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How VR and AR Can Improve Skill Training

How VR and AR can improve skill training
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This post explores practical considerations for how VR and AR can improve soft skill training at your organization. The post was inspired by a discussion from our webinar series with Cortney Harding, founder of Friends with Holograms.

Watch the full recording below or click here to download a PDF of this article to save and read later.

Table of Contents

  1. The Difference between VR and AR
  2. Use Cases for VR and AR in Skill Development
  3. Learning Design Principles for VR and AR
  4. VR and AR considerations for L&D

AB: Hello and welcome everyone! I want to do a quick introduction for both of us.

For those of you who don’t know, my name is Andrew Barry. I run Curious Lion, a training design and production agency. We help clients create custom training content through all stages of design and development.

Joining me today is Cortney Harding, who is the founder of Friends with Holograms.

Cortney, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

CH: Hi. My name is Cortney Harding. I’m the founder and CEO of Friends with Holograms. We are a full service Virtual and Augmented Reality agency with a specialized focus in creating tools for training and enterprise. 

AB: Awesome. What we are going to be discussing today is exactly that kind of crossover between taking a training need, developing a training solution for it, and then delivering that in VR or AR, which is where Cortney is obviously the specialist.

What we’re going to cover today is:

  1. The difference between VR and AR.
  2. Common use cases for VR and AR in skills training you can potentially use in your organization.
  3. Learning design principles for creating a strong learning brief for someone who’s going to help you create a VR solution.
  4. VR and AR considerations for those in L&D roles.

Difference between VR and AR

How to use AR to improve skill training
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AB: Cortney, why don’t you expand for everyone on the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality and then we’ll get into the use cases for it.

CH: Sure.

VR is basically a completely immersive experience. So in VR you are in a headset and there’s different types of headsets with different capabilities that I can talk through. But generally, you are in a headset and you are more or less closed off from the outside world. So you’re completely immersed.

AR is a digital layer on top of the physical world. So you are still physically aware, you can see everything that’s around you, but then there’s a digital layer on top of it that you are interacting with in some way.

Now those are the two textbook definitions. Then there’s a really interesting continuum of experiences in between. For example:

  • There are VR headsets that have something called a pass-through device that allows you to be in VR and also interact with the physical space.
  • There’s a lot of things that you can do like touch-sensitive haptics, which I can talk about later while you’re in a VR headset so that you have some sort of connection to the real world while you are still in the headset.
  • I’ve seen some projects staged where you are in a room that is built out to look like a space and then you put on a headset and you are still in that space except virtually.

So there’s a lot of stuff that is in the middle there that’s not covered by those two basic definitions. The basic definition is VR is completely immersive and AR is the digital layer on top of the physical world.

AB: For AR. am I thinking like Pokemon Go where you use your phone as a handheld device and that overlays something in the real environment?

CH: Pokemon Go is a great example, also Snapchat filters, Instagram filters, Spark AR, which is Facebook. All of those are great examples. 

And when you start looking at those as AR, you realize just how popular it’s become and how widely adopted it is. So that’s the AR that’s on your phone. 

Then you start getting into the AR headsets. Magic Leap and Hololens are the two biggest there. And there’s a lot of different types of AR glasses that we can go into, some that are more enterprise-focused.

  • Bose has a pair that are a little bit more entertainment and sound focused. 
  • The North Focals are really consumer-focused. They’re very early stage at this point, but they are actually a pair of glasses. They look just like regular glasses actually really beautifully designed and it’s a heads up display so rather than like looking down at your phone for directions, you can be looking straight ahead and your glasses will be giving you directions. 

AB: From a training perspective (and we’ll spend the rest of the time talking specifically about that since that’s what you guys do) which is more popular for your clients. What (VR or AR) are they using most of?

CH: So our company mostly focuses on VR for training. And that’s honestly just because of the client briefs that we’ve had so far. There’s definitely interesting training that you can do with AR. And we’ve definitely consulted on some of those as well. We have the capabilities to do both and we’ve done some stuff in AR in the consumer space as well. 

