Creating VR Learning Experiences
Virtual Reality (VR) will play a major role in the future of experiential learning. In part two of our conversation with Sozo Labs CEO Jason Haddock, we explore the myths of VR and learn how organizations can best put this tool into action to improve learning and retention.
Show Notes: VR expert and frontier technologist Jason Haddock shared the following about using VR in training.
- VR has the potential to be a game-changer in modern education - the first technology that has the ability to fundamentally change the way we learn.
- VR is a proven way of addressing some of the critical obstacles to building highly skilled, confident and effective employees at scale, all without dramatically high costs.
- Technology should be a tool that allows you to do something in a more efficient and engaging way.
- VR can revolutionize how learners experience soft skills training.
Listen to Part One of our interview with Jason Haddock, The Opportunities and Challenges of VR.
Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.
Susan Cort: Virtual reality helps organizations train team members in an efficient and engaging way. But what should you consider before you start using VR?
Jason Haddock: I would definitely never advocate for someone to replace their existing learning with VR for the sake of adopting VR. There's two opportunities. Where there is no solution in place, then VR can bridge those two worlds. VR can essentially take you on an applied learning journey where you learn the theory visually and then you apply what you have learned in VR.
Susan: That's our guest Jason Haddock, CEO of Sozo Labs. Jason will explain how today's new immersive tech can help solve some old training problems, next on Powered by Learning.
Voiceover: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. d'Vinci's approach to learning is grounded in 30 years of innovation and expertise. We use proven strategies [00:01:00] and leading technology to develop solutions that empower learners to improve quality and boost performance. Learn more at dvinci.com.
Susan: With me today are d'Vinci CEO Luke Kempski and our guest Jason Haddock, CEO of Sozo Labs. Sozo Labs uses virtual and augmented reality solutions, apps, and gamification to build immersive learning experiences that get results. Welcome back to Powered by Learning, Jason.
Luke Kempski: Glad to have you back, Jason.
Jason Haddock: Great to be back, and thank you, guys, for having me back.
Susan: There's so much to go over. In part one of our interview, we chatted a lot about some of the opportunities and challenges of using VR in education. Today we want to focus on how our listeners can leverage VR in their learning experiences. Jason, start out by busting some of the myths about VR. What are some of the common things that you hear?
Jason: I think the biggest one, obviously, is that VR is very expensive. I think that was relevant maybe five, six years ago. The cost of VR technology, I think, is largely driven by consumer behavior [00:02:00] and this isn't the first time consumerism has had a significant impact on our kind of business technology. The price point has come down to the point where it's a very accessible technology.
The second part is that it really only has a place in the entertainment industry and the gaming world and that it's not a real business tool. I think, although it has largely kind of found a place in the entertainment industry, there's more and more serious applications being built in virtual reality and real, real return on investment metrics that are being realized from virtual reality experiences. There's some other smaller ones that I think are worth talking about.
I think a lot of people, when they think about virtual reality, think that you need a big, expensive computer to run a virtual reality simulation, which again was very much the case five, six years ago. You would need a big [00:03:00] machine with a pretty powerful graphics card and then you would have this VR headset that was tethered to the computer so there was a big cable running from the computer to your headset.
Nowadays, like many things, the technology has now become untethered. You can pretty much have a just plain VR headset that doesn't need any access to a computer that runs without any cables running from your headset. It's making you even more mobile. I think those are a few of the more common myths.
Maybe a fourth one to mention is that building solutions in VR is also quite expensive. Again, I think there's varying degrees; you can build things cheaply and you can build things expensively. Often, that depends around what is the quality you're looking for. It's that old project management triangle of budgets, time, and quality. If you're looking for like a really kind of sexy solution, whether it's a virtual reality [00:04:00] experience, an app or a website, it's going to cost the organization money. For me, that is very much a misnomer. VR doesn't have to be expensive. Like any technology, there's cost-effective ways to build a VR solution.
Luke: Very much a value-based decision in the end. What's the return you're going to get from the investment? Tell us a little bit about Sozo Labs and how you partner with clients. If you had the perfect client, what would they do before you came in to consult with them to be ready to talk about potential VR applications in their organization?
