This post is no longer as current as I had first hoped it would be. Time has the better of me in recent weeks and my editorial attention was elsewhere. So…not quite ‘now’ perhaps but still relevant I believe.
The ‘next big thing’ is a typical theme of most conferences. Technology conferences, rightly, spend a great deal of energy on the the quest for the new revolution. In the Learning Technologies proceedings, mobile and social have been the next big thing for a few years now, in our endless future.
About time for a new new thing then.
In answer to this need, onto the stage comes the always valuable Donald Clark. Every movement needs a sceptical challenge and Donald plays this role very well. He shines a clear light of common sense and deep experience into the murkier corners of accepted eLearning practice and doctrine, never losing sight of the practical realities of most organisations and those who work in them. To me however, this presentation cast Donald in a different role (to me at least). That of evangelist.
So much conference time and exhibition floor space is invested in the quest for engagement or its even more elusive cousin, immersion. The offers of a simple route to a truly engaging and immersive learning experience are manifold. They rarely deliver, I suspect.
The odds are stacked against immersion in the eLearning world. The LMS is a poor place to begin your swim and yet is so often where we would have people jump in. The subject matter does not often lend itself to engagement either. It is infrequently the subject of genuine choice or presented and delivered in a preferred mode or package. Engaging content (or its attempt) has, in many ways, become a means of distracting learners from the poverty of the overall experience. Brilliant tools for doing, less so for dunking.
So, when Donald began enthusiastically painting his picture of immersive learning experiences I was somewhat sceptical and suspicious myself. This changed quickly though as real examples were brought to life during the talk. Each were consumer grade experiences, becoming more obvious, familiar and available in many real world cases. The acquisition of Occulus Rift by Facebook was a distant signal of the potential which is now coming to life. Similarly, the Microsoft HoloLens brings real life applications into the consumer market. These technologies are now being marketed as tools for us to play, explore and learn with. Mark Zuckerberg chose education as a potential use of VR some time ago as their deal was announced. I should have paid closer attention then.
What is different about this new big thing is, I think, a tangible delivery against the real learning outcomes we are all so interested in. Users are clearly engaged and properly so. They can be emotionally and viscerally connected to the world they are participating in. Experiences are memorable in a way a screen struggles to match (at least whilst novelty is still a factor). Crucially a safe space to fail and practice is at hand. A rehearsal space to try and try again without breaking anything or risking the humiliation of getting things wrong. Applications of these tools quickly spring to mind across so many topics and skills.
So, I find myself to be an enthusiast, looking forward to these technologies and seeing how we might use them in a learning context. No, they won’t substitute everything (no one thing ever does). There is much to learn about how best to apply them and many mistakes to make along the way. The skills required to make them work are, I suspect, very rare in the L&D world. I will not be taking my eye off the ‘find things out and get things done’ approach quite yet. That is the real current value and is hard enough to get right, even with familiar tools.
I am keen to have a go at this new stuff though.