I was surprised how quickly virtual reality made an appearance at the learning technology show in London earlier this month. Several exhibitors were using virtual reality to attract people to their stand and a couple were demonstrating applications for learning.
Whilst the technology is clearly in its early stages, development is fast. It’s a particularly interesting development for us as our participants are usually widely distributed in complex matrix, virtual and global organizations so it’s hard to get people together.
I purchased a Google Cardboard mask that converts your smart phone into a simple virtual reality viewer. My advice on assembling it would be to ignore the printed instructions which require an origami master to decipher and simply watch one of the many YouTube videos on the subject which make it much easier. The ability to look around yourself and stare at icons to select them to navigate was impressive.
If you haven’t tried it, you should, it’s definitely an aspect of the future. More ambitiously, check out this augmented reality demonstration from the mysterious company Magic Leap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln6TZ14xITg
But what is its role in learning? The early applications I saw at the learning technology show included safety training – where the ability to look around a piece of equipment or get a sense of hazardous environment, such as on oil rigs, seems an obvious application.
Is skills training it was less obvious. One company claimed that their product was able to give you an experience of presenting to an audience with feedback on your pace, audibility etc. so there may be some applications for feedback in areas like this.
There is clearly an application in simulation, when virtual characters are able to give a series of responses or simulate a human reply. I could imagine this being a useful way to practice skills like coaching but the resolution would need to be as good as the videos that are already available for this.
I think there is probably more scope for augmented reality. In augmented reality virtual objects appear to overlay the real objects you can see (using something like Google glasses) in this way you can add labels in the virtual world that pop-up as you walk past a piece of equipment or location or perhaps that remind you of something you need to do as you initiate your virtual meeting.
With on-the-job learning this could be really useful way of embedding short learning elements into everyday experiences.
One caveat, learning and development is a relatively conservative domain. It takes many years for innovation to percolate across the industry. It requires investment – will companies equip sophisticated virtual reality labs and provide equipment or will access be via simpler but lower quality devices such as Google cardboard or glasses.
There are also a huge number of very small providers in the industry who lack the financial resources to develop good quality products.
You would expect virtual reality to take off fastest in areas like entertainment. Innovation like this never happens as quickly as you would like or slowly as you fear. But it is coming.