I get this question a lot, which is better VR or AR and that’s like asking which is better “steak or chicken”? They’re kind of different — they’re both meat, but they are different things and it’s sort of contextual. For some types of learning, VR works really well. For some types of learning, AR works really well. So it’s really not so much about the technology, it’s like the skillset you’re trying to enable in someone.

Use Cases for VR and AR in Skill Development

Use cases for VR and AR in training
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AB: That’s actually a really cool segway into the next question. Maybe you can give us a couple of examples of what are you seeing works best – what skills have you seen translate best to this environment, maybe contrasting VR vs AR? 

CH: Yeah, so I can sort of talk through a couple of the cases that we’ve worked on – I think that gives a good background. 

The biggest project that we’ve done so far as a company is for social workers. The client that we worked with came to us and said: “we want to help train social workers more quickly to go out in the field and ask really good questions and do this for the families and take interviews.”So that’s the type of a piece where you really need a lot of immersion because you need someone to feel like they are actually in this house with this family where there’s a lot of conflict and tension.

We built that for a headset called the Oculus Go, which is a VR headset that’s voice-activated. A big thing for us is designing for the least technical person in the room and having simple intuitive interactions. We don’t use controllers, we try to keep everything very simple. So all you have to do is put on the headset and start talking. That’s a 20-minute long piece. You have different questions in front of you (that you can ask the simulated family you’re visiting). Whatever question you ask determines the answer you get. And there are different answers depending on how you ask the question. So it’s really a lot of different layers of learning. 

At the end, you have to make a decision about if you take the children to foster care or not.

And then there’s a classroom component afterward where you have to justify your decision. So really the learning is (a) practicing how to do these interviews and (b) practicing how to ask different types of questions in order to get the information that you need and deal with different personality types. 

That came out last year. It’s won some awards. It was a finalist for South Bay Innovation Award. We’re really proud of it. The second chapter launches in a week and a half at a conference in Wisconsin. And then we’ll be sharing that more widely. 

We also did a piece for a company called DDI, which is a learning and training company. In that case, we wanted to have people feel what it was like to be excluded in the workplace. The challenge with that is that people think that just because you put on a VR headset, you can become another person. That’s not true, that’s not how it works. You can’t just sort of leave your body and all of a sudden see things from someone else’s perspective.

So what we did was we kind of flipped the situation around so the user is themselves – the user is a corporate executive. But they’re put in a position where everything they say is just dismissed or they’re talked over. It’s very subtle – No one says, you’re terrible, that would be too easy. It’s really about creating a sense of unease and frustration.

That came out last May. That’s done really well, we’re really thrilled with how that worked. 

In consulting, we’ve done some interesting stuff with AR glasses and that’s for a telecom company. The idea here is that you have a much older workforce that’s starting to retire and they have all this institutional knowledge, but they don’t want to be out in the field working all day. And you have this much younger workforce that is just coming up – they don’t have the institutional knowledge, but they’re the ones who are able to be out in the field. 

So there are glasses called ViewsX and they are not something I would wear out and about but from a technology perspective, they’re fantastic and they are pretty light and they’re pretty easy to use. They’re just not like the most stylish things you’ll ever see. 

But the idea is the new field tech wears these ViewsX glasses. If they get in the field and they have an issue or something they don’t know how to solve, they can use the glasses to connect with a retired field tech or semi-retired field tech who is, maybe they’re in like their beach house and they just want to make a few extra bucks and spend a couple of hours in front of their laptop. Or maybe there’s more of an office. The idea is the offsite tech could see exactly what that person is seeing and it’s hands-free and they can talk back and forth. So it’s a really great way for these field techs to learn more quickly. It’s a great way to not lose the institutional knowledge. And just from a user perspective, it’s so much better. 

I had an experience last summer where my air conditioning unit broke. Someone from the HVAC company came. It was a young guy, didn’t really know how to fix my particular unit. And so I’m holding up his phone while he’s FaceTiming his supervisor and he’s in there and you’re trying to fix it and it’s not great or seamless user experience. So the ViewsX glasses really enable that. 

Those are just three examples. I could talk for hours about this type of stuff, but those are just three things that we’ve worked on that I think are good thought starters for how to think about this stuff.

AB: Awesome – I’ve got two questions that come to mind from that. In that field tech example, can you do that asynchronously? So with AR can you not have someone coming in for that live coaching, but do it asynchronously? 

