You’re on a median on a busy city street. Cars zoom past on either side. Stoplights are changing color in the distance. A flag planted outside an office building waves in the wind.
However, everything in this city street is very quiet. Also, you can only turn in a circle; you can’t move forward or backward or side-to-side. Also…are those clickable buttons in the distance?
Surprise! You’re not on just any street. You’re on a street in a virtual reality-esque activity created by Allen for a city surveillance course.
The practicality of VR/AR in training
Virtual reality and its less immersive cousin, augmented reality, have long been touted as potential training technologies. Yet the instructional design industry is struggling to implement realistic, practical VR and AR solutions—perhaps because and not in spite of the buzz surrounding the technologies.
Look at it this way: many people have read or seen a sci-fi book or movie that uses VR as a plot device. It’s hard for them to take such science fiction geekery seriously and not just see it as a flashy “wow” factor. As for AR, well, with the advent of Pokémon GO this technology is being hailed as a lucrative new game medium. However, attempts to use augmented reality for mobile teaching (such as the constant flow of information fed by Google Glass) have largely failed.
With all the pressure, it may be surprising that Allen is committed to utilizing these new technologies in training. However, we believe that if properly tapped, the learning benefits from VR and AR are too enormous to overlook. Skills and information are best absorbed when they are learned in environments that are true to life. When a real-life environment is too costly or impossible to replicate (for example, a beginning cardiology student shouldn’t practice on a live patient), VR and AR can step in and make up the difference.
Take our virtual city street activity mentioned the beginning of the article. “We pitched VR and 360-degree video as a way to immerse learners in an environment and help them imagine themselves surrounded by a city benefiting from the product. So we use multiple 360-degree videos peppered with hotspots that contain instructional content. The videos essentially become the wrapper for the content and provide a good backdrop for contextualizing everything,” explains Allen instruction designer Travis Turner.
Although the activity definitely has that “wow” factor (in Travis’s words, it’s a “crown jewel” in the course), it’s also meant to have a specific impact on learning. “The instructional purpose is increasing learner excitement and engagement,” says Travis. When the learners are placed in a virtual version of this familiar, real-life environment, they are excited yet comfortable. They more clearly envision how a security offering benefits the places they most care about.
The activity doesn’t require any fancy sci-fi equipment to complete, and it’s no more complicated to use than a basic PC game. Yet the learner value is enormous! If you’re interested in using VR or AR for training but are discouraged by the complications and the naysayers, a simple activity like this might be the way to go.
We’re pleased that our first foray into VR turned out well, but for Allen, this is only the beginning. We look forward to finding other opportunities for implementing VR and AR solutions into our training. Our Technical Services VP even started a virtual reality club that’s open to everyone in our company! It’s clear to everyone at Allen that VR and AR aren’t just passing fads for us—they’re technologies we’re going to seriously explore.