Posted tagged ‘corporate’

3 uses of Virtual Reality in workplace education

19 July 2016

I’m always surprised when someone makes a sweeping declaration such as “No one’s using virtual reality in the workplace”. I heard this very statement recently at an e-learning conference. Yep, an e-learning conference.

Sure, VR is an emerging technology, but as 20 real-world examples of Virtual Reality can attest, early adopters are indeed putting it to use in the workplace.

I suspect the dismissiveness among some of our peers stems from their uncertainty about how they might apply it in their own contexts – particularly if that context is corporate.

However, I propose the opportunities for using virtual reality in the workplace – or more specifically, in workplace education – remain consistent across sectors according to the 3 use types that I outline below.

We corporate folks can learn from our peers in other sectors who are pursuing these uses, and translate their ideas in our own workplaces. All it takes is a bit of imagination.

1. Virtual reality can substitute the real environment.

Virtual reality may be a feasible alternative when the real thing is infeasible – perhaps due to expense, logistics, or sheer impossibility.

Exemplars that spring to mind include: Google Expeditions which teleports you to wonderful places like Machu Picchu; VR Mars which let’s you walk on the surface of the red planet; and The Body VR which takes you for a ride through the human circulatory system.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see myself visiting any of these places anytime soon. But I can visit a duplicated environment now, virtually. Of course I’m not really there, but it’s the next best thing.

This substitutive use of VR is being leveraged by a range of players in the workplace. For example, real estate agents offer virtual property tours; hotels show off their rooms; while architects visualise their designs (and modify them quickly and cheaply). The technology allows us – their customers – to experience each environment without having to physically go there.

Similar applications are more difficult to envisage in corporate L&D, so my advice is to return to the value proposition of the substitutive use of VR. Ask yourself: where would you like your colleagues to visit though it is currently infeasible to do so?

In my case, my employer is currently trialling new-look “concept stores” to transform the provision of financial advice. This strategic imperative relates to the overarching transformation of our organisation, so it’d be great if all our employees (and prospective customers!) could experience our flagship store in-person. But with people in different locations all over the world, that’s never going to happen. A 360° virtual tour is a feasible alternative.

2. Virtual reality can prepare you for the real environment.

Virtual reality can be the first port of call when the real thing is high stakes – perhaps because it’s dangerous, emotionally charged, or financially sensitive.

Flight simulators are the obvious exemplar of this use of VR. These systems enable trainee pilots to test their skills and learn from failure in a replicated environment, without the fear of losing their life or causing millions of dollars worth of damage.

This preparatory use of VR is also being leveraged by a range of players in the workplace. For example, engineers preview the hazards of mining; electricians manipulate high-voltage switches; while someone I know in a rural fire service is looking into using 360° video to help volunteer firefighters get a sense of what to expect in a bushfire.

Again, similar applications are more difficult to envisage in corporate L&D, so my advice is to return to the value proposition of the preparatory use of VR. Ask yourself: what will your colleagues be doing that is high-stakes? Bearing in mind that in the corporate sense, “high stakes” is probably financial.

In my case, my employer is progressively remodelling our office building into an Activity Based Working environment. This represents a significant shift in how we go about our day-to-day business, so the project team has been running regular group tours to prepare each batch of employees who are scheduled to occupy the newly decked-out floors. I dare not calculate how many hours multiplied by the number of tour leaders and tour followers have been spent on this. A 360° virtual tour would have allowed everyone to learn the basics at their own pace at their own desk, without any loss of learning outcome.

3. Virtual reality can foster empathy.

Finally, but no less importantly, virtual reality can foster empathy by putting you in another person’s shoes.

An exemplar that springs to mind is Fear of the Sky which uses 360° photos to immerse you in Syrian towns ravaged by barrel bombs.

This empathic use of VR is also being leveraged by players in the workplace. For example, doctors experience the hospital system as an emergency patient; while aged care workers see life through the eyes of someone with dementia.

The need for empathy is not restricted to charity and healthcare. Consider a retail environment in which your sales people can interact with a virtual customer, then have them replay that experience through the eyes of the customer. I also see an opportunity with VR for police officers to experience what it’s like to be hassled on the street, and conversely, for the public to appreciate what it’s like to be a police officer.

Returning to the corporate sector, ask yourself: where are the social interactions? In my workplace, the retail sales example that I suggested could be similarly applied to financial advisers, while our claims assessors would benefit from experiencing our company in the shoes of a grieving claimant. Then there are meetings, presentations, performance appraisals, and myriad other scenarios to simulate.