Jason: Let's start with Sozo. We are a bunch of software development engineers. I think where we have maybe gone in a different direction from most companies is that most companies will be gaming companies who just so happen to build augmented and virtual reality solutions because it generally tends to use the same underlying technology. You build VR and AR applications on gaming platforms [00:05:00] because there's a lot of physics involved in building virtual and augmented reality applications.
We're an engineering-based company, part of a larger engineering group that's done some pretty impressive technology, everything from space technology that's being used by SpaceX to satellite radar technology that's being used by the Square Kilometer Array, which is the largest radio satellite installation on the planet. So we've got big shoes to fill.
What we generally tend to do is when we come and speak to a customer, I think sometimes we catch them a little bit by surprise because before we even start talking about virtual reality, we start first by understanding the business and understanding where their problems and pain points are. We want to be able to kind of partner. Now, in terms of a customer, we're looking for a mad genius, someone who's ready to take over the world. Small rodents, whose name is The Brain, would be a good candidate.
Seriously, I think there's a little bit of risk-taking [00:06:00] in these kinds of immersive technologies. We always talk about looking for the brave kind of innovative leader is our best type of customer. Someone who understands the technology, has tinkered or played with it a little bit, who really understands the problems that they're trying to solve. And then takes that informed logical leap of faith knowing that there is a potential for virtual reality to help solve this problem.
In terms of, I think, what we need from this, from the people and it's not a prerequisite, but just understanding the organization that you're in, where the real challenges, where the real opportunities lie and to be able to be a storyteller about your company is a really powerful thing, because stories capture imagination, they have power.
Luke: That's great. I think the last time we spoke, you talked about not converting existing training that's more presentation or theoretical, [00:07:00] and to really look at the 70% of training that happens more on the job or hands-on or informally, and look at that for the opportunities for applications for VR. If you could talk a little about how a learning leader should think about VR in the context of a comprehensive learning solution, using different modalities that they're already in use, and where VR can fit in that.
Jason: I think VR is a tool that can be part of what I like to refer to as a blended learning model. I would definitely never advocate for someone to replace their existing learning with VR for the sake of adopting VR. There's two opportunities. Where there is no solution in place, then VR can bridge those two worlds. VR can essentially take you on an applied learning journey, where you learn this theory visually and then you apply what you have learned in VR, and that's where the controllers come into play. The problem with most learning is [00:08:00] that you're a passive observer in that journey.
I think it's, and I may get these percentages wrong, but I think knowledge retention in textbooks is 5%, in the classroom is 10%, and videos 20%. Now, when you compare that to virtual reality, which has a 75% average knowledge retention, that's so high because it's through the application of learning. It's why, like recently, I picked up a mountain bike again, and I hadn't ridden for probably 15 years, but I didn't need to go and re-study and re-learn how to ride a bike. It was kind of ingrained into me because I learned applied learning.
In the case of where companies should be looking to adapt or integrate virtual reality learning is in the application space. Where can I see areas where learning can be applied that would increase confidence, that would help speed up my journey towards mastery? In the hard skills space, it's by being able to tangibly do the things [00:09:00] that I'm going to be doing on the job, so that by the time I've finished the VR experience, someone would look at me and go, wow, almost like they've done this before, and that's because you have in virtual reality.
In the soft skills space, it's being able to practice, and like we talked about going from role-play to real-play, it's through that practice makes perfect. Doing it again and again and again, so that by the time you're in that high-stakes real situation, and that often comes with time and with mastery. What virtual reality technologies can do is they can help accelerate that uncomfortable phase from moving from applied, like rote learning, to applied learning, to ultimately mastery and adaptability, which are going to be the new superpowers in the future world of work.
Luke: Yes, that's really great. I wonder if you could kind of take just a slightly different perspective on what you were just talking about, and look at it from an instructional designer standpoint, so somebody who's really responsible for designing learning solutions. How should they think about where VR fits [00:10:00] into both their instructional design process and to the outcomes that they're trying to achieve?
