Co-written by Bobby Carlton and Jesse Lubinsky

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to not only slow down but close educational institutions, the workforce, sporting events, entertainment and other industries; one thought is how can distance learning and VR/AR (immersive tech) environments play a role in keeping learners moving forward in their education, the workforce connected, and keep us connected socially.  

For many, VR/AR as a solution for learning and engagement is still considered uncharted territory. It’s the unknown mainly because new technologies are a big disrupter and can be a distraction. This applies to all environments, even K12, higher education, and the workforce, who are actually forward thinkers and currently using the tech minimally in their learning ecosystem. They have some knowledge of it, and are exploring it, but are hesitant to fully embrace it because it’s still very new to them. For every one company that’s using it like Walmart or Verizon who are using the technology successfully in their training, there are hundreds of companies of all sizes not using it or even exploring it.  

In regards to K12 and Higher Education, many of them are using immersive tech as part of the learning. However, budget is the real issue here. Many of these institutions are running on strict budgets that were planned a year ahead, so to now throw in VR/AR strategies, their budget is even more stretched. That is the literal roadblock we encounter with a lot of these learning environments when it comes to VR/AR as part of the blended learning environment.Now add the global epidemic of the coronavirus outbreak. As schools and businesses close, it also carries a financial burden. When a global company has to halt work to keep employees safe, the impact could be in the millions of dollars. K12 and Higher Education learners aren’t challenged to learn and explore.

If technology is a big disruptor on all levels of learning, something unexpected such as a coronavirus outbreak is an even bigger disruption, and approaching an organization or a school about using VR/AR as a solution to keep the learning moving forward and giving employees the ability to continue their work through this crisis isn’t that easy. You are now adding two huge disruptors into the mix.

So while we know that there are incredible applications for emergent technologies such as VR/AR, the goal for organizations isn’t to look to implement these types of solutions immediately while in the midst of a pandemic, adding layers of training and cost concerns to the already existing uncertainty. Rather, an approach that involves short and long term planning as well as data collection to inform decision making is a much more prudent approach.

We have data that shows VR/AR are excellent tools in any learning environment. There are amazing benefits achieved when you use these types of technologies with your learners. 

  • Learners are able to learn more in less time. They are engaged. 
  • Learners have a physical and emotional response that is based on empathy. 
  • Learners develop mental muscle memory on new tasks and new procedures.
  • Learners show greater retention rates.
  • Learners are able to fail forward without real-world consequences. 
  • Learners can do things in VR/AR that they can’t do in real-life.

In a 2017 report that I authored titled “VR Learn: Virtual Reality in Learning” published by The Masie Center, I wrote, “Traditionally, the classroom has been a safe environment in which to learn. Learners sit for a lecture, aided by a textbook and perhaps some slides and movies. It’s a model that works, and in some cases, it’s still the best model. But traditional learning doesn’t transport you, evoke emotions, or give you control in a way that VR learning does.”

However, any type of new learning tool or new approach is considered a disruptor – no matter how good it is. In order to really merge new technologies into your classroom, you need to have a strategy. The key to using VR/AR as a learning tool is that it needs to be a blended learning environment, and you need to have a very deep understanding of how to leverage the technology with the least amount of disruption, the least amount of alienation of employees, and knowing how to strategically navigate any and all obstacles to make it work within the ecosystem of the learning or training.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt learning environments in K12, Higher Education, and the workforce, it is time that these environments start blending their classrooms with VR/AR technology. It doesn’t have to take over the learning all together, but it should be part of it.

K12 and Higher Education seem to be more open about immersive learning. Maybe this is because young learners adapt to new learning techniques better than adult learners or legacy learners (employees with 20+ years). These instructors are using VR/AR to transport young learners to the moon, and the edge of a volcano to engage them by using something as simple as Google Cardboard, while one school used SocialVR to connect a 5th grade classroom in China with an art instructor based in San Francisco. After all, young learners adapt to new learning techniques better than adult learners or legacy learners (employees with 20+ years). 

The coronavirus outbreak, as tragic as it is, is a much needed wakeup call that learning environments, companies of all sizes and industries, need to be more proactive about having a strategy in using VR/AR in their ecosystem. This is something that was broken down in a detailed report, “The XR ABC Framework” written by Ready Learner One co-founders Christine Lion-Bailey, Jesse Lubinsky, and Micah Shippee. 

The Ready Learner One team breaks down the strategy as follows:

  • They need to be able to absorb the VR/AR tool into their LMS and L&D. Have a deep understanding of where it works or doesn’t work, and develop a learning environment that is traditional, instructional design forward, and blends in immersive technology.
  • Have a strategy in blending in the technology with the least amount of disruption or alienating current employees or learners, and have a strategy on how to deliver knowledge to learners. 
  • Lastly they need to know how to expertly create a virtual learning environment that is scalable, has ROI and yields deep KPI data. More importantly, it needs to be a platform that will allow learning environments and companies the ability to continue the workflow on a day-to-day basis, or in this case during a crisis such as the coronavirus outbreak. 

VR/AR learning isn’t just for situations for coronavirus outbreak. It’s an everyday, everyone, everywhere solution for all learners in K12, Higher Education, and the workforce. It is a tool that is being used in many K12 and Higher Education environments and it will be the expectation in workforce learning in the very near future. In some cases, it’s how the workforce currently learns. 

While we hope that this will be the last time something like the coronavirus pandemic becomes a global disruptor in terms of everything we do, we must realize that anything is possible and that it’s best to be prepared. When it comes to using VR/AR in the learning environment, it’s the same thing – anything is possible. 

About the co-authors: Bobby Carlton is the Executive Director of Immersive Learning for Ready Learner One LLC and a writer for VRScout as well as being a guest writer for STRIVR and InSyncTraining. He is an expert in AR/VR technology in the workplace and for socialVR/AR. He has been a panelist and/or moderator in virtual events held in Engage, AltSpaceVR, and Mozilla Hubs as well as real world events such as Learning Conference, Training Magazines TechLearn and their Training Expo and Conference. Lastly, he has published works with AIXR and the Masie Center, and is the technology expert on the UK’s nationally syndicated TalkRadio and TalkSport. Follow Bobby on Twitter at @bcarlton727

Jesse Lubinsky is the Chief Learning Officer for Ready Learner One LLC. He is also is the co-author of Reality Bytes: Innovative Learning Using Augmented and Virtual Reality. He is a CoSN Certified Education Technology Leader, an Adjunct Professor of Education Technology at Pace University, a member of the Google Earth Education Experts team, and a frequent keynote speaker and presenter who has recently done educational technology presentations across North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Australia. Follow Jesse on Twitter at @jlubinsky.

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