VR headset

In summary, sweeping statements such as “No one’s using virtual reality in the workplace” are nonsensical. Plenty of people are using the technology in their workplaces, and they are doing so according to 3 use types.

The substitutive use of VR allows us to experience an environment without having to go to there; the preparatory use of VR allows us to experience an environment before we go there; while the empathic use of VR allows us to experience our own environment as someone else.

I encourage you to consider how you might explore each of these use types in your own workplace.

In the meantime, those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of those doing it.

Clarifying the extension

10 May 2016

Extended Enterprise Training (EET) is a term that was introduced to me by Don Presant in response to my previous blog post Educate everyone.

EET is poised to become the “next big thing” in corporate L&D, but what is it exactly? Most sources I’ve looked up agree with Webanywhere’s definition of the term:

Extended Enterprise Learning is any training that is provided to learners outside of your organization. The training could be targeted at dealers, channel distribution partners, suppliers, resellers, franchisees, and even your customers.

I don’t disagree with this definition, but I do wish to provoke deeper thinking by challenging it.

Inigo Montoya

Take franchisees as the first talking point. I consider it a stretch to think of them as being outside of your organisation. Sure, they might not be on your payroll, but my local McDonalds is a part of the universal Golden Arches empire. I bet my Big Mac that Ronald says so too.

I put dealers in the same basket. Indeed, the folks in Aichi Prefecture don’t pay the sales guy at my local Toyota dealership out of their own pockets, but they’d choke on their saké at the suggestion he didn’t belong to the Toyota family. And rightly so.

Partners, suppliers, resellers… these make much more sense to me. And I would replace “even your customers” with “especially your customers” – as that’s where I believe the untapped upside of EET lay.

So I guess my argument relies on the concept of brand. To me, anyone doing business wearing your logo is a part of your organisation, whether you pay them or not. Anyone doing business with you or for you, without wearing your logo, is not a part of your organisation.

I hereby propose EET applies to the latter.

Educate everyone

19 April 2016

My all-time favourite example of augmented reality has been reinvented.

When I first saw BMW’s augmented reality glasses on YouTube over 8 years ago, I was excited. It heralded a new dawn in educational technology. A golden age in which learning & performance would be transformed.

Then… nothing.

For years afterwards, augmented reality seemed to be trapped in the mystical realm of what it “could” do in the future. Indeed it offered amazing potential, but with too few examples of the technology in use, not much reality was really being augmented.

More recently, Google Glass has been making in-roads, though I consider it more of a data display device than an AR headset. And Microsoft’s work on HoloLens is truly inspiring, but it’s not quite ready yet.

Then… BOOM!

At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Hyundai unveiled its Virtual Guide. Overnight, the Korean boffins made BMW’s augmented reality glasses a reality for the rest of us.

Now, I use the term “overnight” with poetic licence. Hyundai actually unveiled its AR app in the previous year. And yes, there have been other practical applications of AR done by other companies. Heck, they’re not even the first car maker to do it.

But all that is moot, because the point is this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been impressed by a mainstream brand. To me, Hyundai stands out from the myriad other car makers as a leader – not only in innovation, but also in customer service.

I compare them to Honda, for example, whose Civic can’t even play the songs on my Samsung smartphone.

Surprised koala

Hyundai’s app prompted me to consider the relationship between e-learning and marketing in the corporate domain.

Traditionally, e-learning (along with the rest of L&D) is inward focused; its specialists are charged with developing the capability of the organisation’s employees. In contrast, marketing is outward focused; its specialists are charged with attracting more customers.

Indeed there has been consideration of combining marketing with e-learning to promote and motivate employee development, but how about the reverse? How about combining e-learning with marketing to engage customers?

As Hyundai has demonstrated, e-learning can be used as a vehicle to establish a leadership position for the brand. Yet it can do more.

Consider an insurance company. Like cars, this is another sector that is usually considered boring by the general public and faces stiff competition. How about another TV advertisement featuring a loving family and a dog and… yawn… sorry, I can’t be bothered finishing this sentence.

Instead, how about a customer education strategy that teaches the public the fundamentals of insurance, providing a clear explanation of the concept, untangling its mind-boggling options and variations, ultimately helping regular folks like you and me make better decisions about our finances.

The strategy might involve a YouTube channel, an expert-authored blog, a moderated discussion forum, a free webinar series, a corporate MOOC… all open to the public.

Could someone consume your wonderful content and buy their insurance from someone else? Of course, some people base their purchasing decisions solely on price. But many don’t. With the trust and goodwill your education generates, I’d wager that plenty of prospective customers will prefer the brand that empowered them.

