Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Niall & Rachel's VR Odyssey - part 2 - Our Experiences with VR

Rachel Burnham writes: Over the last few months Niall Gavin and myself have been learning about VR and how it can be used to enhance learning experiences in the workplace. In our first blog post, we explained why we started out on this voyage of discovery and explained what VR is.   In this video and the accompanying blog posts we discuss our experiences of using VR.

The range of immersive experiences with VR - by Rachel Burnham

My experience of testing out VR

Over the last couple of months I have tried out a few different examples of VR, with varying degrees of immersion from a passive experience, right through to a fuller immersive experience where you could manipulate objects within the setting of the VR experience.  Each of these different levels of immersion made use of different equipment, which becomes progressive sophisticated and correspondingly increases in price. 

My first experience was to try out a pair of Google Cardboard Glasses, bought very cheaply and which played an app on my mobile phone.  For this example, I downloaded a free app from The National Autistic Society which allows you to briefly step into the shoes of someone with autism.  Once I was wearing the glasses and the app started playing, I found myself experiencing something of the overload of information which many people with autism experience, with loud noises and bright lights.  Although wearing the glasses, particularly over my ordinary pair of glasses was a bit awkward, I soon found myself concentrating on the 360 degree experience and realizing that as I moved my head I could move around within the scenario. 

The experience was short and afterwards I did feel a bit dizzy, but then I do experience vertigo and so stayed carefully sat down, whilst I reviewed the experience.  

I think this particular kind of VR experience could be an interesting and impactful addition to a face to face session – with this sort of topic, I think it would be useful to discuss the experience with other people to put it into a wider context and to work through the implications of this for your organisation.

I had a different, more interactive experience with VR, when I tried out two programmes by eLearning Studios.  These made use of rather more expensive VR glasses, with the addition of headphones, but which also utilized mobile phones to play the software.  With the first pair of VR glasses, I had some difficulty because of the large size of my ordinary glasses frame, but with a second type of VR glasses there was no problem at all.  

The first programme I tested out was a health and safety scenario, where a fire started within an office and you had to decide what steps to take.  The scenario was fast paced and  you had to make decisions along the way about what was the right action to take in response to a series of challenges posed such as what type of fire extinguisher to use.   It certainly got the adrenaline going and I can see how it could play a part in providing a repeated risk-free rehearsal of the steps to go through in this kind of stressful situation.

The second scenario provided an opportunity to rehearse in a very different kind of stressful situation – this time practicing a presentation in front of a large audience.   This time you could hear a heart pumping as you were about to step out onto the stage – I was convinced it was my own, but of course it actually was a recording.   Both of these programmes provided you with feedback on your performance and would enable you to practice repeatedly, enabling you to develop a smooth performance and thus improve your confidence.

The third type of VR experience was much more immersive and involved the wearing of glasses, earphones and handheld grips, so that you could actually operate and manipulate objects within the VR room, which amazing appeared around you.  In this test experience by Immerse Learning, you could lift and drop objects, open doors, unhook components and most dramatically also move inside the equipment you had been servicing, which was an odd but intriguing experience.  It allowed you to look at the equipment from an angle which you never could with the actual equipment! 

When I removed the glasses and unhooked myself after a few minutes in this ‘room’, I looked around and felt real surprise at not being able to see the room and objects which I had just been interacting with – that’s how real it felt!

After I had initially drafted this piece, I tried out some further VR experiences and one of these was a much less positive experience.   I had a go at VR simulation of driving a fork lift truck.  I immediately noticed how wobbly the visuals were for this and within a few seconds I started to feel very uncomfortable.  By 1.08 minute in, I decided to stop – but the damage was done and I had terrible motion sickness.  In fact, that brief experience was sufficient to trigger a migraine, which had me in a darkened room, despite my medication, for about 6 hours.  Not a pleasant experience!  I know that the best VR experiences don’t have this impact on me and other people, but clearly some VR experiences do, so shop around and ask questions of providers about their experience of this issue.

Why not read about Niall's experiences in his blog post?

Rachel Burnham

February/March 2017

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

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