Immersive learning is an increasingly popular learning modality, proven to enable learners to train faster, and build greater confidence. The past several years have seen organizations explore a wide range of immersive learning use cases, including leadership and communication skills training, and simulating what it’s like to do technical jobs in the field.
As organizations piloted these use cases, and delivered learning ROI for their workforces, questions have come up about what it will take to proliferate immersive learning across use cases at scale - what technologies enable immersive learning? What learning formats can be delivered via immersive technology? What devices can learners use to consume immersive learning content?
To answer these questions, we will use this blog post to take a look at immersive learning content itself - the user experiences it provides today, key technical considerations, and the role immersive learning content plays in the broader, emerging Metaverse technology landscape.
The Metaverse is already having an impact on society in facets ranging from the way people work to what digital entertainment and communication looks like. Despite its growing adoption, many people still don’t have a good grasp on what it is.
So, what is the Metaverse? The shortest answer: It is the next iteration of the internet. The Metaverse presents itself as a more immersive version of the internet as we know it today.
Driven by technology such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), we are seeing the Metaverse cause the physical limitations of digital experiences to crumble. For example, the consumer shopping experience is being drastically redefined. Soon, you can visit numerous (virtual) stores and ‘try on’ clothing items in VR, or AR, with applications such as the Mall of the Metaverse. The entertainment industry is also seeing major changes. Leaving the house is no longer the only way to “attend” a live performance - Check out John Legend’s VR performance, powered by Wave.
While we are already witnessing the impact of immersive technology in the entertainment and retail industries, it doesn’t stop there. The workplace is embracing new forms of digital interaction and communication as well. For example, the learning and development industry has been impacted greatly by the Metaverse, and the multitude of benefits it offers for education.
Talespin’s Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer, Stephen Fromkin, shed light on this trend, as he outlined the role of immersive education in the Metaverse in a recent piece in Fast Company:
“Immersive experiences possess an ability to make digital interactions feel more human. This favors the use of Metaverse technologies like virtual and augmented reality for certain use cases. While we are only beginning to scratch the surface, powerful applications for learning and education are already here.”
The underlying vision of the Metaverse is to offer users an enhanced level of immersion, exploration, and engagement that is not possible with other formats of digital content. How is this achieved? By immersing people in virtual environments that give them the same sense of presence and spatial freedom afforded by the real world. Experiences in the Metaverse enable this by allowing users to interact with digital content in ways that feel natural, and that go beyond the typical computer keyboard buttons and smartphone touch screens we are accustomed to.
In the virtual environments of the Metaverse, users can enjoy a variety of realistic interactions. These include moving around and exploring the environment, using digital twins of tools and objects, and using verbal communication to interact with other users, or virtual human avatars. Users can control these virtual world interactions with their hands, head movements, or the use of voice input. Further advancements in XR technology are allowing for even more natural user inputs, like the tracking of head motion (gaze tracking), body language, and facial expressions. For example, hand tracking and eye tracking technology are being integrated with XR hardware devices.
These user interaction types are common across Metaverse experiences, and enable applications for the technology like joining a group of colleagues in a virtual environment to collaborate and host discussions, “entering” an immersive art exhibit, or practicing new skills in a learning simulation.
The role the Metaverse will play in learning and development is already showing incredible promise. Industry experts from organizations like PwC, Accenture, Meta, Unity and many others shared this sentiment in a recent blog post titled: ‘What Experts are Saying About Learning in the Metaverse.’
Immersive learning, described as an advanced form of active learning, takes advantage of the aforementioned Metaverse interaction types to enable new formats for digital and remote learning. As with other Metaverse experiences, VR, AR, and MR are powering this learning modality, immersing learners in virtual simulations designed to foster the development of critical skills.
Based on these possibilities, two predominant use cases and subsequent content formats have become popular for immersive learning:
In immersive soft skills experiences, learners interact with virtual human characters using their voice, or gaze input, to roleplay conversations for common use cases such as leadership development. These simulations mimic the scenario-based learning format found in real-life roleplay, with added benefit. The benefits of virtual reality soft skills training simulations include:
For example, content like Talespin’s ‘Leading Through Uncertainty’ learning series empowers learners to prepare for difficult situations that may arise in the workplace. During these experiences, learners immerse themselves in virtual environments and interact with virtual human characters. The virtual role play format presents learners with the opportunity to realistically practice and apply communication skills.
In the near future, these soft skills training simulations stand to benefit from expanded interaction types in VR, like introducing eye tracking and motion tracking to assess body language during a simulated conversation.
