Posted tagged ‘workplace’

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.

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.

70:20:10 for trainers

12 January 2016

Learning & Development Professional has been running a poll on the following question:

Is the 70:20:10 model still relevant today?

And I’m shocked by the results. At the time of writing this blog, over half the respondents have chosen “No”. Assuming they are all L&D professionals, the extrapolation means most of us don’t think the 70:20:10 model is relevant to our work.

But what does this really mean?

In LDP’s article The 70:20:10 model – how fair dinkum is it in 2015? – by the way, “fair dinkum” is Australian slang for “real” or “genuine” – Emeritus Professor David Boud says he doesn’t think there is proper evidence available for the effectiveness of the model.

If this is a backlash against the numbers, I urge us all to let it go already. Others have explained umpteen times that 70:20:10 is not a formula. It just refers to the general observation that the majority of learning in the workplace is done on the job, a substantial chunk is done by interacting with others, while a much smaller proportion is done off the job (eg in a classroom).

Indeed this observation doesn’t boast a wealth of empirical evidence to support it, although there is some – see here, here and here.

Nonetheless, I wonder if the hoo-ha is really about the evidence. After all, plenty of research can be cited to support the efficacy of on-the-job learning, social learning and formal training. To quibble over their relative proportions seems a bit pointless.

Consequently, some point the finger at trainers. These people are relics of a bygone era, clinging to the old paradigm because “that’s how we’ve always done it”. And while this might sound a bit harsh, it may contain a seed of truth. Change is hard, and no one wants their livelihood threatened.

If you feel deep down that you are one of the folks who views 70:20:10 as an “us vs them” proposition, I have two important messages that I wish to convey to you…

1. Training will never die.

While I believe the overall amount of formal training in the workplace will continue to decrease, it will never disappear altogether – principally for the reasons I’ve outlined in Let’s get rid of the instructors!.

Ergo, trainers will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.

2. The 70:20:10 model will improve your effectiveness.

As the forgetting curve illustrates, no matter how brilliant your workshops are, they are likely to be ineffective on their own.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showing exponentially decreasing retention over time

To overcome this problem, I suggest using the 70:20:10 model as a lens through which you view your instructional design.

For example, suppose you are charged with training the sales team on a new product. As a trainer, you will smash the “10” with an informative and engaging workshop filled with handouts, scenarios, role plays, activities etc.

Then your trainees return to their desks, put the handouts in a drawer, and try to remember all the important information for as long as humanly possible.

To help your audience remember, why not provide them with reference content in a central location, such as on the corporate intranet or in a wiki. Then they can look it up just in time when they need it; for example, in the waiting room while visiting a client.

Job aids would also be useful, especially for skills-based information; for example, the sequence of key messages to convey in a client conversation.

To improve the effectiveness of your workshop even further, consider doing the following:

  • Engage each trainee’s manager to act as their coach or mentor. Not only does this extend the learning experience, but it also bakes in accountability for the learning.

  • Encourage the manager to engineer opportunities for the trainee to put their learning into practice. These can form part of the assessment.

  • Set up a community of practice forum in which the trainee can ask questions in the moment. This fosters collaboration among the team and reduces the burden on the L&D department to respond to each and every request.

  • Partner each trainee with a buddy to accompany them on their sales calls. The buddy can act as a role model and provide feedback to the trainee.

In my humble opinion, it is counter-productive to rail against 70:20:10.

As an L&D professional, it is in your interest to embrace it.

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.

Collateral damage

4 August 2015

The L&D community may be divided into two camps: (1) Those for whom the mere mention of learning styles makes their blood boil; and (2) Those who are inexplicably unaware of the hullabaloo and are thus oblivious to the aforementioned boiling of blood.

All the things meme guy

Credit: Based on original artwork by Allie Brosh in This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult, Hyperbole and a Half.

The antagonism stems from the popularity of learning styles in the educational discourse – not to mention vocational curricula – despite a lack of empirical evidence supporting their effectiveness when incorporated into instructional design. The argument is that in the absence of such evidence, don’t waste time and money trying to match your teaching style to everyone’s learning styles; instead, divert that energy towards other, evidence-based pedagogy.

This is sound advice.

Nonetheless, I urge my peers not to throw the baby out with the bath water. By this I mean regardless of the existence or impact of learning styles, a phenomenon that enjoys universal recognition is that of learner preferences. And I fear it may be an unintended casualty of the war on learning styles.

For example, a deduction from the literature might be that a teacher need not tailor his or her delivery to meet the needs of the audience. Since learning styles are bunk, I can do what I like because it won’t make a difference anyway. Such a view is conveniently teacher centric, and it flies in the face of the thought leadership on learner centeredness that we have advanced so far. Sure, the deduction may be unreasonable, but extremists rarely listen to reason.

However, a more insidious factor is the dominance of the literature on formal learning. Studies of the impact of learning styles are typically based on teaching in a classroom setting, often in the K12 sector. Furthermore, the statistics are based on scores achieved via formal assessment. Yet we know in the workplace the vast majority of learning is informal.

Let me illustrate my concern here with a personal example. When I need to find out how to perform a particular task in a particular software program, I strongly prefer text-based instructions over video. I’m annoyed by having to play a clip, wait for it to load, and then wait for the presenter to get to the bit that is relevant to me. Instead, I prefer to scan the step-by-step instructions at my own speed and get on with it.

Now, if only video was available and I weren’t such a diligent employee, I might postpone the task or forget about it all together. Yet if you were to put me in a classroom, force me to watch the video, then test my ability to perform the task – sure, I’ll ace it. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the learner’s preference hasn’t been taken into account in the instructional design, and that can affect his performance in the real world.

If you don’t agree with me, perhaps because you happen to like video, suppose a manual was the only form of instruction available. Would you read it? Perhaps you would because you are a diligent employee.

Isn’t everyone?

All the things meme guy, sad

Credit: Based on X all Y (Sad) In HD by CanineWritter, in turn based on original artwork by Allie Brosh in This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult, Hyperbole and a Half.

In case your blood is beginning to boil, let me emphasise: (1) Learning styles appear to have no significant effect on learning outcomes; and (2) The nature of the content probably dictates its most effective mode of delivery.

If we assume that learning styles are highly correlated with learner preferences – indeed, for some they are synonymous – then we might be tempted to conclude that learner preferences have no significant effect on learning outcomes. I consider this a false conclusion.

Indeed in a controlled environment, learner preferences don’t really matter. The participants are forced to do it whether they like it or not, or they somehow feel obliged to comply.

Outside of the controlled environment, however, learner preferences do matter. We sometimes see this in formal settings (which is why universities enforce a minimum percentage of lecture attendance), but it appears most starkly in informal settings where the learner is empowered to do it or not. If they don’t like doing it, odds are they won’t.

So we need to be mindful of the interaction between pedagogical effectiveness and learner preference. An experience that your learners love but is ineffective is ultimately worthless. But so too is an experience that is effective but your learners loathe.

As a profession we need to aim for experiences that are both effective and liked by our audience – or at the very least, don’t turn them away.


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