The L&D Forum

There’s a whole buzz around virtual reality right now. My first experience was influenced by Community Mike sticking his Oculus VR headset on my head to test out. I still get nightmares about those horror genre apps! I’ve also had a go on the Vive system once at another friend’s house after a few beers in the pub which made for an interesting experience and once stopping by for a quick go on a demo set up in the local PC World.

If you haven’t yet had a go on VR, I’d highly recommend finding an opportunity to do so. It really is like stepping into another world. VR ticks the boxes of three of our five senses so it’s no surprise that people are finding it so immersive particularly from a gaming perspective.

But what about using VR for learning?

I’ve followed the talk of this for a while now. Much as I love the tech and the experience it brings I’ve been cautious to buy into the hype of VR for learning. It's probably because there are a few terrible applications of it being used. Having experienced these first hand, I’ve considered what I’ve learned and have found myself thinking ‘what was the point in that?’ There was one of these that particularly stood out as being a complete waste of time. The outcome was that I had learned the names of three services available to a customer. I could have easily learned this from a document, a picture, a video or a conversation. In fact, I could have easily picked up this information and perhaps more besides by physically walking around that place, after all, if I was an employee it is the place where I would work every day. Was virtual reality necessary in this scenario?

Setting a learner up for virtual reality can cost less than £100 for the headset (provided they have a smart phone to put in it) but the production costs of VR can easily run into thousands, tens of thousands even. I can just imagine what the thoughts of an employee working in the organisations of these poor examples would be let alone the backlash that might follow as they render that piece of learning as being a waste of money and a pointless exercise.

However, I’ve also seen some really good and valid uses of VR in learning. Examples include teaching people to operate machines where in the early stages of their learning, it would be unsafe for them to make mistakes using that machine in a real environment. I’ve also considered how VR might support the skills development of such as a pilot, a train driver or a crane operator. Today in a webinar with Learning and Skills Group and Sponge UK there were some great examples shared. There was also some good conversations around ensuring that tech we choose is relevant and appropriate.

You’ll find the webinar on VR in learning appearing over the next few days on the Learning and Skills Group Webinar Archive. If you want to find out more about virtual reality for learning, it’s well worth watching.

In the meantime, as we learn more about virtual reality and we talk to the vendors of this and indeed any tech, we should remember the role we play in making sure learning is about learning in the best way for the desired outcomes and the experience of our learners and not about the latest gimmicks and gadgets.

If we don’t do our due diligence and select carefully, virtual reality for learning is nothing more than the next dose of snake oil. Isn’t it?

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