Jason: I talk about moving from a course to an experience when we move from traditional learning management type tools like one pages or manuals or videos. With the challenge, I think with instructional designers moving into virtual reality is that suddenly you become more of a filmmaker. You kind of have to think about the experience you're trying to create, the learning journey and the learning experience.
One of the best tools is to take a tool from the film industry and we use a lot of storyboarding. We make the learning journey quite visual. Because you might say, but you can create a storyboard for a video as well, you absolutely can. Now suddenly the video becomes interactive. So now you're elevating what that storyboard is, it's not just a passive linear journey. [00:11:00] You’ve suddenly got to think about, well, what are all their interactions? What are all the things that this person can do? And you need to think very carefully about the human behavior. It's suddenly you're introducing a chaotic element into your learning journey, which is [unintelligible 00:11:17] the learner.
What I mean by that, I'll give an example, is you can think about every single eventuality of teaching someone, say, for example, you're going to teach someone how to fix an airplane's fuel system. You go through this whole process of thinking, well, what's involved in fixing the airplane fuel system? I've got to make sure there's no air in the fuel tank, I've got to do a gravity thing, whatever it ends up being. So it’s like, those super cool guys, garages, where they have that board at the back and they've literally outlined every single tool and where every single tool goes. And you're like, "What to do you think, man? I want to do that,” but you never find the time.
We did one of those and we also testing color blindness. You had to link [00:12:00] the color of the tool with the color of the outline as well. The developer was really, really proud of what they did. I remember the first time I went in there, I took one of the tools and I threw it over the side of this blast furnace that we had created and the tool was gone. I took off my headset and I go, "Okay, so what do I do now?" I've never seen someone who is more depressed at what I had just done. It's like I had literally shattered his world. He's like, "Why did you do that? You've broken my precious labor of love."
When you're an instructional designer thinking of building VR solutions, you're not just thinking about what are the learning outcomes I need to achieve and how do I create a journey to get there as quickly as possible. You've got to understand that you're building in this world that's alive where you've got to factor in everything that this human could do in that process and really think about how to define that or design that process.
At the end of the day, the most successful learning is where [00:13:00] we can suspend our brains from the difference between the virtual and the real world. Where actually what we're in is no different from the real world because we feel the same level of, the stakes are high here, that there's a level of importance and significance to this learning. Again, as an instructional designer, what that means is you've got to be very careful that you don't break that reality barrier.
What I mean by that is if I'm in a factory and I have to set the settings on a machine, and then suddenly I go into a virtual reality experience, and instead now, what I'm doing is I'm setting those settings on a floating panel in front of me, it breaks the reality. When you start to create the interactable ways that you work with a virtual reality experience, you've got to try and do it in a way that replicates the real world.
There's a whole industry out there called the user experience industry, and they've spent many, many years trying to come up with these patterns and practices for user experience [00:14:00] behavior and how to create these frictionless experiences. VR takes that one level further because now you've got to go from basically frictionless user experience to invisible user experiences where you're interacting with things that feel no different than if you were using them in the real world. I think the instructional designers of the future need to be part scriptwriters, part instructional designers, part cinematographers, and part user experience engineers. It's really elevating that experience.
Luke: For sure. A fun challenge to be able to blend all of those, and I'm sure one that a lot of instructional designers will be excited to take on when they get the opportunity. Building on what you were talking about, when you think about what approach to take when you're using VR to simulate a human interaction, do you look at using actors or do you look at using avatars? Do you see one as being more beneficial than the other, both from [00:15:00] a development perspective and from a learning outcome experience outcome perspective?
Jason: The answer to that question really depends on how interactive you want the experience to be because the challenge with the technology at the moment is that a lot of headsets are not as powerful as computers. If you want to have photorealistic experiences, then you're probably looking at 360 video. Video is by nature not an interactive experience. What I've seen how people almost work within that constraints is that they'll have the 360 video and then they'll have a user interface in front of you, which will be the way that you interact with that environment. Your voice will pop up, which again breaks that level of immersion.