Training for technical skills, or ‘hard skills,’ has also proven to be beneficial using immersive technology. In the same fashion that well known flight simulator training experiences help pilots train with the instruments they would use to fly an actual plane, virtual reality can be used to simulate almost any procedural task by using 3D models of tools and equipment. For example, site inspections, installations, and repairs can all be simulated using VR thanks to the ability to create realistic digital twins of those tools and objects.
VR simulations for technical skills training allow the learner to touch and manipulate objects to gain practice repetitions performing the same task in the field. For example, learning the fundamentals of a residential home. The user can assess key objects and component parts in VR, gaining real-world context for their relationships.
VR is also being used to teach procedural tasks that may be dangerous, or expensive to realistically simulate using other learning modalities. Examples of this include simulating training for first responders for accidents and natural disasters, and helping employees practice identifying safety hazards at facilities in the telecommunications, or logistics industries.
“VR training enables people to work on a full-sized automobile, airplane or in a factory in the comfort of their home with tight feedback loops.” - Mike Bollinger, VP of Strategic Initiatives, Cornerstone
Talespin’s Residential Damage at First Notice of Loss learning module is an example of a technical skills training module. In this learning simulation, learners are immersed in environments that replicate real-life insurance claim investigation processes for residential water damage. The module presents learners with different scenarios to navigate in which there is an issue in a customer’s home, such as inspecting a leaking shower head, or dishwasher leak. This learning module enables learners to see firsthand what that experience is like, and get practice repetitions that look and feel real, before having to perform this task in the real world.
Having instant access to the content people want has become the norm, as consumers have grown accustomed to on-demand content. In recent decades, this trend has emerged within corporate learning and development, with the introduction of on-demand training solutions via e-learning and learning experience platforms (LXPs). These platforms deliver instant access to learning content for employees, and give learning and development teams simple solutions for delivering learning content to employees.
An example of content that can be delivered in an off-the-shelf format is training for communication skills. For example, Go1 has an extensive library of communication courses covering skills such as non-verbal communication, business writing, and many more. While this is just one example, it demonstrates the way in which common training use cases have been addressed by off-the-shelf content. Doing so has made it easier for enterprise organizations to cover common learning and development needs, reducing the need to create custom learning content or programs from scratch for every use case.
In a similar fashion to e-learning content, common immersive learning content use cases emerged as enterprises recognized where engaging, scenario-based learning content could have an impact. However, there were initial challenges to immersive learning content’s adoption: XR experiences were expensive and time consuming to create, and there were no pre-existing content libraries for enterprises to adopt in an off-the-shelf format. This left interested organizations faced with the task of creating their own custom content to pilot and eventually deploy.
Enter: Off-the-shelf immersive learning content. Organizations like Talespin began building libraries of immersive learning content designed to address common, in-demand workforce training use cases like leadership development, practicing communication skills, and diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Examples of the types of learning modules that began to be created for off-the-shelf libraries include Performance Feedback, Leading Through Uncertainty, Recognizing Bias, and many more.
With these content libraries now available, enterprises were given an option for XR technology adoption that is cost effective, does not require any content production time, and is easy to deploy. Thanks to immersive learning becoming a solution that can be delivered in an off-the-shelf format, enterprise L&D teams now can enjoy the best of both worlds with content that offers the ease-of-use presented by e-learning, and the proven engagement of XR.
While off-the-shelf content has helped make immersive learning easier for enterprises to pilot and adopt, custom content creation, and the ability to customize existing content, are still in-demand. This is due to the unique skills development needs, and institutional knowledge each organization possesses.
The introduction of no-code content authoring tools for immersive learning offers new possibilities for the learning modality. These tools have drastically lowered the cost of content creation, decreased the time it takes to create content, and made it easy for learning designers, instructional designers, and subject matter experts to create XR content without coding, 3D asset creation, or animation expertise. No-code tools have lowered the barrier to entry for immersive learning content being created and adopted at scale.
With the challenge of content creation solved, enterprises are viewing new use cases as the next priority in immersive learning’s growth in order to increase the amount of content available to learners:
"...data suggests that immersive learning is impactful, but a critical next step in scaling access to this technology is having different program tracts and customizable content." - Katie Booth, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, SAP. As discussed in the article - ‘Can Immersive Technology Level the Playing Field in Education?
As it did with social media and the internet as we know it today, the creator economy is poised to have a major impact in shaping the Metaverse.
We are already seeing the introduction of content creation tools designed to enable creators to build the virtual environments and experiences of the Metaverse. Meta (previously known as Facebook) has teased a new app in development called ‘Polar.’ This tool will enable creators to create AR filters for users to apply to images displayed on social media. Tools like Polar are changing the way social users view and interact with each other. No-code tools allow for new, more relevant and continuous updates and features to enhance these experiences.
