Posted tagged ‘education’

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.

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.

The 70:20:10 lens

9 February 2016

In 70:20:10 for trainers I advocated the use of the 70:20:10 model by L&D professionals as a lens through which to view their instructional design.

The excellent comments on my post, and insightful blog posts by others – notably Mark Britz, Clark Quinn and Arun Pradhan – have prompted me to think deeper about my premise.

I continue to reject the notion that 70:20:10 is a formula or a goal, because it is not a model of what “should be”. For example, we needn’t assign 70% of our time, effort and money on OTJ interventions, 20% on social learning, and 10% on formal training. Similarly, we shouldn’t mandate that our target audience aligns its learning activity according to these proportions. Both of these approaches miss the point.

The point is that 70:20:10 is a model of what “is”. Our target audience does undertake 70% of its learning on the job, 20% via interacting with others, and 10% off the job (or thereabouts). Mark Britz calls it a principle. It’s not right and it’s not wrong. It just is.

Our role then as L&D professionals is to support and facilitate this learning as best we can. One of the ways I propose we do this is by using 70:20:10 as a lens. By this I mean using it as a framework to structure our thinking and prompt us on what to consider. Less a recipe citing specific ingredients and amounts, more a shopping basket containing various ingredients that we can use in different combinations depending on the meal.

For this purpose I have created the following diagram. To avoid the formula trap, I decided against labelling each segment 70, 20 and 10, and instead chose their 3E equivalents of Experience, Exposure and Education. For the same reason, I sized each segment evenly rather than to scale.

The 3 E's: Education, Exposure, Experience

Using the framework at face value is straight-forward. Given a learning objective, we consider whether a course or a resource may be suitable; whether a social forum might be of use; if matching mentees with mentors would be worthwhile. Perhaps it would be helpful to develop some reference content, or provide a job aid. When looking through the lens, we see alternatives and complements beyond the usual event-based intervention.

Yet we can see more. Consider not only the elements in the framework, but also the interactions between them. For example, in our course we could assign an on-the-job task to the learners, and ask them to share their experiences with it on the ESN. In the language of the framework, we are connecting education to experience, which in turn we connect to exposure. Conversely we can ask workshop attendees to share their experiences in class (connecting experience to education) or encourage them to call out for project opportunities (connecting exposure to experience). The possibilities for integrating the elements are endless.

Those who see L&D as the arbiter of all learning in the workplace may find all this overwhelming. But I see L&D as a support function. To me, 70:20:10 is not about engineering the perfect solution. It’s about adding value to what already happens in our absence.

My Top 10 movers and shakers

20 January 2015

I am humbled to once more be voted into Bob Little’s annual list of E-Learning Movers and Shakers for the Asia-Pacific region.

While I take these kinds of lists with a grain of salt, I do not deny that being acknowledged by my peers generates a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Now I would like to shine the light on some of my influencers in this corner of the world. Click the image below to discover my Top 10 movers and shakers in the Asia-Pacific region…

My Top 10 movers and shakers in the Asia-Pacific region

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a hat tip to a small selection of generous education professionals who think out loud and work out loud.

I learn so much from these people, and I dare say you will too.

Thinking out loud

9 December 2014

Well 2014 was another big year of thinking out loud for me, as evidenced by the range of articles that I blogged.

Some of them were real doozies, and I’m pleased that they attracted excellent comments to extend the conversation.

I’d be delighted if you were to take this opportunity to catch up on any posts that you may have missed, and extend the conversation even further…!

Word cloud of my blogging year

The 3 mindsets of m-learning

The caveat of the performance centre

Out of the shadows

An offer they can’t refuse

The triple-threat scenario

The point of compliance

The Comparative Value of Things

They’re not like us

I can’t use Facebook

E-Learning = Innovation = Science

The Average Joe imperative

Why I blog

The dawn of a new generation

Let’s get rid of the instructional designers!

Let’s get rid of the instructors!

The learnification of education

The grassroots of learning

The relationship between learning and performance support

Santa Sleigh with Kangaroos

Merry Christmas!

The grassroots of learning

22 October 2014

Here’s a common scenario: I “quickly” look up something on Wikipedia, and hours later I have 47 tabs open as I delve into tangential aspects of the topic.

That’s the beauty of hypertext. A link takes you somewhere else, which contains other links that take you somewhere else yet again. The Internet is thus the perfect vehicle for explaining the concept of rhizomatic learning.

Rhizomatic learning is something that I have been superficially aware of for a while. I had read a few blog posts by Dave Cormier (the godfather of the philosophy) and I follow the intrepid Soozie Bea (a card-carrying disciple), but unfortunately I missed Dave’s #rhizo14 mooc earlier in the year.

Since I’ve been blogging about the semantics of education lately, I thought it high time to dig a little deeper.

Bamboo with rhizome

It seems to me that rhizomatic learning is the pedagogical antithesis of direct instruction. Direct instruction has pre-defined learning outcomes with pre-defined content to match. The content is typically delivered in a highly structured format.

In contrast, rhizomatic learning has no pre-defined learning outcomes nor pre-defined content. The learner almost haphazardly follows his or her own line of inquiry from one aspect of the subject matter to the next, then the next, and so forth according to whatever piques his or her interest. Thus it can not be predicted ahead of time.

Given my scientific background, I was already familiar with the rhizome. So is everyone else, incidentally, perhaps without realising it. A rhizome is the creeping rootstalk of a plant that explores the soil around it, sending out new roots and shoots as it goes along. A common example is bamboo, whose rhizome enables it to spread like wildfire.

In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari adopt the rhizome as a metaphor for the spread of culture throughout society. That’s a massive over-simplification, of course, and quite possibly wrong. The Outsider represents the extent of my French philosophy bookshelf!

