Friday, January 27, 2017

Instructional Designers Can’t Handle Virtual Reality

Each time I scroll through my social media feeds, I come across numerous posts about virtual reality in training. “Is the hardware too expensive?” “Do learners get nauseated?” and the ubiquitous-but-missing-the-point, “Is it better than Augmented Reality?”

The answers to these questions don’t matter. They are moot. That’s because the vast majority of instructional designers don’t have the skills to build effective 3D immersive training content. It’s not their fault. For most of their careers they’ve worked in the linear 2D world of PowerPoint slides and eLearning authoring tools.

When IDs find themselves trying to create compelling scenarios, build interactions, and guide discovery in 3D immersive environments, they quickly learn that the difficulty of development and testing increases exponentially. Obviously, the time for the project increases dramatically too, and spare time is something no one has.

I know firsthand just how tough it is; I did it every day for nearly 3 years as the Head of Instructional Design at Caspian Learning, a company in the UK that specializes in 3D immersive learning. The team at Caspian (artists, PMs, IDs, coders) created award-winning 3D virtual reality. But here’s the thing: we had to dedicate ourselves 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. IDs can’t dip in and out of virtual reality development while juggling other projects – VR development requires focus.

But let’s say you’re determined to develop a virtual reality experience for training. Here's my high-level advice for IDs:

1.    Choose a scenario that is dangerous or costly to recreate in real life. VR provides a risk-free place for trainees to experiment and practice. If the scenario is not dangerous or costly, there’s probably a more cost-effective way to train.
2.    Choose a scenario that depends on the environment and objects, not on discussions with people. For example, “That building is on fire! Perform the tasks that will eliminate the danger to the school next door.”
3.    Prepare for disappointment. It takes millions and millions of dollars to make 3D video games like Call of Duty.
4.    Realize that training time will increase significantly as compared to 2D elearning. In a 3D environment, trainees have to explore much more to absorb the same amount of training content.
5.    Play 3D video games and note how the game guides your journey. Do characters tell you where to go? Do markers show what objects you must interact with? How does the game stop you from walking off into infinity?
6.    Determine how the game gives you feedback for correct and incorrect actions. Do you score points? Do you hear sounds? Do you get new objects? Become an expert in gaming elements.
7.    Drop trainees directly into the scenario – into the deep end. Avoid your natural ID inclination to offer tons of information up front. Virtual reality is great for letting learners experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t. The learning is much more effective this way.
8.    Get your head around the fact that learners will never do what you expect them to do. You will have to create barriers for every possibility. (Ouch.)
9.    Pilot. Pilot. Pilot. At each phase of development, have people try your scenario. Watch where they get stuck. Make changes. Note that this increases development time, but it’s so worthwhile.

I have a lot more advice about creating 3D training, but I’ll stop here.  Virtual reality can be very engaging and effective. But it’s A LOT of work. So don’t get caught up in the hype. Make sure you’re prepared for the realities of development – they are not virtual. They’re very real.