Microsoft, Apple, Google and Sony are betting big on mixed reality. For many people it'll be their best shot at visiting The White House, taking part in an action epic or recovering from serious illness.
You might think that, between futuristic headsets and incredible camera rigs, there’s no place for VR in a typical business. I’m here to tell you that VR isn’t as difficult or as expensive as you might think.
Aesthetics don’t matter
Much of VR has its roots in gaming. In that industry, conventional wisdom suggests that the more detailed and true to life a game is, the more you get back from it. But does that apply to VR learning?
We recently talked to Viscopic about the mixed reality learning work they did with Deutsche Bahn. They remarked that, when it comes to learning outcomes, investing heavily in aesthetics doesn't pay off. That means the sort of rich lighting, complex geometry and high-quality textures you might associate with modern games and cinematic VR experiences don't help when it comes to training. What helps is a good sense of scale and objects acting as they do in real life.
As with any sort of digital development, design and development time are going to be, by some way, the most expensive part of producing VR based learning. By focusing on what really pays off for learners you can fundamentally challenge that aspect of the economics of producing VR learning.
A device you already have
If the production cost of VR learning is the most expensive aspect, hardware costs will probably come in second. You could easily spend five figures kitting a classroom out with dedicated VR headsets and machines to run them.
Although Pearson’s immersive learning division deal with the most technically sophisticated and high-cost mixed reality kits, some of their most successful projects have been delivered on much more modest hardware.
When we talked to them, the example they gave was a chemistry classroom. What if, rather than images in a book or on a whiteboard, a student could explore a structural formula of a chemical in 3D? Move closer to see more and step around to see from another angle. What if this could be something the entire class can do together, guided by a tutor? Today this sort of compelling and effective peer-to-peer learning can be delivered on nothing more than a smartphone on a selfie-stick.
Toolkits like Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore allow developers to produce increasingly sophisticated mixed reality experiences using the 3D chips, tilt sensors and touch screens that sit in every modern phone.
Where do you find VR developers? What do you ask for when you post an ad for a VR learning developer? It turns out you might already have somebody in-house that can start today.
The World Wide Web Consortium, the group responsible for establishing open standards for the web, currently have a draft standard written for WebVR. That means that the web developers that are already on the team can create VR content with just a few lines of code. They can do so using all of the same languages, tools and techniques they currently use to produce websites and e-learning.
The best part is, as with all web pages, you can share a WebVR experience using a simple link. No headsets, no big downloads and no installing software – even on mobile.
Easy to use tools
A great measure of a technology maturing is the presence of tools that make working with it easy and accessible. We’re already starting to see a crop is interesting start-ups that aim work make working with VR more straight forward.
Halo are an Israeli start-up that want to be the Axure of VR. They offer web-based tools that let designers, IA experts and e-learning specialists design, preview and share VR scenes without writing a line of code. This “what you see is what you get” approach is great for rapid prototyping, tight agile iterations and proof-of-concept work.
Ghost are a Polish firm that offer a suite of video data analytics and visualisation tools. They let you see, in aggregate or individually, how long people spend in the experience and what captures their attention. Ghost was created by Bivrost, a VR production house. They needed similar software and found there was nothing suitable on the market.
With the right approach, discipline and focuse your team can deliver truly engaging and effective learning in VR today. They should focus on outcomes, target low-cost hardware, make the most of the skills they already have and leverage any new tools they can get their hands on. That way success in VR learning is a “when” not an “if”.