Posted on 21st February, 2017 by Nick Bowyer
Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and 360° Video are gaining increasing interest in the world of Learning & Development. As these technologies move away from the novelty space and firmly into the mainstream, L&D professionals are keen to understand how they can be used to enhance learning and performance support.
As pioneers in the use of these technologies for learning, LEO Learning has been helping our clients to understand how and where AR, VR and 360° Video can add value. In doing so we’ve also been answering a key concern: how can organisations tap into the benefits of these technologies without the large capital expenditure involved in purchasing hundreds of headsets?
Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented Reality overlays content on top of real objects in the physical world. In its simplest form, no headset is required, the learner simply uses an app on their device to scan the object they want to learn about and access associated learning content.
In the example shown above, the app has been programmed to recognise the new £5 note and highlight its new security features. The content shown in this example is text-based, but could just as easily be a video, animation or short interaction. The app can be programmed to recognise both flat 2D objects like the banknote or 3D objects like tools or machinery, providing whatever guidance or instructions that the learner needs to know.
AR can also be used to enable learners to look inside objects too. In the example below, the learner points their device at the NHS logo on their colleague’s chest and is able to see an animated depiction of their vital organs. The implications for medical training are profound, enabling doctors and nurses to study anatomy in new ways and from any location.
Other learning applications include:
- Correct use of equipment and machinery: By pointing their device at a piece of equipment or machinery, learners can access ‘just in time’ content about key safety features or handy tips for correct use. By accessing this content at the point of need, learners are supported in their on-the-job performance. Rather than sitting at a computer to access learning, the workshop environment itself can now become a vast library of interactive content.
- In-situ support for product knowledge: In a retail environment it can often be challenging to ensure all staff maintain a robust level of product knowledge, especially if product lines are regularly changing. AR can be used to provide in-situ, at-a-glance information about key product selling points. When a customer is asking about the differences between distinct models, shopfloor staff can rapidly bring up key product information, matching the right product to customers’ needs and, ultimately, selling more effectively.
- Interactive customer manuals: Our customers are also often our learners. AR is increasingly being used as an alternative to traditional customer manuals and handbooks, for example in the automotive sector. When drivers want to know how to use a particular feature of their vehicle they no longer have to dig out a weighty manual. Instead they can simply slip their phone out of their pocket and point it at the vehicle feature in question in order to access the information they need.
Virtual Reality (VR)
While Augmented Reality overlays content on the physical world, Virtual Reality provides an entirely computer-generated environment for the learner to step into. By tracking the learner’s head movements the VR application allows learners to look and move around the virtual environment, interacting with virtual objects and people as they would do in real life.
While AR is typically used to allow learners to understand more about objects in their day-to-day life, VR transports them to locations and situations that might otherwise be inaccessible or unsafe.
In the example above, learners are transported to the International Space Station to learn more about how it works and experience what it feels like for astronauts to travel into space. VR can enable learning about any kind of inaccessible location like this – whether studying a volcano or travelling back in time to explore ancient civilisations.
There are many applications for business too:
- Working in hazardous environments: Training learners to act swiftly and safely when facing potential hazards is a key application for VR. The virtual environment enables learners to rehearse responding to hazards without ever placing their personal safety at risk. Applications for this kind of VR include fire safety, military training, electrical engineering and preparation for emergencies in locations like oil rigs, airplanes and power plants.
- Engineering know-how: While AR is good for providing information on using smaller tools, VR is a more effective way to overcome the practical challenges of training employees on using large-scale machinery (such as drilling and other extraction equipment) in a consequence-free environment.
- Advance product training: VR models of new products can be used to train salespeople (and consumers) on the features and benefits of a new product before it has even been released.
By building understanding of how the new product will differentiate itself in the market, organisations can better support pre-orders and ensure that salespeople are equipped to sell effectively from the outset.
Above: 360° Video not available in Safari browsers.
360° Video places the learner in the center of a fully immersive environment in the same way as VR, but shows a film of a real location, rather than a computer-generated one. The technology for filming 360° Video has improved massively over the last two years, meaning that the workflow is now almost as fast and straightforward as traditional video.
The video can also be made fully interactive, allowing learners to discover information in the environment around them and make decisions about the events that are unfolding in real-time.
- Virtual tours and comms: In the same way that VR can take learners to sites that it would be impossible to visit in real life, 360° Video enables them to visit far-off real-world locations without ever leaving their seat. This might be to tour a corporate headquarters as part of an induction programme, to visit a factory, or to preview a new shop layout that will be coming soon. Learners can also visit sites that it might be impractical to visit in real life, such as exploring the inside of a power station or a laboratory.
- Environmental awareness: Health and safety training is a common application for 360° Video. Rather than simply trying to spot potential hazards in a photo as they would do in traditional elearning, learners are asked to identify emerging dangers in real time as they unfold around them. For example, a 360° Video might place learners in the center of a construction site with workers walking past in all directions. By asking the learner to try to spot emerging hazards and intervene swiftly they can be trained to be more vigilant and alert to dangers in the real world.
- Time-based decision-making: The use of interactive 360° Video for time-sensitive decision-making extends to soft skills training too, such as leadership, sales and customer service. For example, in retail sales training staff can step onto a busy virtual shop floor where they must make real-time decisions about how to deliver the best possible service to a range of different customers with different needs. Similarly, managers can enter a virtual office where they must decide how to lead the different members of the team around them to deliver against an impending deadline.
Many of our customers are excited by the opportunities that these new technologies offer, but are put off by the cost of buying hundreds of headsets for their learners. We’ve therefore been working very closely with our customers to ensure that all content we deliver is accessible to all the learners that need it.
Obviously, AR does not require a headset, but VR usually does. However, LEO Learning is able to publish the same VR solution for use without a headset too, thereby accommodating those learners that don’t have access to one.
If the learner has a VR headset they can access a fully immersive experience, but if they do not they can still interact with the same content on their smartphone or tablet, using touch-based navigation.
Similarly, to ensure that 360° Video remains accessible to all learners, LEO Learning can publish the same solution for use with a VR headset and for use on a normal PC, phone or tablet.
Choosing the right enabler for learning
VR, AR and 360° Video are all powerful tools when used appropriately to deliver the right learning outcomes for the right learners. But it is important to remember that they will not always be the best channels for addressing all needs. Part of our work at LEO Learning is to help our clients understand which combination of approaches will be most suitable for their requirements. Sometimes this means using one of these technologies as part of a broader blend and sometimes it means using a different delivery mechanism altogether.
Nevertheless when VR, AR or 360° are the best tools for the job, experience has shown us time and again that the results can be revolutionary.
Nick Bowyer is LEO Learning’s Studio Director. If you’d like to speak to a LEO Learning expert about VR, AR and 360° Video, just get in touch.