Gimmick or game changer?

Technology continues to develop at so rapid a pace that it’s hard for the rest of us to keep up. We want our learners to get the benefit of any new developments and to create digital training that utilises these new forms of technology. But do we run the risk of adopting these technologies before we understand their full potential or being so keen to try out the newest, shiniest thing that we miss the fact that it doesn’t have that much relevance to learning?

In this article we’ll be taking a look at just a few exciting new technologies on the horizon and considering their application in terms of learning. No one can know what the future holds but we can make an educated guess about whether we’ll be able to take advantage of some of these new developments in the imminent future.

Virtual reality and augmented reality

People tend to use VR and AR as interchangeable terms when in fact they are quite different technologies. Virtual reality headsets are worn over the eyes with screens inside that display a 3D image. The headset tracks your head movement and the 3D image moves accordingly, making you feel truly immersed in this virtual world. Augmented reality on the other hand is where the glasses are see through so you can still see the world around you but an image is overlaid on top of this (Google Glasses being the most well-known example).

Rumours have been circulating for some time that Apple are developing some kind of VR or AR headset. If they were to do so it would be more likely that they would produce something which could be mass-produced and would be affordable, if still at the higher end of the market. To date the equipment needed for VR/AR technology has been prohibitive in implementing it on a large scale for learning purposes.

But even if it was affordable, what uses does AR/VR have for digital learning? There are the obvious technical examples, such as assembling a nuclear powerhead, which it wouldn’t be possible to practice in the real world. But these are more likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Or more common experiences, such as health and safety training, where you could go on virtual tours of an environment. But our next example of 360 degree video would be a cheaper alternative for this which provides an immersive experience.

There are plenty of advocated of VR technology and instances where this is particularly effective, for immersing learners in an environment before they go to the real one in order to prepare. For my money we’re not ready yet to implement it in most learning solutions, as the cost of the equipment is prohibitive and the technological infrastructure isn’t there. But it is an exciting area for classroom training and could transform the delivery of F2F training – find out more here.

AR is more accessible as you don’t necessarily need to buy an expensive device, but can use your own smartphone to access information in real time. So for example if your printer is jammed, you load up your app, hold the phone in the air over the printer and get the data about how to fix it. Later in this article we explore how bluetooth beacons help to have more of a push than pull factor in learning, combined with AR this could provide a radical overhaul not only in what is presented but how people learn.

 

360° video

In a 360° video the learner can see everything around the camera. This example from Carnival lets you take control of the tour of the ship. Personally, I love the added Go-Pro experience of taking a ride down the water slide to reach the Red Frog Bar.

360° degree video can be used to create an immersive, interactive experience putting the learner in control of what they can view. Add interactive elements to this as well and it can become an even richer experience, with opportunities to delve deeper and find out more. Developments in this area include the use of drones for carrying out the filming which expands the parameters of where can be filmed further.

Clearly this increases the complexity of the filming. The ideal situation would be to have a 360° camera and this may need a proper rig, rather than the more guerrilla style of filming that can be used in other areas. It also needs careful consideration as a mobile experience. Will the navigation be smooth enough and the interactive elements big enough to be selectable without clouding the view? Also, if your audience aren’t media-savvy millennials it might be a confusing, and potentially frustrating experience for them.

The opportunities for this one in a learning context seem greater, more far-reaching and impactful. As this technology is all about putting the learner in control it would work for all sorts of challenges and scenarios. It works like an interactive video approach but doesn’t need to follow a linear timeline. It’s particularly relevant for virtual tours, whether that be for sales and product knowledge training, soft skills or compliance.

Bluetooth beacons

As e-learning practitioners we’re always looking for ways that we can have more push that pull, in the way that training is accessed. Bluetooth beacons could be the answer we’re looking for. Instead of accessing content on your device at your own (or your manager’s discretion) notifications are sent out when you’re in a particular position. This has largely been used so far by advertisers to provide shoppers with more information about products as they move around the store, but could just as easily be used for staff.

Recently when brainstorming ideas for a leading sports manufacturer we considered the idea of having some kind of AR where the learner could see how different clothes looked on themselves, using a virtual reality style mirror. The additional element to this would be the triggering of learning materials on an app, providing detailed product information when the learner was near certain products. This could all be customer facing so it could be just as easily put in front of a customer on a tablet or smartphone to demonstrate additional benefits and features, including short multi-media assets if needed. For example, a point of view video of Jessica Ennis-Hill hurdling in the trainers the customer’s looking to buy, might inspire them to buy them for their own short-distance running, and the learner makes the sale.

There’s other applications for this technology too – it doesn’t have to be in a retail environment, it could work just as well in an office. Different material provided in certain areas would also create a great onboarding experience that doesn’t overload the customer with information but gives it to them at the point of need. But what are the limitations? It could prove intrusive for some learners and would need trialling to see if it did actually help to improve the customer interaction or simply got in the way. So far it’s largely been used by advertisers in a retail environment but the opportunities for this in learning are very exciting.

 

Conclusion

So that’s our brief look at some emerging technologies over, and my two cents worth on what looks good at the moment. The possibilities are endless and combining these technologies offers greater depth and more complexity to the solution. It’s important to remember that all technology can be used badly and offer no value to or even decrease the experience for the learner if implemented unsuccessfully.

As these technologies develop so will the applications for learning, so we should never write anything off completely as a gimmick. At Kineo we take note of developments but we don’t rush ahead on a whim. We take our time to understand the technology properly, and create the best learning experience we can. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for great learning design.

In Learning Insights 2017 we explore trends in L&D, so make sure you register to get your report. You'll get the advice and inspiration you need to shape the future of your workplace learning.

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Leave us your comments...

Brian Bishop | 24th January, 2017

I'm looking forward to the day when AR is ubiquitous on the manufacturing floor - assembly and operating instructions/training displayed directly on your smartglasses as you look at the machine. JIT! VR and 360 video is interesting, but difficult from an instructional design perspective - when the learner can go in any direction, IDs often struggle to guide learners to interactions and content. But, of course, that means when IDs and companies take the time to do it right, it's powerful.