CH: For this use case that wouldn’t really work because it’s while a field tech is in the field. So in that situation that’s maybe not the best use case for that. 

However, there’s other stuff you could do with AR headsets where you could be practicing fixing the actual equipment but see an overlay where someone is guiding you and that guidance can be pre-programmed. In that very specific use case, it does have to be live, but they’re certainly are other cases where you could make it asynchronous.

AB: And then the other question – it sounds like, so being able to work on a complex piece of machinery, being able to then bring that in a 3D environment, that seems like one bucket of use cases. The other one is dealing with humans, interacting with people and then you suddenly getting responses that are designed to get a reaction from the person that’s taking the training. Is that it? Or was that a too narrow way of looking at it?

CH: I think those buckets are pretty broad.

The soft skills training can be anything from dealing with workplace issues, dealing with HR issues. We have a piece we’re working on right now about sexual harassment that you have to read people’s body language as part of it. So it’s not just voice, but it’s responding to how people look at you when they’re talking to you. Did they look away? Do you sense that they’re uncomfortable? And then how do you sort of correct for that? 

So I think there’s not a VR solution for every single training problem. Some of the training problems that people bring to us, it’s not a fit and that’s totally fine and we are very upfront about that. 

But if you start thinking really creatively and defining the problem really well, you generally can put it in a bucket of either talking about things or working on things. 

We had a piece we consulted on, it was about how do you lift a box safely, so we can create a really innovative solution for that. That involved a lot of different trackers and motion sensors. So once you start drilling down on the problem, there’s more than a VR or AR learning solution for it. 

AB: That’s really interesting. Working on things and working with people. That is pretty broad. I wonder if anyone out there has any examples of that and can throw those out. We’ll come back to those as well. I know one of the attendees here works in software. In training on how to use the software, is there a VR or AR approach to that or is that maybe in the future?

CH: You could, but I don’t know why you would. So we’ll give you an example: 

If I want to learn Microsoft Word, which is a very dated example, but I’ll just go with it. If I want to learn Microsoft Word that’s pretty accessible for me to do. I can just download it to my computer and I can take some tutorials and learning. That would not be the best use case for VR because that’s something that you can already learn pretty easily. 

So, it depends on the software, but what I’ve found would be more useful is if you’re on the sales side of the software, you have to really know how to explain the software. You have to know how to sell the software. So, coming up with a solution where you are in the headset and you’re practicing “okay, I’m trying to sell some Microsoft Word”. 

Or let’s use Salesforce, right? So if you work at Salesforce and you’re trying to sell someone on the Salesforce tool, you can be in VR and practice talking to a customer and they might have a lot of questions for you, or they might have a lot of arguments they’re putting up so you can practice sort of overcoming those arguments. 

Pure software training though, I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best use case for VR.

AB: The sales side, that’s very interesting. Another example from the chat here – a hardware chain store in Ireland put together training for their staff on how to install various things when they are at their clients. That’s again – customer support, customer service, being able to simulate examples and scenarios for their staff.

CH: Ikea has one of the most robust AR apps I’ve seen and it’s quite good. It’s called Ikea Place. It’s pretty fun to play with, especially if you’re interested in putting furniture in your living room. The challenge with using this type of stuff for training purposes is when it comes to building things, we’re still dealing with phones most of the time. 

If I’m trying to build a piece of Ikea furniture, it’s hard for me to hold the phone and also find which one of the 20 different screws I’m supposed to use. It works if you’re building in tandem, one person’s holding the phone and the other person is working on it. As we move towards more headsets and more consumer adoption of headsets, I think this type of stuff is going to be massive, which is exciting. 

AB: Yeah. Or Google Glass or whatever the next incarnation is gonna be. 

I think those are some good examples and ideas for possible use cases and that’s going to keep expanding as well, I’m sure.

Learning Design Principles for VR and AR

Learning and design principle - Signposting
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AB: Let’s go through a couple of learning design principles. I know quite a few people on here would be interested in this and spend more of their time thinking through learning design principles. So I’m going to throw five learning principles at you to get some examples of how you can see that applied in a VR or AR environment from your perspective of creating it to help kind of bridge the gap for people. 

