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The Reality of Extended Reality in Learning and Development

What Is Extended Reality?

Extended reality (XR) is a catch-all term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), all of which include using a device to overlay interactive information or present virtual information in a 3D capacity.

  • VR: Offers a fictionalized space where the user wears a headset to enter and interact with the digital world through controllers or hand tracking
  • AR: Presents interactive, just-in-time, or as-needed information that is overlaid on real-world items
  • MR: Uses elements of both AR and VR on-site

The Rising Adoption of Extended Reality

We are starting to see more adoption of VR and an uptick in development for augmented programs and the metaverse. More tools are coming to market, more people are becoming familiar with the technology, and the cost or barrier of entry is dropping. As more people are working remotely, companies are asking themselves how XR might help bring people together and are exploring how they fit into their IT and learning environments.

Applications of Extended Reality in Learning: VR vs. AR

Many companies struggle when deciding which technology to use for which purpose. As we’ve been developing learning programs with elements of VR and AR, we’ve seen strengths in a few keys areas and applications.

Strengths of VR

VR is a great opportunity to allow someone to practice a skill they are unfamiliar with. Learning teams and designers can place the user into a fixed environment to learn about and practice a concept.

VR began in the learning environment as a way to onboard and orient new employees, but it has since become more nuanced. It can be an effective environment for both hard- and soft-skills adaptations and assessments where learners are demonstrating their ability to perform a task to open a valve, manipulate objects in a sequence, practice conversations with customers, or role-play.

Strengths of AR

The type of information offered through AR tends to be more valuable at the point of performance or at the moment of need. Learning teams and designers can create AR training and supporting information like interactive job aids to help a person needing a reminder during a task, to phone a friend or coach to collaborate or help with a task, and more.

The Efficacy of Extended Reality for Learning

Adoption of XR technologies has increased recently, with more XR tools available and learning programs happening in the industry, which is leading to more measurement. PwC recently published a study showing that learners were exponentially more engaged during VR experiences. One conclusion pointed to the VR headset creating an environment that is more focused with less opportunity for people to multitask. In addition, learners were more likely to complete an activity from beginning to end.

Additional studies and our own programs at GP Strategies are showing similar conclusions, supporting the case for XR learning programs and their effectiveness.

Challenges of Implementing Extended Reality

XR programs are not delivered the same way as eLearning, where one of the assumptions is that the learner has a laptop or desktop computer to access the program.

To deploy XR programs, companies need to build or supply some of the components, from acquiring headsets to the logistics of distributing and managing inventory. There are even options to rent headsets.

And more creative solutions are being developed every day. For an escape room experience during one of GP Strategies’ customer forums, we designed an experience that was distributed in a hybrid approach, where it could be accessed by headset or by desktop so learners could interact with the virtual host and VR environment in a few ways.

Another challenge is that companies need to orient learners to the technology itself, such as learning how to use the hand controllers and getting comfortable with the headset for the first time. Afterwards, it helps to debrief, talking about the experience and drawing parallels between the real world and the fictional world.

Developing for Extended Reality

Developing XR experiences requires new skillsets that will grow and develop over time. There are learning curves developers will go through, and the more teams use XR, the better the experiences will become.

In addition, it’s important to keep a balance of what is taught in the metaverse and virtual worlds with what is taught outside of them. Designers need to be mindful of the length and breadth of content. At the moment, many of our XR learning experiences range from 5 to 20 minutes and are used as part of a broader learning journey or learning experience.

The Future of Extended Reality

It’s unclear whether the future will mean new employees get a company-issued laptop and a company-issued VR headset. What is clear is that the technology is booming, the devices are more affordable, and AR toolkits are built into our phones. Being able to pull up a wearable device and use it on the job will become more and more expected by the learning audience. And as devices become more innovative and easier to use, obtain, and distribute, XR will become a more common and integrated tool within the work environment.

At the moment, we are in the infancy of XR. We are scratching the surface of the technology and its capabilities. Designers are getting better at developing XR experiences, and the tools are becoming more sophisticated to deliver them. We’ve seen companies rebrand around it. The question for the future is not whether the technology will be a part of the work environment, but to what degree.

For more on extended reality:

Podcast: XR and the Future of Workforce Transformation

Blog: Future Workplace: Viability of Virtual and Augmented Reality for Business and Learning Professionals

About the Authors

Tom Pizer
Director of Learning Technologies for GP Strategies Learning Solutions Group, has over 20 years of experience in the technical digital media field. He has an extensive background in a variety of creative and technical media, including digital media specification, production, testing, and implementation. During his career, Tom has created, specified, directed, and/or managed hundreds of hours of educational, instructional, and entertainment-based media and has served clients in a wide variety of markets including the federal government, trade associations, commercial organizations, and educational institutions. A key aspect of Tom’s responsibilities includes staying abreast of emerging technologies and in-tune with the latest development methodologies, standards, and practices. To this end, he takes part in monthly advisory meetings for several of GP Strategies clients to ensure that their courseware is of the highest caliber and meets rigorous development requirements. Tom is also the technical lead for several proprietary GP Strategies technologies that are designed to reduce overall development time while increasing the creativity and diversity of GP Strategies body of work.

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