A Primer on AR and VR
Many of us in the learning profession have heard of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), but do you really know why and how this tech is helping our industry? As we start the new year, let’s do a bit of level setting about what AR and VR are and why we should use them for learning.
The truth is you have to try AR and VR out yourself! We can all look back on a few of the really memorable “firsts” in our lives, and I think we’d all agree, you really don’t have the full picture until you actually experience something firsthand. You can read about it, people can describe it, others can tell you about their “first times,” but you really don’t “get it” until you do it yourself! Since we can’t “try it” here, I’m going to do my best to describe AR and VR, and hopefully, this will be just the nudge you need to give it a go yourself (or come by Innovative Learning Group and try it out in our lab space!).
First Up: AR
Think of AR as a layer — a layer of additional information to help you out. You’re seeing this additional layer through a phone, a tablet, or maybe some type of glasses, but you’re still very much aware of your current surroundings. Just like you might look through a magnifying glass to enhance your view, AR can help give you more information and more support… think performance support. So, let’s imagine a few use cases:
- You’re exploring the lobby of the headquarters of your new job. You see hanging on a wall a huge portrait of a woman, and you wonder, “Who is this?” By holding up your phone in front of the image, you quickly learn that she’s the founder of the company, you read a little bit about her background, and you learn “the why” of the organization. In other words, you receive a layer of information… perfect for your new-hire orientation.
- You’re a salesperson talking with a customer in a dealership showroom, and you only have a black model EV in stock with standard tires and rims. Your customer would really like to see what the vehicle looks like in red, with the sport tires and rims. By letting your customer look through your tablet, they see the vehicle just as they want to order it. You close the deal!
- You’re a technician and need to repair a medical device. You position a glass layer between you and the troubled area, and step-by-step procedures appear between you and the device. You’re able to follow the instructions and repair the equipment.
Moving to VR
VR is when you put on a headset — those large goggles — over your eyes (don’t worry, you can wear your glasses if you need to and yes, your hair will most likely get messed up) and you’re immersed in another world. Unlike AR, with VR, your actual surroundings are left behind, and you’re completely transported to a new place. We all know that selecting the appropriate context and environment in which we work is key in learning, so VR checks all the boxes here. You can complete tasks while inside the VR experience and thus learn new skills… think skill building. So, what does this really look like in learning? Imagine you are:
- Inside a plant surrounded by manufacturing equipment, and you need to learn how to use the equipment (possibly equipment that’s only available on the other side of the world but coming soon to your location).
- A new medical technician taking a trip through the mouth, throat, and stomach of the human body. This is obviously something you can’t do in real life, but imagine how much more impactful this is than watching a video. You can see objects passing through each stage of the digestive system, while having informational material carefully sequenced to guide the technician’s understanding of the complex anatomical system.
- Putting on your personal protection equipment (PPE) and preparing to safely perform a non-routine task.
The great thing about developing VR competency is that it gives your learners a great opportunity to practice new skills. We all know the importance of practicing in order to reach fluency; VR is the perfect delivery method to do this. Just put people in the headset and let them practice over and over until they get to mastery.
As with any new learning technology, you want to use it for the right reason, not just because it’s new and cool. And, you need more than just a great programmer to get this technology right. Start with a strong performance consultant to sort out what the performance pain points are and what the right solution is to address these challenges. If AR or VR is the right solution, you’ll need a team of people with the right skills and experience to design and develop it. Specifically, you’ll need:
- An instructional designer to determine the learning objectives, create a blueprint, and write any text or narration
- A graphic designer to create the setting and imagery
- A content editor to make sure the text and narration are error-free
- A programmer to build the interactions between the user and the environment while controlling the flow of learning data
- A quality assurance tester to make sure the experience runs as expected
- A project manager to keep all the plates spinning on time and within budget, while getting to a quality end product
So now that you know enough to be dangerous, start thinking about what performance needs you may have in your organization that could be solved by AR or VR. Most importantly, experience both for yourself! It’s the best way to spark new ideas and jumpstart your organization’s journey toward AR and VR fluency.
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