One of the concepts is signposting or signaling – and that’s really simply the idea of what we did in this presentation. We set up what are the five things we’re going to cover. And then you show people as they’re going through it, where in the process they are which is really good for linear processes and that kind of thing. 

So how have you seen signposting applied in this environment?

CH: That’s something you really need to think about when you’re doing narrative design in VR. I’ll use the Accenture example because I think we did a pretty good job with that. You can’t just put someone in a headset without giving them any sort of context or intro. 

The curriculum designers we worked with for Accenture, for the social worker piece – you walk into the piece and they tell you this is a piece to train you how to ask these questions.  So there’s a little bit of a setup from the get-go. It’s not like you walked into the classroom one day and they hand you the headset, just saying go ahead. 

So the way the piece works is, the first thing you do is you hear a hotline call and that’s a typical experience for a social worker. The hotline call center lays out all the allegations. And that’s how we then designed the script, was; here are the allegations. And then as you go through the script, you go through the simulation, you’re addressing each allegation on its own. 

The second thing to do in VR is getting people to start looking around. So the way the intro works on that is you see a lot of pictures and the pictures are of the players, so you hear a players name; the mother or the boyfriend or the daughter or the baby – and you’ll see the corresponding pictures come at you from different angles. So that gets you to start moving your head around. That’s a very subtle cue that this is not the type of piece where you just look straight ahead, this is the type of case where you have to kind of look around. 

Then we do have a pretty standard introductory voiceover and that is as you are seeing the exterior of the family home, which is a location we shot at in LA. This is allowing you to look around, take things in, create a mental picture and also you’re hearing actual instructions. 

You then go into the family home and there are voice prompts along the way. So you are getting used to using the voice software and speaking into the headset. Then there’s a piece where it’s a short clip and you’re standing in the family living room; the mother is very angry. She’s yelling at you, she’s confronting you. Her boyfriend is kind of trying to calm her down, but her boyfriend is a big scary biker guy and at one point the daughter runs in. 

So the idea there is to create this real feeling of “oh my gosh, this is scary. This woman is very angry at me” and that’s a real feeling that social workers deal with every day. That piece ends with the boyfriend saying [the mother’s name is Monica] “do you want to talk to Monica and ask her questions?”. 

Then you get some other instructions which are voiceover and a little bit more like “read the card” and “speak it out loud” and “pay attention to the answer” – kind of standard suggestions. Then you ask the questions and at the end of each interview, the last card says, “okay, I’ve got everything I need, I need to speak to this other character next” so that kind of keeps you moving along. 

Again, it’s just making sure you provide context for people as to where they are in the experience and what they’re supposed to do. Making it as simple as humanly possible because VR is new. A lot of the social workers we use this with haven’t ever used VR or maybe they’ve used it once. It’s not a normal thing yet. The more you can decrease the intimidation factor, the better. So making it very simple and very obvious as to what’s happening is really critical.

Learning and design principle - Prior knowledge
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AB: Yeah, I’d imagine that’s true for most people. You’ve got to get through that initial barrier. We’ll spend some time later talking about those practical implications as well, like motion sickness.

Next point = prior knowledge, this is essentially down to the scripting, bringing in the prior knowledge of the social worker (learner) into the script. Is there’s anything you want to add to that?

CH: Yeah, absolutely. So we work very closely with our clients who are the experts. We are not experts in workplace exclusion, social work, sexual harassment, training police officers or whatever and we don’t have to be because we work with those experts. 

They are the ones who can come in and say; “this is realistic” or “this isn’t realistic” or “this is what we want to teach” or “this is maybe a secondary thing, but it’s not as important to drill right now”. 

What we do is synthesize all that information and we work back and forth with them because what we know is how to write a script in VR. So there are certain things where the questions have to be ordered in a certain way for the voice software to work or the questions have to be short enough to fit on the screen and be easy to read. All of that type of user flow and how to get people through (the training), that’s where we can really help. 

