VR – What does this mean to the future of eLearning ..?

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

Yesterday Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset went on sale for pre-orders – that means right now, for £499, you can buy a virtual reality headset, which will arrive on your doorstep in March. Very soon we’ll also see HTC’s Vive go on sale, and Sony’s Playstation VR shouldn’t be far behind.

So just 6 days in to 2016, it looks like consumer VR is going to be a pretty big deal this year. The price point is probably a little high for the average consumer or gamer, and probably more appropriate for geeks and tinkerers right now, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see very high sales of these systems this year. The fact that these companies didn’t rush to ship in time for Christmas 2015 is a strong indicator that they have taken the time to make sure they’ve got a product which is actually really good – this is important because bad VR can cause motion sickness and headaches. With the first generation of consumer VR systems, these problems are understood to be solved.

So as a variety of VR systems fall into the hands of consumers across the world, and virtual reality experiences become something which many people have tried, and will even to some extent become quite ordinary… what does this mean for eLearning?

Why would we need VR for eLearning?

Me trying out the Oculus DK2 in January 2015

Last year I tried the Oculus Rift development kit 2. The system was impressively immersive, if a little dizzying and in quite desperate need of a higher resolution screen. But my overall impressions were that the system was actually really quite good, and with a little refinement – which the Oculus has now had – it could create really compelling virtual reality experiences.

But it wasn’t really the hardware that sold me on VR. It was Titans of Space. Titans of Space is “a short guided tour of a few planets and stars”, but that guided tour just so happens to take place in a virtual reality spaceship. It’s very educational, as the spaceship displays information about the planet or star your viewing to the passenger as you fly around, but more importantly, it’s really, really engaging. I remember learning about the planets in school from a chart on the wall. Which is more interesting to a learner, this:

Image from Amazon

Or this?

Image from Titan’s of Space VR

To me, and definitely to 8-year old me back in school learning about the planets, it’s the one where I’m flying around in a space ship. Without a doubt.

Engaging content is what we aspire for in the eLearning world. When we’re creating corporate content about basic health and safety for compliance purposes, lets be honest, making that engaging can be difficult. There are lots of ways to make learning more engaging. My favourite approach is to direct learners to a variety of learning resources that they can explore at their own pace – this is a really natural way to learn, and it means they can focus on areas that are most relevant to their role, making it inherently more interesting. It’s also an extremely cost-effective way to create engaging online learning.

But think of the potential that VR unlocks. And now, for just £499, any organisation’s Learning and Development team can purchase a VR headset that learners can use to access this content.

But is developing VR training content is going to be too expensive? Well, it won’t be cheap, but for non-niche subjects like fire safety, developing a VR experience that can be used by many organisations could certainly be financially viable. And using open source engines and basic modelling software like Google Sketchup, I'm confident that creating a simple VR environment will soon be quite straightforward for even a lone eLearning developer.

Here’s a great example:

This was developed by ECS to train workers about safety on the highly dangerous oil rig environments, so that staff understand the environment before they actually go there. Adapting this for VR would be very straightforward.

There’s also the idea of the virtual classroom, which can be taken to the next level with a VR headset:

I admit, right now, this looks a bit weird. But VR meeting spaces will no doubt be an interesting area of development this year, and there’s no reason why this couldn’t be applied to the Learning and Development world.

It’s early days, but are you prepared?

There’s a lot to happen yet. Consumer Virtual Reality headsets are yet to ship, and and what rate the Learning and Development world adopts this remains to be seen. (Although I will be very surprised if we don’t see some companies showing VR demos at Learning Technologies this year!)

One thing I can say though is that as a Learning and Development professional, I’d advise keeping an eye on this trend, and being prepared for it. The cost of admittance to the VR world is actually quite low, and as VR becomes more commonplace, those web browser-based eLearning packages we’re used to building will start to feel very dated very quickly.

Is your Learning Management System (LMS) up to the task of handling these new learning experiences? If you use a closed-source vendor driven LMS, you might get stuck waiting for the vendor to implement support for these kinds of experiences, which would be frustrating.

As a Learning Systems Consultant, I work with Totara LMS. Why Totara? Totara is open source, which means it’s easy for any developer to add to it, and share developments with the wider user community. Adding in support for a VR experience in an existing online course will be really easy in Totara, and I hope that we’ll see a Totara user somewhere start experimenting with VR learning experiences this year.

Technology is always moving so fast; it can be hard to keep up! By working with Totara, I’m confident our clients have a future-proof system that will be able to stay up with the latest trends and handle exciting developments in the Learning and Development world.

Does your organisation need a Learning Management System, or do you just want to switch to a better, more versatile and open source LMS?

Learning Management. Solved.

Chambury Learning Solutions is a Totara Platinum Partner specialising in Learning Management systems (LMS) and eLearning content development. Get in touch.