Typically associated with millennials and gaming VR (virtual reality) still seems like a fairly new technology yet to be adopted in the e-learning space. But these powerful devices should not be disregarded as merely gaming devices for the super nerdy. There’s real merit to how VR can be harnessed by educators and employers.
Studies have shown that those who learn in VR show a 30% increase in information retention after 2 weeks compared to other training methods. So why isn’t every training provider, employer and e-learning agency jumping on the bandwagon?
It boils down to cost and accessibility.
Although the number of headsets shipped worldwide almost doubled from 2019 to 2020, only 4% of UK households own a VR device, meaning employers and training providers investing in VR, must also invest in the hardware for their learners to engage with their VR e-learning content.
But there’s no doubt in our mind that VR brings an unparalleled experience that can’t be trumped by the likes of current course authoring tools on the market.
Will VR really be a key player in the future of e-learning?
We were lucky enough to sit down with Sam Trudgian, a seasoned Unity Developer, currently working with Napster (formerly Melody VR) to get his insight into the future of VR and some of the challenges and opportunities for e-learning and content developers.
“VR is becoming far more accessible. With possibilities powered by VR exceeding the boundaries of gaming; people are starting to realise the potential for enriching work environments and sharing knowledge virtually. For example, some of the most popular apps on the Oculus Store are productivity and collaboration tools such as Spatial and meetinVR.”
How is creating VR e-learning experiences actually going to work though?
VR is unrivalled when it comes to recreating real world experiences that users can interact with first hand. By bringing game-based mechanics (known as gamification) into VR (such as a levelling system, xp, rewards and scores) you get the perfect recipe for a FUN (yes, actually enjoyable) e-learning experience. Gamification within VR has been proven to improve conceptual knowledge by 11%, inspiring 72% of employees to work harder as a result of experiencing e-learning in VR and prompting 94% of employees to stay longer at an organisation who invests in e-learning.
“Developing for VR isn’t easy or straightforward, but if you were to develop for the Oculus, all you need is a Unity license and a headset oh, and a team! – you wouldn’t need to necessarily buy any further development kit, hire a studio or buy any filming or audio equipment. In terms of the investment, you’d be looking at around £1600 (One year Unity Pro License and an Oculus Quest 2) to get started – and then a skilled developer to start bringing concepts and ideas to life.”
What is VR?
Virtual Reality, more commonly referred to as VR, is the term used to describe a virtual construction of a new or pre-existing environment. This environment, presented in 360 has been popularised by the emergence of companies such as Oculus and Valve by developing VR software and technologies. This new horizon of virtual reality technologies lends itself to being accessible to consumers as the hardware is cheaper. As mentioned above, using game engines such as Unity or Unreal allows companies to bring their idea from concept to launch.
So, what is AR?
Augmented reality, often referred to as AR, is the term used to describe a digital experience that overlays or combines digital elements with the user’s own surroundings. Augmented reality can be used in e-learning in a variety of industries. Imagine using your mobile phone’s camera to look at your body and learn the names of different bones and muscle groups, or allowing a client to scan a product to learn detailed specs. There’s no doubt that AR is more accessible and affordable at this moment in time, but, by its very nature, it doesn’t create the fully immersive experience that VR can.
AR adds things to your existing world.
VR changes the world around you
How can VR be used in e-learning?
There are a variety of ways that VR can be used in e-learning. By its very nature, virtual reality can be used to create an experience, but there’s no limit to how creative and immersive these experiences can be in e-learning. With headsets and controllers readily available on the market, users can go beyond a visual experience and actually interact with the world around them. It’s been found that “users who access training in VR learn 4 x faster, have a higher emotional connection with the content and become 2.5x more confident after completing this training” (PWC US).
We’ve included some examples of how VR can be used in e-learning:
Scenarios can be an instructor’s best friend as a means to construct a virtual environment that would test their learners abilities to handle and manage the situation they are presented with. In law enforcement this could be a scenario where an officer has to de-escalate a situation, or for a nurse, they might be tested on their ability to follow the process of a routine checkup. Scenarios are easier to construct and run in a training environment as learners can fail and retake as much as they like. Or not! Maybe the scenario can also be used as a means to test a user.