What we generally try and do is we often use avatars for that interaction. Again, there's so many different things you can do there. Historically, the challenge you have had with avatars is that, again, as little as maybe three or four years ago, [00:16:00] you had quite a mammoth task. You'd have a Pixar Studios level challenge in front of you, being able to get the voice actor in to do all the voice recordings, getting the 3D animator in to animate this character, have a 3D modeler in to rig this character. That would involve hundreds of hours. Having been in the animation industry for a short period of time, I could see exactly how costly that exercise and how time-consuming that exercise was.
So, enter the basic piece of the knight in shining armor, artificial intelligence, and it's fundamentally changed the way that we started looking at this. There are solutions where you can take a photograph and have a almost photorealistic avatar created of that person, which of course is quite a controversial thing because now there's a whole copyright industry about what happens if you use someone else's voice. You can either use one of the standard voices, you can take the founder of the company and you can use their voice.
So there's a whole bunch of different things you can do, [00:17:00] which are making it really cost-effective to create these immersive experiences where you can have these live avatars speaking to you directly in the experience. And we're actually doing one of those at the moment. We've used a platform called Ready Player Me, which allows us to create these avatars. We use a tool called DeepMotion, which allows us to replicate these animations with simple live-action shots. And then we have something called Murf, which is our text-to-speech tool. We kind of use all of these, smush them together, which I think is a technical term, and out comes this kind of odd immersive experience of this person talking to you in a virtual reality environment.
Susan: We're actually avatars, Jason. I don't know if you've picked up on that.
Jason: I suspected it.
Luke: Thanks for sharing that experience. Have you incorporated gamification into any of the serious learning applications that you've developed, or [00:18:00] how do you think about potential for putting gamification elements into learning experiences in VR?
Jason: We're about to go into Episode 3 here, so I have to contain myself. Gamification is a big passion of mine. It's got to the stage where I don't consciously think about whether I'm introducing gamification into experiences that just naturally happen. Why I like gamification is because actually gamification is more [unintelligible 00:18:27] on behavioral economics, behavioral patterns, and practices.
There's really, for me, whenever I think of gamification, I think of four axes. On the one hand, you've got how we're motivated or what motivates us. Everything from kind of extrinsic, like what are the tangible things that motivate us, to the intrinsic, like what are the really deep-seated things that motivate us? I always make sure that we fit in both of those in learning outcomes. The typical types of extrinsic are things like points, badges, leader boards, or prizes but the [00:19:00] intrinsic is kind of the reason that people do it in the first place.
The problem with most ramifications, it's too heavily on the extrinsic. You compete against people, you get scores, you level up, you get badges. That's not the reason you learn. The reason you learn is that there's a goal, there's an outcome, we're motivated positively and negatively. Some of us are more likely to change our behaviors through positive motivation. Things like, do it because it's the right thing to do. Do it because you will change the world. Do it because it's going to lead to better long-term results. In reality, most of us are motivated negatively. We're motivated because-- FOMO is a great example. That fear of missing out, that motivates us like nothing else. That scarcity of like, "There's only five people that are going to get in here. Okay, I better get going then." I think gamification definitely has a place in the most of technology, I also believe gamification has a place in everything.
At the end of the day, anybody [00:20:00] who says anything that's designed in the world today just doesn't have some elements of gamification isn't looking hard enough, because gamification, it’s in everything we do. Because, at the end of the day, everything we do motivates us in some way. It's a question of whether we are getting the right output of that motivation. In other words, what's the positive behavior change that we want to see out the process? And are we looking at a solution where we're getting the opposite effect because the motivational levers are actually encouraging people to give up or different direction?
Like I said, this could be Episode 3, but gamification for me is absolutely a resounding yes. It's something that I think should be in every single learning journey. We've seen examples of many learning apps that use gamification very successfully. All I would encourage people to do is just don't fall into the trap of thinking gamification is giving people points, letting them earn badges, or creating competition with leaderboards because that more often than not demotivates people. [00:21:00] It's about reminding people why they're on this learning journey, and giving them subtle nudges to get them past the hump, so that they can actually realize that ultimate positive behavior changes that they want to see from that learning outcome.
