Exploring Immersive Learning Suitability And Imaginative Teaching
Scott Stachiw is transcending the limits of imagination within the landscape of immersive learning. As a thought leader, his influence is not limited to championing the intersection of innovation and accessibility by extending an invitation to new learning initiatives as Vice President of XR Design & Development at Roundtable Learning. Through creative training and development, he has pioneered new entry points for employee engagement and behavioral change with immersive technology. Today he speaks with us about VR success stories and the power of imagination in eLearning design.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest myth or misconception surrounding immersive learning, particularly when it comes to leveraging it for corporate eLearning?
One misconception is that immersive learning replaces traditional ways of learning. A lot of people think that this is something they will do to reduce their current training time. While the use of effective immersive learning can reduce the time it takes someone to learn how to do a job, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall time that you need to train that employee becomes smaller. It’s more intent on how you’re training them and ensuring knowledge retention. It’s looking at current training materials and pulling out the modalities that would be more effective in an immersive learning environment rather than trying to replace your entire curriculum. A better approach would be a blended one that includes eLearning, ILT, and immersive technology.
There’s another myth that immersive learning has to be within a device. Immersive learning doesn’t necessarily mean Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality. It’s finding ways to bring tactile and functional training into a workspace that is not traditionally designed to deliver that kind of training.
If it’s hands-on training and it is something that requires physical action to perform or to help establish the connection between the fundamentals of the training and the actual learning objective, immersive learning is where that’s most effective. The myth that you have to have a device to do immersive learning is not necessarily true. While the immersive act might be using physical objects to accomplish the immersive activity, those real-life objects are not always available, thus the immersive device would come into play. There’s a difference between being immersive and using immersive technology to achieve learning goals.
I typically tell people to look at their current training and ask themselves at any point during the training session or training week, “Is there anything I really wish I could have the learners do? Is there anything in this training that is too passive to be effective?” And those are the items they should focus on as an immersive learning opportunity.
It’s less about trying to fit immersive learning into what you’re doing and more about fitting what you’re doing into immersive learning. It’s just the opposite frame of view.
If people are going to do soft skills training, for example, they’re going to do role-playing. A lot of people play video clips to provide a look at what situational awareness is for a particular soft-skill scenario. In place of those things, to make those things more immersive, what can you do? That is where you have to start focusing.
Technical skills training is going to involve physical action and working with tools, but if your current training program within the space that you’re training in does not allow that and you’re relying on PowerPoints and video clips, that’s where you have to start thinking about how this could be more effective using immersive technology and immersive learning.
Can you offer our readers a few words of advice on how to determine if immersive learning is the right fit for their training programs? Also, what are some of the most common costs they should bear in mind when making their business case?
The first thing is to look at the vertical you’re trying to train in. “Is this management and leadership training or is this workforce training for people that are out at a warehouse and you’re training 30,000, compared to 500 or 10?” If it’s something that needs to be scalable and requires a hardware cost to be involved, they should consider that first.
“I need to be able to put this in the hands of so many people. Can I afford to do it? How do we scale the solution?” That would then dictate the type of immersive technology that they can incorporate. As far as using the immersive technology, once you’ve identified the pieces that would be great for immersive learning, now we look at the modality for immersive learning.
A strong medium for rolling our immersive learning to a large group of learners is to utilize a WebGL experience that allows interactability with a three-dimensional scene, but not physical interaction with the scene. If the learning experience requires physical interaction, you need to put on a headset and have controllers. When that’s the case, you have a workforce of 50,000 employees to be trained—it now dictates how that is administered. So, are you putting together a kit of hardware that gets shipped to locations and having learners conduct trainings that way? Is it a single location you fly people into to take that training?
My advice is to identify the portions of your current training that are best suited towards immersive learning. Then look at the type of scalability required to train the workforce for those objectives. Use that to dictate the type of hardware modality to administer that immersive learning.
What is one of your standout immersive learning client success stories?
Our immersive learning work with Cox Communications was a great opportunity to provide real-life visuals. It was a step up for us in raising the bar on visual environments. We provided Cox Communications field service technicians with a Virtual Reality training program that immersed them into a scenario that would be familiar to them, as far as arriving at the home of a client or customer and walking through the general procedures for interacting with the customer and installing their devices. But the underlying purpose of the training was really around proper safety behavior reinforcement.
Oftentimes, you have to check voltage on the plug that you’re going to use on the cover outside of the house where you get into the wires that go into the house. Even though it is part of the multi-week training they do in person, whether or not they’re practicing that out in the field is something that’s unknown. And how do you reinforce that behavior even during a physical training session? With the VR experiences, we can, number one, track how many times they’re using their voltage detector and what they’re using it on. Secondly, we provided audible and haptic feedback. So, a vibration in the controller as well as a buzzing sound (electrical shock sound) when they perform it incorrectly to help reinforce, “I forgot to use that here. I should be using it here.”