At the very least, you’d attract more customers with an education strategy than without one.

So don’t just educate your staff. Educate everyone.

20 real-world examples of Virtual Reality

22 March 2016

The inaugural Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week launched earlier this month. It’s something I started up almost on a whim to promote real-world applications of virtual reality.

There’s plenty of talk out there about how wonderful VR is and the incredible potential it offers us, but how about now? What are our peers currently doing with this emerging technology?

The online networking festival was open to anyone working with or experimenting with virtual reality. Whether you have been playing with Google Cardboard or developing high-end immersive experiences, we wanted to hear about it. Participants were invited to use the #VRwolweek hashtag on social media to share their successes, failures, questions, answers, work-arounds, or anything else we fellow geeks would find useful.

And I’m pleased to report it was a success! Over 60 posts on social media mentioning #VRwolweek is a good start in my book, and is a testament to the enthusiasm with which the digigeek community took up the challenge.

On the other side of the coin, some may say that 60-odd posts aren’t nearly enough. I acknowledge this perspective, and I put it down to two factors: (1) Lack of awareness of the event, as this is the first ever #wolweek dedicated to VR; and (2) Lack of hands-on experience. The technology is still very much in its infancy, and many of us are yet to make the leap from reading and talking about it to experimenting with it and applying it. Indeed, most of the tweets were about what others are doing with VR.

In any case, I learned a great deal about virtual reality via the event, and I’m glad to have raised my awareness of the following real-world applications across multiple industries, including sports, entertainment, healthcare, education, workplace training, and non-profit.

Virtual Reality Working Out Loud Week 2016

  1. Port Adelaide Football Club uses virtual reality for match simulation training – @simongterry

  2. CITEC uses virtual reality to simulate a gym, complete with personal trainer – @kiwirip

  3. Casey Neistat takes us to the Oscars as his +1 with his 360° camera – @ActivateLearn

  4. Microsoft uses virtual reality to immerse players into the Minecraft metaverse – @kiwirip

  5. Six Flags is turning to virtual reality to enhance its rollercoaster experience – @LearnKotch

  6. Torbay Hospital uses virtual reality to improve doctor empathy – @MoorOfALife

  7. The US military uses virtual reality therapy to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – @simongterry

  8. The Virtual Reality Medical Center uses virtual reality therapy to treat phobias – @despinatracey

  9. MindMaze is testing the use of virtual reality to treat phantom limb pain – @despinatracey

  10. Conquer Mobile is testing the use of virtual reality to train surgeons for complex operations – @despinatracey

  11. Students at Barker College manipulate virtual objects in a 3D space – @ActivateLearn

  12. Students at Wagaman Primary School use augmented reality to bring an educational treasure hunt to life – @karinpfister

  13. Nearpod’s VR lessons allow students to go on virtual field trips – @kiwirip

  14. Prospective students at Harvard and Yale can take virtual campus tours – @kiwirip

  15. Nokia uses virtual reality to simulate public speaking – @Elearnstudiospt

  16. Lancôme uses virtual reality to visualise how its product works on the skin – @Elearnstudiospt

  17. Commonwealth Bank of Australia uses virtual reality to engage prospective recruits in a virtual workplace – @simongterry

  18. Sentient Computing uses interactive virtual reality to deliver high-stakes safety training – @sentcomp @dougbester

  19. The UN uses a virtual reality film to change attitudes in one of the world’s hot spots – @kiwirip

  20. Amnesty International uses virtual reality to help Sydneysiders appreciate the ravages of the Syrian conflict – @NeilVonHeupt

Man training in virtual reality

A special thank you goes out to everyone who participated in VR Working Out Loud Week, including Simon Terry who helped me lift it off the ground in the first place. I’m already looking forward to launching it again next year.

By the way, it’s not too late to keep the conversation going. Feel free to continue using the #VRwolweek hashtag to share with us what you’re doing in the virtual reality space.

Where is L&D heading?

6 October 2015

Last week I was invited by David Swaddle to be a panellist at the Sydney eLearning and Instructional Design meetup.

The topic of the evening was Where is L&D Heading? and some questions were posted through by the attendees ahead of time, while others emerged through the discourse.

Here is an overview of my answers, plus elaborations and suggestions for further reading, for each of the questions that was (and was not) asked. Feel free to add your own views via the comments…

Businessman holding a crystal ball

With Ernst & Young dropping their degree entry requirement, how do you see the future of universities? Is the race to the bottom on time and price for degrees affecting employers’ perceptions of universities? What respect do MOOC qualifications get?

