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Insights EDU

VR for Education, Learning and Development – Top Valid Use Cases

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Sam Watts | Director of Immersive Technologies | Make Real

20 Sep 2019 | 5 min read

It’s been three years since the commercial launch of the first generation of the new wave of VR headsets, many of which have since been iterated upon, or even made redundant by newer models released in 2019. VR hasn’t yet gone full-blown mainstream and whilst the hype may have faded from the media and marketing attention, we are steadily moving from early-adopter to early- majority phase, mid-leap across the chasm. 

It is key that we, as creators within the space, continue to focus on validation of use cases for the technology to ensure those who are experiencing it for the first time, roughly 8 out of every 10 people, are able to grasp the potential of the technology as we have without dismissing it as a gimmick or a fad. People are beginning to recognise VR’s applications outside of gaming, with VR for education and training being one particularly fast growing sector, but it is a gradual and slow process. 

However, this shouldn’t limit experimentation or close off development and availability of hardware and output to those creators still looking to dip their toe into the immersive waters. As with any emerging industry, the rules are still to be written. The platforms have solidified, not so much in terms of how we use them but there are some clear guidelines and learnings to draw upon for all creators, new and old alike. 

As creators of immersive experiences, especially within the enterprise, training and development space, we are always seeking to understand the benefits of using the latest technologies as part of the wider toolset for learning, constantly asking ourselves “Why?”, What does it bring or add? How do we convince people that VR is a powerful tool for education and learning? 

Why VR? 

VR has remained as one of the top 10 priorities within the “L&D Global Sentiment Survey” for the past two years, a sort of what’s hot and what’s not list compiled from professionals all around the world. Despite this enthusiasm however, it’s clear that many businesses are struggling to know where to get started with VR. 

The Atkinson and Shiffrin’s Information Processing Model shows how many hurdles there are to remember something new. New information encountered needs to get our attention (entering sensory memory) or it’ll be forgotten immediately, or not even noticed in the first place. Once noticed, it moves into our short-term memory, but we need to start working with that information pretty much right away or again, it will just be forgotten (in one ear, out the other).

To really remember new information though, we have to commit to long-term memory. This is a much more complex process of mapping new information onto our existing memories and then practicing it, we go through this process in order to strengthen that connection. Learning something new, even with something relatively simple, doesn’t just happen by accident. 

So how does VR help? There are three core uses of VR that map to information processing: emotional state, knowledge retention, and knowledge transfer. 

  1. Emotional State – Important for learning but often overlooked. If you want someone to remember something, you have to make them care about it. In VR, we have control over someone’s senses, so better placed to affect emotional states, whether it’s creating excitement, curiosity or perhaps a healthy bit of trepidation.
  2. Knowledge Retention – Once you’ve made someone care about something, you need to then get them to remember it. To move new information from short-term to long-term memory, they need to start actively doing something with it, preferably applying it to real-world situations, as soon as possible. VR enables the possibilities of theory and practice, layering up knowledge acquisition and application, hand in hand rather than separating. Only when we start applying information do we really start to build our knowledge and commit to our long-term memory.
  3. Knowledge Transfer – Once a learner cares about the topic, and remembers the core information, there’s still the final hurdle: putting what they’ve learned into practice in the real-world situation. VR uniquely offers the chance to practice in a realistic replica of the real-world environment and fail safely, with repetition and without incurring cost, until getting it right. This gives the learner confidence but more importantly helps lessen the cognitive load, requiring less mental gymnastics to take the new information and conceptualising using it in the real world.

By mapping the Information Processing Model onto the three core uses of VR, we can quickly see how they complement each other and highlight the benefits of utilising immersive technologies for learning, as shown below: 

 

Three Reasons to Use VR 

  1. Cost – Reduces the need for additional trainers, making it scalable, reducing overheads associated with access to expensive real-world assets by recreating them virtually.
  2. Risk – Allows users to fail safely but through immersion and presence, making them feel as if they really are on-site or in situ, so that they take the training more seriously.
  3. Quality – Allows consistency of training each time for every learner, ensuring the training correlates directly to real-world applications and situations, with objective, measured feedback.

Identifying Use Cases

We encourage clients and partners to work through the following table, either collaboratively with us or on their own, before determining whether VR is the correct technology for a specific learning use case. Rather than simply looking to check an innovation tickbox, it helps relevant stakeholders ensure that the training needs and outcomes, current pains and shortcomings could be addressed by VR and ultimately, to ensure that indirect stakeholders are engaged and onboard with the budget, purpose and aims of the development outcomes. Remember, VR isn’t a magic bullet and shouldn’t necessarily replace existing training methods or materials, rather add a new enhanced tool to an existing, effective toolset. 

 

We encourage clients and partners to work through the following table, either collaboratively with us or on their own, before determining whether VR is the correct technology for a specific learning use case. Rather than simply looking to check an innovation tickbox, it helps relevant stakeholders ensure that the training needs and outcomes, current pains and shortcomings could be addressed by VR and ultimately, to ensure that indirect stakeholders are engaged and onboard with the budget, purpose and aims of the development outcomes. Remember, VR isn’t a magic bullet and shouldn’t necessarily replace existing training methods or materials, rather add a new enhanced tool to an existing, effective toolset.

1. What is the discipline or objective in mind?
2. Who is the target audience?
3. What does immersive technology add?
4. What problem needs addressing?
5. What scenarios are related to learning goals?
6. How will you measure success?

Our final advice is to start small, focus upon one or two key objectives, user test and iterate up.

About the author:

Sam Watts has been at Make Real for over 5 years now, taking the lead on immersive technologies in 2017 - focusing on the benefits to learners and businesses through impact, engagement and utilisation across a wide set of verticals.

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