There are some concepts that would work in a 2D video that sounds really great in theory, and they’re just not technically possible in VR. I’ll give you a really good example. This guy was talking about how his company had built a VR piece and there was a person sitting on either side of you, which if you’re training in person – you have to look like this, you have to look like this (looking side-to-side). That’s fine. I mean, we’ve all been at dinners where there’s someone sitting on either side of us and we move our heads around and it’s no big deal.

That doesn’t work in VR because you’re having to flip your head around so much and it’ll make you sick, it’ll give you a headache, it’s not good: it’s not good user experience. That’s the type of thing that if somebody wants to build that, we would say to them; “let’s put these people across the table from you” or “let’s tweak this experience in a way that makes it much more user-friendly”. Because if you have two people sitting across from you, you’re not whipping your head from side to side, you’re using this motion, which is much more natural and much better. 

So, that’s how we approach everything.

AB: And who’s responsible for that in terms of developing the actual training? Is it the scriptwriter or the learning person or is it you guys? – how does that part work?

CH: Again, we’re super collaborative with our clients. The way it works is basically there’s an intro call and then we come up with a brief and an idea. We really workshop that. And then we collaborate on the script, we collaborate on the creative. Obviously we know a lot about creative and VR, but our clients know a lot about the creative that’s attached to the training they do. It’s a really back and forth process. 

Then what we almost always do, we don’t do this in every single project, but we do it in most of them, is we build a very basic prototype so that we can test all of our assumptions. And that’s something that we then do to a round of user testing with. 

So that again, we can just make sure, are we on the right track? Is this working right? Cause we don’t want to come up with a great idea that we think works and then turns out it doesn’t work. We’d much rather be able to correct on the fly. So, for example, the piece we did for DDI because it was a room with several people in a meeting, that’s the bulk of the piece. We had to be really thoughtful about how do we block this out. So we spent a lot of time moving people in different configurations around a conference table to make sure that the person in the headset wasn’t getting dizzy or getting whiplash. It’s that type of stuff that we do when we build the prototype to make sure that when we shoot the final version, it’s something that’s a really good comfortable user experience. 

Learning and design principle - Motivation
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AB: Yeah, that makes sense. So motivation, I want to just briefly cover that there’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic being the badges, the levels and that kind of stuff. And intrinsic, I always say that in our learning environment, you want to teach people “why”: show them why they’re doing something before they get into it. How do you incorporate motivation into this type of training? And do you need it, because it’s so exciting?

CH: That’s something that honestly, I think our clients think about more than we do. We want to make this interesting and fun to do. So that’s something we think about. But we definitely could work it – if that was in the brief at different levels, different badges – that stuff that’s all pretty easy to build in. That just has to be part of the creative brief. 

And there is always a level of excitement, at least initially, when people are like “oh, the headset, it’s a new technology, it’s so interesting”. So, I think, it’s working in our favor at this point. Five years down the road it’s just going to be really common. 

I think of what we do in opposition to the sort of flat training videos that a lot of people do. I had someone ask me this on a call yesterday, “how is this different than video?” And at that point I was just like; “oh my god, how much time do you have?” 

Part of it too is that there are no distractions in VR, you are in the headset. That’s so much different than the videos. I’ve worked corporate jobs before and I did the sexual harassment video every year where I’m just like click, click, click; I’m reading my texts, I’m on Instagram watching cat videos. I’m like, okay, yeah, yeah, don’t grab someone in the office. That’s bad. Okay, cool. Bye.

The other thing that can happen is because you’re so immersed, you can notice a lot of different things. It’s much more interactive and there’s a lot of stats about how VR has much better outcomes than training videos because you’re interacting with it so much more and the distractions are so many fewer.

Learning and design principle - Deliberate practice
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AB: That’s interesting. I feel like there’s probably less of a need to actually motivate that initial “why” because there is no escape and like you’re so immersed that’s not that you need to get their attention. So, I think we’ve touched on this quite a bit: deliberate practice is really this principle of teaching someone a concept and then giving them a unique context in which to apply that. I feel like VR is meant for that.

CH: Yeah, that’s one thing that I’ve been writing about recently. I do a newsletter every two weeks, feel free to sign up for it. It’s a lot of information about VR and specifically to training. One thing that VR is really, really good for is training people in uncommon situations. I’ve put this example in two previous newsletters. It’s a difficult story, but I think it’s a good use case.