I find EY’s move here interesting, but I don’t expect other companies to follow suit en mass – particularly enterprise-wide. Having said that, dropping the degree entry requirement could make sense for specific teams such as Innovation, who might be looking for someone with creative thinking skills rather than a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

I see the future of universities as service providers, plain and simple. Students are customers, and increasing competition, deregulation and even the emergence of MOOCs has shifted power into their hands. Yes, deregulation may prompt the $100,000 degree… but who will buy it?

If students are customers, by extension so are employers. I don’t think the time and price of a degree are such big issues for them; instead I think it’s the relevance of the degree. Whether or not we agree the role of the university is to prepare students for the workplace, I think it’s going that way due to market forces.

Regarding MOOC qualifications, I think many of us are still looking at them the wrong way. When we worry about the status of their credentials or lose sleep over their completion rates, we’re perpetuating an out-dated paradigm of education based on formal learning. I prefer to see MOOCs through the lens of informal learning which values the learning over its bureaucracy. If a job applicant lists some MOOCs on their CV, I think it demonstrates an aptitude to drive their own development.

Question mark

How do you see the impact and importance of big data, adaptive learning, mobile learning and micro-learning?

While mobile learning gets a lot of hype – rightly or wrongly – my target audience is office bound. Yes, I can push content to their devices (and there’s a solid argument for micro-learning in this instance) but the truth is no one will do their training on the bus. Outside of work hours, most people don’t want to do anything work related.

I see more scope in pull learning. For example, it’s important that your intranet is mobile optimised, so when someone is away from their desk, they can quickly look up the information they need and put it into action.

The real power of m-learning though is in creating an experience. By this I mean integrating the content with the environment in which the individual is situated, and I see a lot of potential in augmented reality and wearable technologies facilitating this.

And let’s not forget about blended learning. If we allow our attendees to bring their tablets into class, they can participate in online polling, consume content and play games together. While this isn’t actually mobile learning, it leverages the technology.

As for big data, there is clearly a lot of potential in using it to inform our practice – if we can access it. I also see a lot of potential for adaptive learning in personalising the learning experience – if we can work with the tools. My caveat for emerging technologies such as these is what I call the “Average Joe imperative” – if regular folks can’t do it, it won’t gain widespread adoption.

Question mark

What about online social education and Communities of Practice? What are the challenges in using them properly in companies, schools or universities? Where are the success stories?

Beyond the technology, the success of social learning is predicated on the culture of the organisation. If you’re people aren’t the type who care and share, then a platform isn’t going to be much help. Having said that, I believe the managers in the organisation have a critical role to play in leading by example.

My go-to success stories for social learning are Coca-Cola Amatil, who have cultivated active communities of practice across state-based factory floors; and Deloitte, who are the poster child for enterprise social networking.

Question mark

Will interactive videos replace e-learning modules?

I think lots of things will replace e-learning modules!

As we embrace informal learning, we will rely less on e-learning modules in favour of alternatives such as social forums, job aids, games, and indeed, interactive videos.

I see the LMS then being used more for the assessment of learning.

Question mark

What tips does the panel have for coping with reduced training budgets?

My big tip here is that you can do a lot for free or on-the-cheap.

For example, if you want to film a training scenario, you could pay a production house many thousands of dollars to produce a slick, Academy Award worthy video clip. Alternatively, you could use your iPhone.

Sure, the quality won’t be nearly as good… so long as it’s good enough. What really matters is the learning outcome.

Besides, I think in-house production adds authenticity to the scene.

Question mark

Does L&D belong in HR?

I interpret this question as really asking “Should L&D be centralised or distributed?”.

My short answer is both. A centralised Organisational Development function can focus on enterprise-wide capability needs, while L&D professionals embedded in the business can address local capability needs.

Question mark

How does the panel identify whether an L&D professional is good? Does Australia need improved quality benchmarking or qualifications for L&D professionals such as instructional designers?

I think the point of learning in the workplace is to improve performance, so my definition of a “good” L&D professional is one that improves the performance of his or her business.

There are certain attributes that I value in an L&D pro, including being proactive, consultative, creative, and willing to try new things.

If I were considering an applicant for an instructional design role, I’d ask them to demonstrate their track record, just as I’d ask a sales rep to do. A portfolio would be useful, as would be their approach to a hypothetical project.

Furthermore, I think you can tell a lot about someone’s expertise through simple conversation; if they don’t really know what they’re talking about, it will become painfully obvious.