Virtual vacations or e-trips have been around for a while. Audio experiences and pre-recorded 2D videos have provided access beyond the four walls of the home. Inside VR with a full 360 view and immersive 3D audio, the experience has truly been enhanced, you become the center of this constructed world. This could be in the form of 360 degree video or a 3D digital world created with the likeness of earth or any other reality you can imagine (provided you have the right tools to hand).
When it comes to e-learning, e-trips provide an opportunity for learners to be transported to new locations where they might study the geography of the land, buildings and architecture or experience what life was like for those living during the plague.
Recreating a classroom might have sounded like a somewhat pointless exercise in 2019 but now more than ever students and teachers are realising the value of a classroom experience. Whether it be the interactivity, shared learning experience or the ability to share and interact with learning materials on more than just a shared screen (thanks but no thanks Zoom).
There is plenty of data to show how gamification improves retention and engagement in e-learning, making it an important part of any VR-based e-learning experience. Using game mechanics such as score, levels and leaderboards can add an element of competition, a proven factor in increasing performance.
Cross platform experiences
One of the limitations identified above is accessibility to VR headsets. In order to deploy a VR learning experience to users, an organisation is going to have to supply the hardware. But wait! There is an alternative option.
“When using an engine such as Unity, developers can reuse the assets built and recreate a similar experience on mobile devices and in web apps. With the main limitation with mobile devices being immersion. Whereas VR gives users a full 6 degrees of freedom, a smartphone device is limited to 3 degrees of freedom in VR. Both smartphone and desktop versions are not as immersive compared to wearing a headset, but this does mean that a VR experience can be more easily deployed (on the assumption that most people have access to either a mobile device or desktop/laptop).”
When considering whether to include virtual reality in your arsenal of USP’s. It is important to consider the use case for virtual reality and if it’s applicable to your project.
Which professions are taking advantage of VR in their e-learning?
Surgical training could take the form of training a midwife in the procedure of delivering a baby and understanding visual cues, terminology and timing of various scenarios that can happen during quite a high-intensity scenario. Virtual reality can offer a lower intensity environment whilst being informative and prepare the trainee for what might come.
Flight attendant training is more than just customer service, the healthy and safety aspect of their training is crucial to saving lives in emergencies. With VR, flight attendants can easily train in life-like scenarios where the passengers and cabin crew react real-time allowing for immersive interactions that prepare them for the real thing.
Product/ sales teams
Product training in virtual reality could take the form of showing staff who are advocating sales of a particular physical product the processes that the product has been through. The journey of targeting a particular audience, the planning and design of the product and the journey raw materials go through in making the product. This builds up a connection with the product and helps inform staff so that they have opportunities to appeal to a customer and to answer customer queries which can contribute to customer service and ultimately the company’s reputation.
Imagine this. You step in a virtual world where you meet Sandra, an elderly woman with dementia. In this scenario, the learner (a nurse) must check Sandra’s notes, administer the right medication, get Sandra dressed and adapt to her reactions using interactive items in the environment to ensure Sanda is safe and comfortable throughout.
First responders are faced with challenging situations on a daily basis, dealing with unpredictable human behaviour in high-pressure environments. This is why it is so important for first responders to be thrown into a variety of life-like scenarios so they can practice the skills they’ve learnt in a classroom. While role-playing scenarios with colleagues might be one means of training, this doesn’t compare to the challenges someone might face out in the field.
Soft skills are vital for any job. With VR you can create a variety of scenarios giving users multiple choice options or an interactive environment to help them navigate their way through a scene thus strengthening their ability to interact and communicate with their customers, colleagues and management staff.
There are a number of examples of how VR is saving lives around the road by immersing all kinds of professionals into safety training. Whether it’s training someone on how to correctly install or operate a piece of equipment or how to put out a fire on a moving plane,, there’s no doubt that VR is helping a number of industries.
Mental health workers
Compassion is such a vital skill for anyone working in mental health. It can be a challenge to empathise with a patient whose condition you’ve not experienced for yourself, so it’s great to see VR supporting mental health workers with experiences designed to put the user in someone else’s shoes.
We want to give a special thanks to Sam Trudgian who gave up his time to provide his valuable insight into the applications of VR and its future in the e-learning space and for ensuring this piece was technically sound throughout.