Anyway, the point I’m bumbling towards is that Dave Cormier has picked up this philosophical metaphor and applied it to the wonderful world of learning. He explains in Trying to write Rhizomatic Learning in 300 words:

“Rhizomatic Learning developed as an approach for me as a response to my experiences working with online communities. Along with some colleagues we started meeting regularly online for live interactive webcasts starting in 2005 at Edtechtalk. We learned by working together, sharing our experiences and understanding. The outcomes of those discussions were more about participating and belonging than about specific items of content – the content was already everywhere around us on the web. Our challenge was in learning how to choose, how to deal with the uncertainty of abundance and choice presented by the Internet. In translating this experience to the classroom, I try to see the open web and the connections we create between people and ideas as the curriculum for learning. In a sense, participating in the community is the curriculum.”

I note that this explanation from 2012 is somewhat different from his paper in 2008, which of course reflects the evolution of the idea. In Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave similarly mentioned the abundance of content on the Internet, and also the shrinking half-life of knowledge. He contrasted the context of traditional education – in which experts are the custodians of a canon of accepted thought, which is presumed to remain relatively stable – with today – in which knowledge changes so quickly as to make the traditional notion of education flawed.

Dave posited educational technology is a prime example. Indeed when I studied this discipline at university, much of the learning theory (for instance) enjoyed a broad canon of knowledge to which students such as myself could refer. It was even documented in textbooks. Other aspects of the subject (for instance, the rapid advances in technology, and the pedagogical shifts towards social and informal learning) could not be compared against any such canon. The development of this knowledge was so rapid that we students relied as much on each other’s recent experiences and on sharing our personal learning journeys than we did on anything the professor could supply.

“In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions.”

From 2008 to 2012, I see a shift in Dave’s language from Rhizomatic Education to Rhizomatic Learning. This I think is a better fit for the metaphor, as while it may be argued that the members of the community are “teaching” one another, the driving force behind the learning process is the active learner who uses the community as a resource and makes his or her own decisions along the way.

I also note the change from “the community is the curriculum” to “participating in the community is the curriculum”. Another semantic shift that I think is closer to the mark, but perhaps still not quite there. I suggest that the content created by the members of community is the curriculum. In other words, the curriculum is the output that emerges from participating in the community. So “participating in the community produces the curriculum”.

As a philosophy for learning, then, rhizomatic learning is not so different from constructivism, connectivism, and more broadly, andragogy. The distinguishing feature is the botanical imagery.

However this is where my understanding clouds over…

Is it the abundance of content “out there” that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the construction of new knowledge that is rhizomatic?

Or is it the learning journey that is undertaken by the individual learner?

Perhaps such pedantic questions are inconsequential, but the scientist in me demands clarification. So I propose the following:


The knowledge that is constructed by the community is the rhizome.

The process of constructing the knowledge
by the members of the community is rhizomatic education.

The process of exploring, discovering and consuming the knowledge
by the individual learner is rhizomatic learning.


If we return to my Wikipedia scenario, we can use it as a microcosm of the World Wide Web and the universe more broadly:

The ever-expanding Wikipedia is the rhizome.

The Wikipedians are conducting rhizomatic education.

I, the Average Joe who looks it up and loses myself in it for hours on end,
is experiencing rhizomatic learning.

In the age of Web 2.0, Average Joe may also be a Wikipedian. Hence we can all be rhizomatic educators and rhizomatic learners.


I also detect a certain level of defensiveness from Dave in his early paper. He prefaces his work with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s An enemy of the People which rejoices in the evolution of “truth” in the face of conventional resistance [my interpretation], while later on he addresses the responses of the “purveyors of traditional educational knowledge” – primarily in the realms of academic publishing and intellectual property.

I think Dave was right to be defensive. Despite the pervasive learnification of education that would theoretically promote rhizomatic learning as its poster boy, anything new that threatens the status quo is typically met with outrage from those who stand to lose out.

A case in point is moocs. Dave refers to Alec Couros’s graduate course in educational technology, which was a precursor to his enormously popular #ETMOOC. While a cMOOC such as this one may be the epitome of the rhizomatic philosophy, I contend that it also applies to the xMOOC.

You see, while the xMOOC is [partly] delivered instructivistly, those darn participants still learn rhizomatically! And so the traditionalists delight in the low completion rates of moocs, while the rest of us appreciate that learning (as opposed to education) simply doesn’t work that way – especially in the digital age.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no anti-educationalist. Regular readers of my blog will not find it surprising when I point out that sometimes the rhizomatic model is not appropriate. For example, when the learner is a novice in a particular field, they don’t know what they don’t know. As I was alluding to via my tweet to Urbie in lrnchat, sometimes there is a central and stable canon of knowledge and the appointed expert is best placed to teach it to you.

I also realise that while an abundance of knowledge is indeed freely available on the Internet, not all of it is. It may be hidden in walled gardens, or not on the web at all. Soozie makes the point that information sources go beyond what the web and other technologies can channel. “Information that is filtered, classified or cleansed, consolidated or verified may also come from formal, non-formal or informal connections including teachers, friends, relatives, professional colleagues and recognized experts in the field.” But I take her point that all this is enhanced by technology.

Finally, the prominence of rhizomatic learning will inevitably increase as knowledge continues to digitise and our lens on learning continues to informalise. In this context, I think the role of the instructor needs much more consideration. While Dave maintains that the role is to provide an introduction to an existing learning community in which the student may participate, there is obviously more that we L&D pro’s must do to fulfil our purpose into the future.

On that note I’ll rest my rhizomatic deliberation on rhizomatic learning. If you want to find out more about this philosophy, I suggest you look it up on Wikipedia.