There was a situation sometime over the summer where a nonverbal autistic man was flying with his family and the airlines separated them and the rest of the family was like “Hey, this guy really has to sit with us – he can’t just go sit on his own.” The airline workers did not treat the family well. And so now there’s this huge outcry. And I think part of that is because that’s an uncommon situation they probably haven’t trained for.

I fly with my husband a lot and we want to sit together but we survive not sitting together, we just prefer to. So right here you’re trying to deal with those types of situations. You’re not trained to deal with this type of situation, so it’s the type of thing where you can build a really good training module for this. How do you deal with this particular situation? And that’s going to save you a lot of bad PR headaches, having to pay out families because they’ve been separated from their disabled family member. 

It’s those types of situations that I think are really worthwhile in VR. Like the social worker piece, there’s no real way to train social workers to do family interviews. You can do it in a classroom with a trainer, which is fine, except there’s the uncanny valley issue where that trainer is not actually an abused child. You can sort of job shadow, which is very good except you’re not the one actually doing the work and that’s very, very expensive. And then you’re watching videos and clicking on answers, that’s not really getting you anywhere and you can’t ethically send untrained people out into the field to interview families when they’re not ready to.

It’s looking at those types of really high stakes situations in particular and figuring out how VR can sort of solve that.

Learning and design principle - Scaffolding
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AB: Yeah. Quite a few of the airlines could probably benefit from that. The last one is scaffolding. This is really the concept of support for the learner as they need to figure out a new situation. I think the support that I keep thinking of, that you mentioned a lot, is voiceover. What sort of support do you see in VR and how do you see that being scaffolded?

CH: I think one of the best ways to do it is moving from scripted to less scripted. There are different voice platforms that we partner with and some of them are much more keyword responsive. Think of Amazon Alexa or Siri where you’ve got the questions written out in front of you, you read those out loud, a server pings up based on the words that you’ve read out loud and pulls down an associated answer. 

So that’s the one-on-one – read the script, get the answer. 

We can move and use different software that would allow you to come up with a question out of thin air. And that would be much more artificial intelligence (AI) training. There would still be keyword focus because it would be picking up what you’re saying, but there’s much more of an AI component to that where it would pull from a set of answers and then the training wheels are basically taken off the interview where you read from the scripted prompts and then you eventually move into; “okay, now I’m just going to sit across from this person.” 

There has to be some sort of a prompt or there have to be some guard rails.

I can’t be in a VR experience and ask this woman about baseball because that’s irrelevant. But you can have it set up so that, for example, there are seven issues mentioned in the hotline call. You have to ask a question about every single one of those issues. We can have time constraints around it, so you have 10 minutes to talk to this person and get these five things from them. There’s a lot of different ways to design all this and again, it really depends on the brief and how much guidance people need.

AB: I like this idea of the AI coming in and, like with interviews, teach people how to do interviews and how to interview people. 

VR & AR considerations for L&D

VR and AR considerations for Learning and development
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AB: That leads me to the next question which I know people on this call probably have as well.

If you’ve identified your topic, like interview skills or sexual harassment training, how do you make that work within a smaller budget? And how do you then deploy that to a bigger audience, with all the hardware requirements, and all of that? And my last point before I leave it with you is, you guys do this VR/AR Jumpstart and I want to understand that as well as I think that leads into this.

CH: Smaller budgets are all kind of relative. One thing that we really stress when we’re talking about VR with people is that you’re looking at:

  • 75% increase in retention
  • 40% faster training time
  • 70% performance improvements

So this is the type of thing where, if you do this well and deploy it well, it’s going to save you a lot of money. That’s the first place I would start. 

Going back to the airline example – it’s not going to be super cheap to come up with a simulation like the one I was talking about, but it is a lot cheaper than hiring a crisis communications firm and having to pay out a family that’s been traumatized. That’s just something to really think about. 

There are different things we can do with different budgets. It’s really a matter of knowing what the budget is because we can be creative with a budget. But the worst possible thing you can do in VR is see something and just latch on to that idea and then want it for less than it originally cost cause that’s just a losing proposition. 

