‘Keep talking and nobody explodes’: the new world of virtual reality learning

The era of sitting in-front of a monitor screen, learning click-by-click with traditional elearning courses, will soon be thrown out of the window. Learning by simulation, putting people into a representation of their real working environment, will become the norm.

Virtual technology allows learners the freedom to move freely around an environment, interacting with objects, carrying out tests, making decisions (and mistakes) until they have mastered the learning objectives. Confucius once said about learning “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Virtual technology gives learners the ability to ‘see’ and to ‘do’, helping them remember and understand difficult content.

Virtual technology goes as far back as the late 1950s, with the ‘Sensorama’, a device developed by American cinematographer Morton Heilig. This was a machine shaped like an arcade game, with stereoscopic 3D films, a tilting chair, stereo sound and a smell-generating device. Heilig never found financial backing for his vision of virtual reality, but it has since gradually evolved to become a realistic proposition.

The term ‘virtual reality’ refers to an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that makes them suspend their belief and accept it as a real environment. With headsets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, as well as cheap cardboard alternatives that can be used with your phone like Google Cardboard, the equipment for experiencing these virtual environments is entering the mass-market.

Gaming is where I believe – throughout 2016 – VR will truly raise the bar. With a huge market chomping at the bit for further innovations and a fuller realisation of the virtual reality experience, expect better consumer-level tech in the very near future. At this very moment there are readily available fascinating uses of the technology, like the ‘Keep talking and nobody explodes’ game for Samsung Gear VR. In this game, two friends can team up to defuse a procedurally generated bomb, one wearing the headset and the other reading out instructions to them.

So how can we use this virtual technology to create learning experiences that improve performance and behaviour?

A prime example of virtual technology being used in an educational context is immersive learning. Virtual environments designed for immersive learning aren’t just interactive, digital simulations. The point is also that they avoid any contextual frame. There are no course guides or instructional text, so the learner is thrown into a situation that they must deal with using their own initiative. I’d recommend reading this great piece, written by my colleague Anne, on immersive learning and how it’s used by the CIA!

The earliest examples of immersive learning with virtual technology were flight simulators, beginning in the 1920s with the mechanical ‘Link Trainer’ through to modern simulators that pitch and yaw alongside convincing 3D software. Recently VR training has expanded into many other modern military disciplines that are considered high-risk, like parachuting and drone piloting. Using VR technology to train learners is most beneficial to organisations that require real-time simulation, where the full multi-sensory ‘experience’ of a situation is relevant to the learning. For example, learners training for high-risk situations where a mistake would not be an option, like piloting aircrafts or bomb defusal.

Can you think of other examples where a full multi-sensory experience will have a positive impact on the learning? There are many defence sector examples, where technical skills are as important as soft skills like bravery, accuracy under pressure and mental resilience. But in what other roles are technical skills and soft skills often needed in equal measure, with risk and pressure thrown into the mix? Medicine, engineering, even sales? As technology improves, so does the opportunity to apply this tech to other industries.

At Saffron, we embrace the rise of virtual technology by embedding virtual simulations in the courses we design. We are firm believers in the power of virtual learning to improve performance and change behaviour.

So where next for VR technology? Smellovision? Haptic suits? I believe that in the next ten years, VR will become a huge part of the services Saffron provides to its clients. You should get in touch with us to learn more about how we can use virtual technology to improve your organisation’s performance. But before you do, I’ll leave you with a video of the Virtuix Omni being used in action for a first-person shooter game, giving us an exciting glimpse into the future of virtual technology and its potential applications for elearning!

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Raj Valgi - Developer

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