How AR/VR is about to change the face of elearning

So it might have been a flash in the pan, but you were either living under a rock or on the moon if you didn’t hear about 2016’s sweeping phenomenon known as Pokemon Go. Its popularity and pervasiveness has obviously diminished, but it had explosive adoption around July 2016.

The app used augmented reality (AR) to help users seek out, fight, and catch virtual Pokemon creatures in their nearby environments. It came out of nowhere and became a global phenomenon in the space of weeks, with millions of active users – of all ages, it should be noted – using the app on a regular basis.

So let’s bring that back to learning and development (L&D) and eLearning in general. Just as best-in-class companies seek out new technologies and modalities to use in order to get learners up to speed faster and more effectively, both AR and it’s cousin, virtual reality (VR) have entered the spectrum of tools employers are assessing.

The numbers show it too. In 2012 the spend on VR programs in eLearning was about $2.3 million in the US alone. With an anticipated five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23%, that spend is expected to reach $6.6 million in 2017.

There’s good reason for scrutiny about the potential of AR/VR. After all, the as-yet-undelivered promise of VR has been in the works since the early 1990s. However, VR has recently seen a surge in popular adoption and use, and is increasingly viewed by L&D departments as a great way of getting key training information to users quickly and effectively.

With that, let’s look at four reasons AR/VR is likely to change the landscape of eLearning.

1. It is exploding in growth

As alluded above, while AR and VR have only played a marginal role in L&D to date, they are on a growth trajectory and only positioned to increase their role in relevance. Previously, we lacked the right tools, technology, and processes to incorporate AR/VR into eLearning. That is swiftly changing.

Not to harp on the Pokemon Go example, but its quick adoption among a vast market helps demonstrate the potential of similar applications in a learning context. More on that later, but we know top deck organizations, in their never ending pursuit of employing different learning modalities in the workplace, are exploring options like these and succeeding at it. Even if AR/VR falls flat on its face (it won’t), market leaders are experimenting with the potential of these applications and tools, and curious, exploratory companies and L&D departments ought to take note.

In one example, we have seen learning leaders in Aviation and Defense take VR particularly seriously. And when you think about it, it is not that far off the simulation-driven model they have used for years to learn how to fly planes. Except in this case, in the vein of VR, it is a more highly immersive experience, since the pilot in training is limited to the field of vision of his virtual actions.

2. It is getting more and more affordable

This is key. A large part of what stymied the potential of VR in the 90s was the significant overhead cost of hardware, implementation, scalability, etc. It wasn’t cheap. But those costs have been heavily curtailed.

The quick-and-dirty approach involves using basic smartphones (which, as we all know, virtually – no pun intended – everyone has) and a simple headset to immerse a learner in an experience. We can scale up from there, but base costs of simple VR devices are actually quite reasonable and on a trajectory to decline.

Remember how drones used to seem like a costly, inaccessible technology and tool only a few years ago, and now everyone and their dog has one? Well, VR in learning is on a trajectory to change in the same way. No longer is cost an issue preventing L&D departments from investigating the potential of VR in eLearning.

3. Now is the time to start playing with it, but don’t go for broke

So we’ve talked about the prevalence of cheap options, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t expensive VR/AR options out there. Then, above and beyond the technology or hardware you choose to adopt, there is the means with which you implement it. Are you going to start small, with a test project? Or are you going to go big and adopt a master AR/VR strategy and implement it company wide?

Point is – and this is also my recommendation, especially looking at the maturity of the field at this point – start hard, but start small. Implement a test project with a very small, very targeted group of employees. Find some basic but effective hardware or even leverage existing devices alongside purchased headsets to discover what the learning approach offers. Talk to industry peers and experts to figure out, from a software perspective, what is the best way to go about it.

Ideally, it is important to have a (developing) grand VR/AR strategy in your back pocket. But don’t go big at the onset and make that strategy make or break your VR/AR success.

4. It’s fun

As I have often said, learner engagement is the weakest link in any L&D program. If your learners aren’t using the learning products provided to them, then your eLearning program is dead on arrival.

The great thing about VR/AR is that (unless they’re particularly poorly executed, and that takes effort), it makes for great learning experiences. It’s basically like gaming, which many of us like, apparently, but in preparation for a job and in the name of continual advancement and improvement. People love learning through VR/AR, as evinced by Pokemon Go, and they actually find it fun.

Think about this. How would you rather learn about your job requirements: through a stuffy, classroom-presented PowerPoint presentation, or through a simulation, on a device, that actually immersed you in the same situations you would have to deal with on the job, every day?

We’re really only at the beginning of the journey when it comes to the role of VR/AR in eLearning. Will you be an early adopter or a latecomer? Your choice, but it is worth exploring right now, while it is fresh. Your learners will thank you.

About the Author

Docebo LMS is the industry’s most comprehensive solution for training management, chosen by some of the world’s most respected companies to achieve operational efficiency. Designed as a true software as a service, Cloud-based platform, Docebo is not just an e-learning tool but is especially designed to be delivered in SaaS as an ecosystem of features and modules that can be adapted to any requirement. Docebo supports all forms of learning including blended, social and mobile learning initiatives.