I won’t name the company, but we were talking to this company and we’d show them the Accenture piece, which was a pretty involved big piece that had a pretty good budget. They came back to us and they were like; “well we want this but we want it for a third of the price”. And we just said to them that that’s not how it works. 

We can come up with other good creative for this price, but just seeing something and saying “I want that” but not being willing to pay for it is not doable. 

So the Jumpstart is a really good way to figure a lot of that stuff out. The Jumpstart is a one week program that we created. We embed in the client’s office. If that’s not possible, we do Zoom or Skype. We generally like to be in person, but sometimes travel schedules just don’t allow that.

The first day it’s really about pinpointing the problem. People come to us all the time, I want to do VR for training. “What do you want to do it for?” So we help people figure out exactly what they’re wanting to do. And from there, once we’ve got the problem pinpointed, we work on the creative, we write the script, we put everything together. And that’s the first day up to the second day.

Day three, we actually make the prototype. That’s going to be very rough. It’s going to be a one day shoot. We’re going to be using either (a) if we’re remote, it’s going to be like our friends and our office or (b) if we are on your site, it’s going to be employees and your friends at your office. We’ll just shoot it with a cheap 360 camera. We will auto stitch, we’ll dummy in the interaction just for testing purposes. We can’t program in the interaction because that takes a lot longer.

Day four is putting everything together. So auto stitching, putting everything in and making sure it looks okay for people to use. 

Day five is user testing. What you’re left with at the end of the Jumpstart is a piece that is not ready for external use at all, but very much ready for user testing and for showing to your bosses and other people who sign the checks. 

So that’s pretty much what we require our clients to do as a first step unless we’re dealing with people who’ve already done a lot of VR projects and we are working with them at a different level. That’s a really good way for people to get into it and see if it’s a feasible solution. That’s a flat fee and it’s two of us and it’s a pretty good thing. 

Deploying VR content to a mass audience, that is going to depend on what you’re trying to do. We develop a lot for this headset called the Oculus Go. The Oculus Go costs $200 and Best Buy, and you get it on Amazon. They’re very small. I keep one in my purse at almost all times. They are very easy to use. You can’t really move around in it. But for some of this soft skills training stuff where the final thing you need to do is talk, that’s the type of thing where you can buy a lot of those and have them in somebody’s office or check them out with the employees or do it at an event.

We are able to sync with different LMSs as long as they have an API that we can use, then definitely build something like that. That can be really seamless. 

And then Oculus who makes the headsets, they’re owned by Facebook. Oculus has a platform called Oculus For Enterprise and that’s the type of thing where we would help you work with them so that you can sync up. Let’s say you’ve got a thousand headsets, that content could be pushed to all of those headsets at once rather than you having to manually do it, which is not challenging, but honestly kind of a pain. And that platform would manage everything for you.

AB: Okay, so it could be done remotely as well. That’s interesting. I feel like that’s the barrier that a lot of the clients we talk to have where there’s so much hardware and technical components. But that’s getting stripped away.

CH: It’s really not that much hardware. The Oculus Go is pretty small and it’s the type of thing where you have five of them in someone’s office and someone can check them in and out or you can do them as part of a classroom setting. 

Other Headsets — The Oculus Quest is one you do more room for, but it’s not like it was where you need a high power computer and the Oculus Quest is now wireless. It’s $400. It’s definitely getting a lot cheaper and easier to deploy, which is really nice. 

AB: Yeah. That’s awesome. We saw this next question quite a bit from the audience. You touched on this briefly, but explain to people, what is motion sickness in VR and how do you combat that?

CH:

VR doesn’t make people sick, bad VR makes people sick.  

The easiest way for me to explain it is for you to think about being in a car and you are looking at a book or your smartphone. Sometimes you will feel nauseous if you’re doing that, right? And that’s because your motion and your eyes are not syncing up. Your eyes were looking at the fixed words on a page, but your body is in motion. So it’s that imbalance that creates the feeling in VR. It’s the opposite of that where if you are standing still in the headset, but you are in motion in the VR experience, that will trigger those same impulses in your inner ear. And that’s what’s gonna make you feel sick.

So there are two ways to solve that.