This is one of the projects where we used Mercury to track this behavior for the instructor to see at the end. It’s good to see the progression from the beginning of the application, because it takes 45 minutes to get through the entire scenario. In the beginning, they may “electrocute themselves” four or five times in a row because they forget, but by the end of the application, they are not electrocuting themselves at all because they’ve learned the behavior of always checking everything. In fact, they often start checking things they don’t have to check.
Reinforcing that behavior and then having other layers of customer service apply to this, as well remembering the steps for the general procedure of installation. Boot covers and customer services were added to this. It involved reminding learners to put on their boot covers before they walk into the house and simulated messy boot prints on the floor if they forgot to do it. These little things were fun to implement. It’s kind of cool to see people jump and scream when they get electrocuted in VR, because it makes a huge behavioral change and reinforcement of those behaviors from those scenarios.
We are in the middle of building out a library of off-the-shelf content, starting with soft skills training because there is a huge benefit of pulling out things that are used as a practicum from the fundamentals of soft skills training.
We are asking, how do you practice doing the management and leadership skills that you’ve been taught? And how do you measure how well you did in that training? Even if you’re able to get 2–3 people in a room and do role-playing, at the end of the role-playing, there’s no real remembrance of the answers and how well you did for those answers. So, how do you better yourself as a manager from a role-playing scenario?
In Virtual Reality, not only can you practice that, but now you have metrics and data from the experience to grow upon. We are creating scenarios that use the latest technology in CGI character creation and animation to make things feel more fluid and realistic. We are incorporating voice recording and voice recognition technology now to be able to keep track of the responses that the managers have in that experience, which provides a playback not only for that particular manager, but also saves it for instructors or leaders to look back on to provide feedback and information.
We are developing better algorithms with Artificial Intelligence, falling in line with the latest from OpenAI, to help start instantiating conversations that are more fluid from the character talking to the manager. It can provide less of required text for the manager to choose from, and more of an intent that they can decide, in their own words, how to deliver that intent to the employee. Then, based on what they say, can change the reaction of the character that is playing their employee.
This combination of voice recognition, voice recording, and AI is what’s going to really raise the bar on how soft skills are trained in Virtual Reality. This is something we are working on and creating as an off-the-shelf product as well so that companies don’t have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to create it, because it’s been built. Now they’re just licensing for a fraction of that cost and getting the benefits of that application.
What do you think the future holds for learning experiences that leverage VR, AR, and Mixed Reality technologies? Do you think there are any surprising trends or innovative applications that people should keep on their radar?
When I was a kid, there was a video game I used to play. You’re in a tank and you’re driving, and you could turn off the path and start driving towards these mountains in the distance. The way the game was designed was that no matter how much you drove towards the mountains, the mountains never got close enough. You’re never going to get to the mountains. I kept thinking, “I just want to get there; I don’t want to stay on this path.” Training has been like that. There’s always this path, and we force learners down that specific path, regardless of their standpoint. Even if we give them branched learning options, the options always end up at the same point. You have no freedom, really. It’s just an illusion of freedom.
Even with AI and all the hype about ChatGPT, if we give a person the capability of saying whatever they want and have an AI algorithm say back something that makes sense, the learning objective still has to be the primary goal of the conversation. There still has to be an endpoint that we’re going towards, and so it still forces us down the same path.
What I think technology is going to provide us is this freedom, eventually, to where it doesn’t have to be a single point. There can be an infinite number of points. And getting there has an infinite number of paths. So, I can go however I want, and the final objective can change during that application while still being correct.
Now the metrics and data that are captured can provide leadership the ability to say, “Okay, there may be an infinite number of places Scott can go in a conversation, but we want him to go in this location; we want him at this node.” The feedback then provides them the ability to say, “Okay, he was way off the mark by the time he got to the end of that conversation. How do we correct him and get him to where we want him to be?” But the fact that I could get to somewhere different is what we’re striving to do.
As a last recommendation, finding an avenue for tangible learning and teaching in an imaginative way is key. As we push the limits of immersive learning training at Roundtable Learning, I’m excited to share more industry insights on our video channel.
A big thanks to Scott Stachiw for participating in our Q&A and shedding light on immersive learning limitations, as well as the benefits it can bring to learning experiences. Scott was also featured on our eLearning Trailblazers: Immersive Learning Pioneers list for being a thought leader in the field.
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