Immersive learning and training dominated discussion during the second day of the virtual VR/AR Global Summit, with Dr Jonathan Richter, Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and Darryl Wright among the experts offering their point of view
➨ Dr Jonathan Richter said XR has suffered from its own hype in the past, unable to deliver what enterprise clients were expecting
➨ Daniel Dyboski-Bryant argued that remote collaborative learning in particular is the closest thing to a “killer” application right now
➨ Darryl Wright spent his session outlining how and when to include a narrative in an immersive learning or training experience
The XR ecosystem is now in place to serve an increasingly interested enterprise market, and immersive learning and training applications are “exploding”, according to one panel of speakers that assembled on the second day of the virtual VR/AR Global Summit.
The VR/AR Association’s education committee organised the panel on immersive learning and training, led by global co-chair Carlos J Ochoa Fernández, who is founder and chief executive officer of One Digital Consulting.
Speaking on the panel, Dr Jonathan Richter, president and chief executive officer of the Immersive Learning Research Network, an international collaboration effort to develop immersive learning experiences, said XR has suffered from its own hype in the past, unable to deliver what enterprise clients were expecting.
But the underlying technology, price points, diversity of vendors and more have now aligned to ensure that an adequate XR ecosystem is in place to serve their needs. This is certainly true in immersive learning and training, according to Richter.
Daniel Dyboski-Bryant, co-founder of Educators in VR, agreed with Richter’s assessment, arguing that remote collaborative learning in particular is the closest thing to a “killer” application right now.
He is seeing many versions of this being implemented but has noted considerable success in one teacher or instructor leading dozens of students or trainees in a virtual classroom.
Chelu Martin, head of the Tech Lab at IE Business School, has seen some resistance from educators and instructors to embracing immersive learning since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, some were reluctant to rework their curriculums for an immersive experience.
Martin is working to overcome some of this resistance, by providing hardware and support to educators, and give immersive learning a push among those that haven’t yet tried virtual reality.
For their part, students want more immersive learning, because XR has been hyped up to such an extent over recent months, Martin said. There is some expectation management to do there, he conceded, because the technology isn’t as widely available as they’d hoped.
The panel, which also featured David Moreno, head of marketing and business development at Virtualware, covered several topics over the course of the discussion, so watch out for a recording when they are released on the VR/AR Association’s YouTube channel.
Topics included the uncertainty brought about by Covid-19 and its impact on educational institutions and organisations around the world.
This then fed into a discussion on how to structure and organise the future learning ecosystem in a blended learning environment, and how to build a clean and safe space for students in the new normal.
‘Narrative experiences can have challenges, but there are none that cannot be overcome’
In a separate session, Darryl Wright, leader of the AR/VR Center of Excellence at energy business Southern Company, outlined how and when to include a narrative in an immersive learning or training experience.
This is a key question for in-house and third-party enterprise developers because a narrative brings added cost and complexity to an immersive experience. This may not be ideal for enterprise clients that are still new to this technology and require return on investment to be clearly justified, according to Wright.
As a result, developers should consider the kind of training experience that they want to develop before committing to a narrative.
Using the example of an experience for a trainee military mechanic, walking through the steps of fixing a vehicle may not require a narrative, whereas an empathy training experience for a soldier may need a story to provide context and choices.
Southern Company developed a narrative-based experience on behalf of electric utility Alabama Power, called PowerQuest VR.
This experience was aimed at high school students in the US and was designed to educate them about the risks of electrocution and what to do if they faced it in real life.
Wright said Southern Company had to develop the experience under several constraints, including a user group that may not be familiar with virtual reality and a real-world environment that would probably have poor internet connectivity.
The experience also had to be immersive and realistic but run on Oculus Quest, a mobile virtual reality device that isn’t as capable as its tethered peers.
To overcome these constraints, PowerQuest VR was limited to under 10 minutes and avoided realism-enhancing capabilities such as lip-syncing. Much of the experience is undertaken in the dark after a power cut, so this was easily sidestepped.
To aid novice users, narrative prompts provide context and guide the user through the experience. A smartphone serves as the primary driver of narrative, by providing messages from the main character’s family members as and when the user is challenged.
The challenges themselves centre on a microwave fire, which the user has to put out with either a jug of water or a fire extinguisher, and a car crash that damages a power line. Each scenario presents the user with choices that allow them to make, and then learn from, mistakes.
As PowerQuest VR demonstrates, narrative experiences can be costly and complicated, but they can be done. Wright said: “Narrative experiences can have challenges, but there are none that cannot be overcome. The real challenge is to do a reasonable job in a reasonable amount of time on a reasonable budget.”
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Main image: VR/AR Global Summit