsung Galaxy Gear VR and Google Cardboard work with modern smartphones high-resolution screens and reliable motion sensors. To capture 360-degree images and video, Samsung recently released the Galaxy Gear 360 camera that currently retails for around $500.00 CDN.

Authoring tools to create learning environments are still pretty new, there aren’t any true “out of the box” authoring tools to create learning applications. However, many of the VR tools are written in open source languages and the market is quickly evolving.

Tracking:

Since VR is truly “experiential” learning, the natural way to track it is via xAPI (formerly called TinCan). SCORM is about statuses and xAPI is about events, not just that a learner passed something but their successes and failures along a learning journey to get to the pass. As the VR and learning market develops we will likely see products that integrate with xAPI.

Conclusion:

VR is an exciting technology that has the potential to become a game-changer in the learning and development field. It’s up to us as learning practitioners to experiment with the tools and push the boundaries to deliver useful, engaging learning.