Luke: Absolutely. To get them to keep practicing, to keep trying to get to the next level.
Susan: Jason, you can certainly see the impact that VR could have in the future of education. If you want to have our listeners have one takeaway, what would you leave them with, just to kind of sum this up? We do have to have you back for episodes three, four, and five I think, but, what is the tidbit you'd really like them to think about?
Jason: There's a real place for virtual reality. There's opportunity in every business today whether it be anything from getting the salespeople to kind of be more effective, improving customer service, to making people more efficient and effective, to optimizing processes. We haven't even talked about digital trends, but there's so many different scenarios where I think this technology plays a role, and I [00:22:00] would encourage everybody to just try it.
If you haven't put on the VR headset yet, go and find a friend who has a VR headset, or go down to the basement in your building to those creepy IT guys who probably have some lying around, and just try it. Just think about how you can start to apply some of that stuff in the way that people learn. I've never seen anybody who's put on a VR headset, who hasn't come out in the state of awe, inspired by all the new cool things that you can do with this technology. And then when you are sitting in that space and you're thinking, wow, I really want to do something for me, and I'll show you how to get real business value out of that.
Susan: The possibilities are endless for sure and we'll make sure that we put your contact information in the show notes of the episode so people can reach out to you. Jason Haddock, thank you for sharing your insights and for talking with us today.
Luke: Thanks so much for inspiring us, and our audience for sure.
Jason: Thank you, guys. It's been great and I believe that Winnie Jones said it best [00:23:00] when he said, “It's been emotional.”
Luke: There you go.
Susan: Luke, Jason gave our listeners an awful lot to think about, about how to use VR and learning experiences. What are some of your takeaways?
Luke: Great to talk to Jason again. Key takeaways, use VR to impact applied learning and practice. You can get people ready to be on the job faster, making it take less time, making it better. That's what you can do with VR simulations that you can't really do effectively with other training modalities. He also had some points for instructional design, that you're really, absolutely creating experiences. You’re an experience designer now in a virtual environment, it's very different than two-dimensional learning design. It's interactions within an environment, it's not really content delivery, it's experience design.
You really do need to use storyboards to kind of map out what you want to do before you start designing those experiences. It's really a different environment [00:24:00] for doing storyboarding as well. When you're doing VR to simulate interactions with people, Jason really recommends using avatars rather than trying to do 3D videos. It gives the instructional designer and the learning experience a lot more flexibility with avatars and making variations in characters and in voice inflections and in all kinds of things that you can do there.
Susan: Neat to think too that it's not just for hard skills, it's those soft skills that can be taught using VR as well.
Luke: Absolutely. I also like how he was talking about applying gamification in VR, not like badges and scoring, but really kind of empowering the learner to feel like they're able to control the environment or they're able to win by having a great conversation, a simulated conversation with a prospective employee or with a patient if they're a doctor or they're able to prevent a fire in a workplace or something like that. It can really make it feel like you're winning a game.
Susan: Yes, you're building that confidence and that competency and that helps people perform better, [00:25:00] helps with retention. It's definitely a win-win when you can find those use cases for using VR and learning experiences.
Luke: It really feels like VR is at the beginning of increased adoption. I don't think it'll be like this big inflection point where kind of everybody's doing it or you're using it for everything. I don't think that would be smart or effective, but you are seeing it starting to get adopted by more and more industries and for more and more applications where it really makes sense. It can earn that kind of return on investment.
Susan: Much more to learn about this. I'm sure we'll be discussing this again on Powered By Learning. Thanks a lot, Luke, appreciate it. And special thanks to our guest, Jason Haddock, CEO of Sozo Labs.
If you have any suggestions for a topic or you'd like to be a guest on Powered By Learning, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget that you can subscribe to our podcast wherever you're listening to us now.
By Luke Kempski, CEO
d'Vinci Interactive is an award-winning comprehensive learning solutions provider for corporate, government, medical, non-profit, and K-12 target markets.