As for benchmarking and formal qualifications for L&D pro’s, I think they can help but I wouldn’t put too much stock into them. As EY is seeing, acing the qual doesn’t necessarily translate into good practice.

Question mark

What advice would you give to somebody interested in getting involved in ID?

I think getting involved is the key phrase in this question.

Attend meetups and events, get active on social media, participate in #lrnchat, work out loud, scan the academic research, and read blogs – learn from those at the coal face.

The definition of Enterprise Social Network

26 August 2015

Enterprise Social Network, n. 1. A software platform that facilitates communication and collaboration among the employees of a company. 2. A means of liking senior executives' posts.

The relationship between learning and performance support

18 November 2014

This post is the third in a series in which I deliberate over the semantics of education.

I dedicate this one to Jane Hart whom I was delighted to meet in-person in Sydney last month. Jane is a renowned advocate of performance support in the workplace, and I wonder what she’ll make of my latest musing.

While much of Jane’s work exposes the difference between training and performance support – and implores us to do less of the former in favour of the latter – my post here does not. The difference between training and performance support proxies (at least IMHO) the difference between formal and informal learning, and I do not intend to rehash that which others such as Jane have already documented so well.

Instead, I intend to explore the relationship between learning and performance support, with the former considered in its informal context.

I hasten to add that while much of Jane’s treatment of informal learning is in terms of social media, for the purposes of my post I will remain within the scope of broadcast content that is published by or on behalf of SMEs for consumption by the masses. The platform I have in mind is the corporate intranet.

Business woman typing on computer

A healthy corporate intranet comprises thoughtfully structured information and resources to facilitate learning by the organisation’s employees. While this content is typically delivered in an instructivist manner by the SME, it is probably consumed in a constructivist manner by the end user.

Much of the content – if not most of it – is designed to be consumed before it needs to be applied on the job. Hence I refer to it as “pre-learning”. It is undertaken just in case it will be needed later on, and is thus vulnerable to becoming “scrap learning”.

But of course not all pre-learning is a waste of time; some of it will indeed be applied later on. However it may be quite a while before this happens, so it’s important that the learner can refer back to the content to refresh his or her memory of it as the need arises. This might be called “re-learning” and it’s done just in time.

To support the learner in applying their learning on the job, tools such as checklists and templates may be provided to them for their immediate use. These tools are called “job aids” and they’re used in the workflow.

However job aids aren’t the only form of performance support. Content in the ilk of pre-learning may be similarly looked up just in time, though it was never learned in the first place. These concepts may be so straight-forward that they need not be processed ahead of time.

Business meeting

To illustrate, consider the topic of difficult feedback.

James is a proactive manager who reads up about this topic on the corporate intranet, watches some scenarios, and perhaps even tries his hand at some simulations. But it’s not until an incident occurs a couple of months later that he needs to have that special conversation with a problematic team member. So he refers back to the intranet to brush up on the topic before going into the meeting armed with the knowledge and skills he needs for success.

Jennifer also explores this topic on the intranet while she’s in between projects. Some time later she finds that she too needs to have a conversation with one of her team members, but she feels she doesn’t need to re-learn anything. Instead, she’s comfortable to follow the step-by-step guide on her iPad during the meeting, which gives her sufficient scaffolding to ensure the conversation is effective.

George, on the other hand, has been so busy that he hasn’t gotten around to exploring this topic on the intranet. However he too finds that he must provide difficult feedback to one of his team members. So he quickly looks it up now, draws out the key points, and engages the conversation armed with that knowledge.

The point of these scenarios is not to say that someone was right and someone was wrong, but rather to highlight that everyone is subjected to different circumstances. Sure, one of the conversations will probably be more effective than the others, but the point is that each of the managers is able to perform the task better than they otherwise would have.

Venn diagram showing the intersection of learning and performance support at JIT

So when we return to the relationship between learning and performance support, we see a subtle but important difference.

Learning is about preparing for performance. This preparation may be done well ahead of time or just in time.

Performance support is about, umm… supporting performance. This support may be provided in the moment or – again – just in time.

Hence we see an intersection.

But the ultimate question is: so what? Well, I think an awareness of this relationship informs our approach as L&D professionals. And our approach depends on our driver.

If our driver is to improve capability, then we need to facilitate learning. If our driver is to improve execution, then we need to facilitate performance support.

Arguably these are two different ways of looking at the same thing, and as the intersection in the venn diagram shows, at least in that sense they are the same thing. So here we can kill two birds with one stone.


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