No-code content tools aren’t just being applied to social and entertainment experiences, as the aforementioned immersive learning content authoring tools are shaping how learning content is created for the Metaverse.
For example, Talespin’s CoPilot Designer puts the power in the hands of learning content creators to design immersive learning experiences. Authors have access to features such as a virtual human and environment asset library, learning design templates to jumpstart immersive content creation, drop-and-drag functionality to create conversational sequences that can be voiced using text-to-speech, and the ability to customize the animation of virtual human characters.
As enterprises seek the ability to create immersive learning content across use cases, and the Metaverse continues to grow in popularity, immersive learning content creation tools will be a key factor in advancing the learning modality.
The ability to deliver feedback, and measure skills development is another key component of immersive learning content.
Learning modules can be designed to deliver real-time feedback to learners while they complete the module. For example, a learner consuming a soft skills training module in VR might receive feedback on their decisions as they engage in a simulated conversation, depending on how the learning content creator chose to author the content. This feedback can be scripted by content creators in order to offer tips and suggestions to guide the application of skills, and influence behavioral change.
In addition to learners receiving feedback while consuming immersive learning content, learner performance can also be assessed using platforms like the Talespin platform’s Dashboard. Immersive learning platforms allow talent development teams to assess learning at multiple levels:
Considering how learners access immersive learning content is another critical aspect of understanding its usage and adoption. Metaverse experiences - whether immersive learning content, or another type of content - are accessed and consumed in two main ways by users: Via 2D devices like laptops and desktop computers, and XR head mounted displays (HMDs) like the Meta Quest, or HTC Vive.
Both options present advantages, with desktop devices making it easy for content to be deployed to hardware that learners likely already have, and XR HMDs offering a greater degree of immersion to promote learning. Regardless of the device path chosen to deliver immersive learning, these experiences offer people the opportunity to explore and engage in ways previously not possible with existing digital content - key attributes of the Metaverse.
Immersive learning is in the early stages of being standardized much in the same way other learning modalities have been - Its top use cases are being discovered, it is becoming more efficiently created and distributed, and its efficacy is now more of an accepted fact than a new hypothesis.
In this blog, we covered these items, discussing what we know now about immersive learning content so far. But where might it go in the future?
As with e-learning, the off-the-shelf immersive learning options available to learners and organizations will continue to grow across use cases. In the near future, look for learning content creators and learning platforms to expand the off-the-shelf offerings available to enterprises, and for enterprise L&D teams to adopt off-the-shelf XR content at increased scale.
Customization of existing immersive learning content, like off-the-shelf content, will allow organizations to tailor content to meet their specific preferences, or use existing content as a building block to create new learning content.
Not all learning content is applicable for every individual or organization. For example, different organizations may teach the same skill with different learning frameworks, or use their own nomenclature specific to their company culture, brand, or products. An example of this can be found with sales techniques - It is common for organizations to train their sales teams with unique approaches to presenting their products, services, and brand identity to customers.
For these reasons, the ability to customize existing content using no-code authoring tools is another factor that will further immersive learning’s proliferation.
As more content is created for specific training use cases, and the off-the-shelf options available to learners and organizations grow, learning and development teams will soon enjoy the ability to curate immersive learning content libraries designed to provide their employees with personalized learning journeys.
Having the ability to design a learning journey for an employee, or group of employees, using the combination of pre-existing off-the-shelf content, customized versions of off-the-shelf content, and completely custom content will give learning leaders a level of flexibility never before seen in immersive learning program design.
A significant theme in the Metaverse is co-presence - the ability for multiple people to enter the same virtual space together, regardless of their physical location. This enables people to have more personal and engaging digital interactions that feel closer to the social interactions we experience in the real world.
Co-presence is enabled by the aforementioned interaction and input types that the Metaverse introduces to digital experiences, like body language, facial expressions, and moving around in virtual environments.
There are numerous use cases where this feature can provide value - An instructor, or mentor leading a group discussion, students collaborating in a virtual lab, or technicians working together to practice assembling and disassembling equipment. In the near future, look for learning and development teams to take advantage of the Metaverse’s co-presence capabilities to enable new formats for group learning.
As the Metaverse emerges as a destination for learning, the types of content available to learners will play a critical role. Interested in adopting, or creating immersive learning content? Check out our off-the-shelf immersive learning content library for an easy way to get started, or explore using a no-code authoring tool to create your own custom immersive learning simulations.
For more immersive learning news and insights, visit the Talespin blog.