So, this is (almost) Christmas…

By 2nd December 2019Food for thought

You may have noticed; we’re fast approaching the end of the year. Yikes. So, I’ve been reflecting on my first (almost*) year at Make Real. How has it been almost a year?! Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess.

As some of you may know, when I joined in January, my background was solely 2D digital learning design. I’ve always been into video games and involved in museums and galleries, both of which are adopting VR in a big way, so I’d been lucky enough to play around with several examples before I joined. But it’s fair to say that I still had a lot to learn. Luckily enough, I joined a very knowledgeable team who are very generous with their time and insights.

There’s still much to learn and define but (almost) one year on, these are three of the most important things I’ve discovered:


It’s OK, learning is still learning. *Relief*

One of the things I was most interested in when I came across to Make Real was determining how much learning theory and best practice translated into a 3D space. Would we need to scrap ‘the book’ on learning design and start rewriting?

I can honestly say that I can’t find a single piece of learning theory that’s completely incompatible with designing for a 3D space. Things need reinterpreting, of course; what counts as grabbing people’s attention in a classroom is going to be different to how you’d approach it in eLearning and different again to how you’d do it VR. But the principles itself is still a good tenet of opening a learning experience.

Established learning theory still stands. Which, of course, makes complete sense; just because you’re viewing things in a different medium, the way your brain is processing information to form new memories, remains the same. It’s now up to us as VR learning designers to optimise the way we present that information in this new medium, while still maintaining the age-old structure of: grab attention, set direction, present information, practice, summarise, and support and promote real-world practice. (Or the full 9 Steps if you’re that way inclined.)

 

Start from your end point and work backwards. It’s more important than ever.

One of my favourite questions to ask a client at the start of a project is “Imagine it’s six months’ time, and the project has gone live; what kind of feedback would you like to be hearing about your course?”

I stumbled across it in a conversation on success measures that wasn’t going so well. The concept of success measures wasn’t tangible enough for anyone in the room to relate to. But as soon as we started talking about the kinds of things they wanted to hear about this course, the ideas flowed, and we could then trace those comments back to actual measures.

I’ve been asking that question ever since. I even sometimes ask myself the question about daily life. So, the concept of starting from the end point and working backwards, isn’t a new one. But over the last year I’ve realised it’s more important than ever.

I think, for a lot of people embarking on their very first immersive technologies projects, just getting it kicked off is a massive personal milestone. Trying to think about the specific impact this is going to garner in the real world, not alone exactly how it’s going to be blended with the existing curriculum, is too much at once.

Visualising what the final output will be is a common problem in digital design and the less experience you have of the medium, the harder it will be. The thing that really helped me was trying as many different experiences as I could get my hands on. It will help you build your understanding like nothing else, so try everything.  And when it comes to defining success, start small; ask yourself, what would I like to be telling someone about this project in six months’ time.

 

It doesn’t need to look real, it needs to feel real

One phrase that I hear a lot is, will it ‘break the immersion’? It’s a term that’s hard to precisely define. Although, one thing I quickly learnt is that amongst certain circles what ‘breaking the immersion’ actually means is, ‘I don’t like it and I don’t think we should do it’. I’m on to you!

But when you enter a well-created VR experience, your brain quickly adapts to the idea that this is what reality looks like for now. You’re immersed. What pulls you out of that immersion is when something that reminds you that there’s another reality out there. This isn’t usually something that isn’t realistic, it’s something that causes frustration, such as not knowing how to interact with this world or not understanding what you’re supposed to do.

It’s similar to the idea of suspending your disbelief when reading or watching a work of fiction. You’ll buy into this fictious world for as long as it’s enjoyable or useful for you to do so.  That means that the end goal of virtual reality isn’t to be as realistic as possible, it’s to be as useful and absorbing as it can.

The real-world often isn’t very good for learning. It’s a good thing too, otherwise there wouldn’t be much call for learning and development departments, and I’d need to retrain. The real world is varied and confusing, and not always clear what’s working and what’s not. Being able to add layers over a reality to give more feedback and information is a wonderful thing. So, for VR to be an effective learning tool, it doesn’t necessarily need to be entirely true to life. As long as it’s helpful, enjoyable and makes sense in that world, then it’ll work.


At the beginning of this year I set myself the goal of writing 12 blogs in 12 months, which means I still technically owe one. Just having this opportunity to reflect on the past year of learning, has given me lots of ideas of other things to write about, so there might be another addition from me this year. If not, then there’ll be even more to cover in the new year. After all, when dealing with virtual reality the possibilities are endless.

*My incessant use of the word ‘almost’ reflects the fact that I’m completely unprepared for Christmas. I haven’t bought a single thing. As long as we can all agree that it’s not actually the festive season, it’s just fast approaching, then I don’t need to worry.