09 December 2016

Virtual reality and the future of learning


You may think virtual reality (VR) is like the world portrayed in The Matrix or TRON movies. Sadly, the technologies portrayed in these films are still in the realm of fiction.

So, what is VR? VR as we know it today refers to a combination of hardware and software that generates a realistic immersive three-dimensional (3D) computer environment.

VR Hardware

VR hardware usually refers to a headset device with wireless controllers. PCMag Australia lists five top picks for the best VR headsets, namely Sony Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream View. The market is in its infancy, with many of these models released within the last two or three years, and the first prototype of arguably the most famous one, the Oculus Rift, built in 2012.

To provide a spherical 360-degree view of the virtual world, the headset device comes with:

  • a high resolution screen with a high refresh rate for each eye, and
  • sensors including a gyroscope (which uses gravity to measure directional orientation) and accelerometer (which measures how fast something is moving).

Each manufacturer builds a VR headset with slightly different specifications for image resolution, refresh rate, field of view, types of sensors, and controls. Google’s initial VR headset the Google Cardboard did not even have its own screen (and still doesn’t!)—it’s simply a cardboard diecut box with which to view your smartphone screen through 3D lenses.

Whether you are dealing with low budget or high-end VR headsets, all of them depend on software to drive the VR experience.

VR Software

Most VR headsets run on specialised software that allows the wearer to interact with the computer 3D-simulated VR world.

First, you enter the VR world by putting on the headset. You can then look around the VR world as if it was the real world simply by moving your head, thanks to sensors that track your head movements. For example, the HTC Vive comes with two controllers.

While the unique experience of viewing 3D VR may take your breath away, it can be hilarious from the viewpoint of others looking at you bobbing around with a bulky contraption strapped to your head.

While it’s entertaining both in (gaming) origin and when witnessed, the VR experience can be applied to education as well.

Learning with VR

As you can guess, immersion is definitely the big selling point of VR.

The potential for creativity is limitless, and it’s exciting to imagine what immersive learning experiences await us as VR applications continue to blossom. The technology just gets better.

Inclusive virtual classrooms. Imagine VR classrooms in schools that allow remote students to interact with those on campus in an environment very much like a real classroom; in fact, VR-only classrooms could connect students from disparate locations in multiple countries.

Freedom to time-travel. VR could be used to educate students on extinct animals or simulate what the world looked like millions of years ago, or simulate a multisensory experience of projected future worlds.

Better academic performance. When engineering students were tasked to assemble a virtual object, those using the Oculus Rift and touch-sensitive haptic glove completed the task in less than half the time it took other students with a mouse-and-keyboard setup within a computer program. The 2016 NMC Horizon Higher Education Report found that VR-incorporated programs facilitate group discussions with off-campus students as well.

Yet, why limit ourselves to a classroom?

This is the VR world after all, and the Harlem Project initiative from Utherverse Digital creates a VR version of Harlem in the 1920’s for students to experience the setting behind artwork they are studying.

Another area where engaged learning is important is workplace education.

While airplane pilots famously use flight simulators to practise flying a plane in virtual reality, new advances in VR can bring similar experiences to a wide range of industries for different training purposes.

Imagine what VR training experiences could achieve for business!

Substitute locations. VR training could transform safety training as well as occupational training, for example, training new firemen or volunteers on how to tackle bushfires.

Preparation for real scenarios. The effectiveness of workplace induction, onboarding, product training or certification assessments rises to a whole new dimension when practitioners can be trained in VR before they do the real thing.

Walking in another’s shoes. Imagine the accelerated learning that could take place if inexperienced workers take on virtual training that’s guided by experts and mentors, or the empathy that could quickly develop in cross-functional teams when they learn what their team members have to go through in performing their work.

Immersive practise makes for faster progress, fewer mistakes, and better performance in any type of work. It goes without saying that productivity will soar, and time and cost savings as well.

The future . . . today?

At the moment, VR technology is taking baby steps but momentum is surely building with companies like Facebook, who bought Oculus for $2 billion, and Sony getting in on the action. VR is looking to be very exciting and as the technology becomes more accessible. The future could be upon us sooner than you blink.

Just as VR is transforming learning, Velpic is changing the future of workplace learning by providing and constantly improving our easy-to-use cloud-based learning solution that allows anyone to produce and publish training content easily, deliver it for mobile and microlearning, track training progress and skills development effortlessly, generate useful reports quickly, and a lot more to boost business performance.

Velpic has exciting plans to provide a VR-ready eLearning platform that every business can afford. To find out how Velpic can help you evolve workplace training from "Do I have to?" to "That's entertaining." (video) to "Let's do that again!" (VR), please visit our Virtual Reality page.

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