  1. Create an experience where your physical movement matches your movement in the headset. So that’s something where you can walk around more. You can make the movement very slow, which makes it a lot easier.
  2. Create an experience where the only movement is looking around and turning your head but you’re not like physically moving forward.

So really bad examples of VR, they’ll make people sick.

Roller coasters, don’t do that, ever. Boats… We had somebody come to us and want to do a VR experience on a boat. And I was like “no, unless the boat is parked in a garage, then we might do it.” But if the boat’s in motion, forget it, everyone will die.

During the last winter Olympics, I forget when it was (last year or two years ago), somebody put a 360 camera on the front of a bobsled. And I was just like, what are you doing? That is such a bad idea.

That’s the stuff that we have a lot of experience with. We know this guy who was saying that his company tried to build something internally. They didn’t understand VR so they’re building something where you do this all the time and that makes me kind of icky just doing it.

So it’s really about working with people that have a lot of knowledge about how to design for VR because they can help you take certain creative concepts and put it into a more VR friendly format.

AB: Yeah, I don’t think people realize how you lose control of your own sense of balance until you’ve experienced it yourself. So kind of related to this is the next question. People with disabilities – like visual impairments – how are you guys addressing that? And how big of a deal is that in VR? 

CH: That’s definitely something we are working on. I don’t think we’ve solved it yet. I don’t know that anyone has. It’s obviously a huge concern for us. 

One thing that the challenge is because you are having to read and view so much in the VR headset, we can change things like the type size. But if you are completely blind, we’re going to have to rethink how you would interact with it. So that’s the type of thing where we build something out where there’s Braille involved. We would create a series of cards, put them on a table in front of a user. They would use the Braille to pick something they wanted to say out loud and then they hear it through the experience. 

You can definitely do stuff with subtitles and that’s something we’ve worked on. As we do more stuff with haptics and touch, I think there are ways to use those to make things more available to people with different disabilities who are using VR for training. It’s the stuff that we think about a lot and we want to make sure we’re being incredibly inclusive when we’re designing. 

The other thing I’ll say is the voice platforms that we generally use and voice platforms in general, like Siri or Alexa, are so much better with accents than actual human beings. So we test everything. I’m using people with very thick accents. We had one guy who had a stutter go through the experience and it worked fine for him. I have a colleague who’s from Russia and can make his accent very thick if he wants to and I had him user test it. It’s a huge priority for us to make sure that this stuff is as accessible as possible.

AB: Yeah, that’s awesome. One of the live participants mentions two examples from Microsoft and the BBC UK. I don’t know if you’re aware of those two, but it seems like they’re doing some good things around accessibility.

CH: Yeah, Microsoft has done a lot. They do a lot with the Hollow Lens, which is their mixed reality headset. They also have a lot of stuff with motion capture so they have studios around in New York, they have one in LA, where you can go and get volumetrically captured. That’s for a VR system, that’s really interesting.

The BBC has done a ton of cool stuff. Because I don’t know what specific things she’s talking about, I can’t really speak to that.

Cost-wise, I don’t know how much it would cost. If you’re thinking about a piece like Accenture, that’s the type of thing where the trainer would create these Braille cards to make that piece accessible to a blind person. Because that’s a little bit outside of the scope for us, I don’t know how much that would cost. I can’t imagine it would be prohibitively expensive if you are printing out braille cards. I just don’t know. The rest of the experience would work exactly the same. Subtitles don’t cost that much to put in – it really depends on what the creative is and what the accessibility issue is around the cost.

AB: That’s cool to know that a lot of companies are already thinking about these issues, I think it speaks to how advanced the technology already is and the use cases are. We talked about this briefly before we started – this process of creating a complex asset, like an airplane engine or flat simulated stuff, and then recreating that in 3D. What are the implications there? How do you approach that?

CH: It’s definitely doable. It’s like 3D modeling and 3D rendering, which is possible. We have people on our team who are really good at those things. The challenge is quality, fidelity, and cost. So, how much detail do you need?

If you’re talking about an airplane engine, that’s an incredible amount of detail and that’s an incredibly important detail to have. What we would recommend is taking every part of the engine, building a 3D model and then putting that together in the game engine to build the piece. That’s called an exploded view, which is where you can see all the components and then you put it all together.

It’s definitely doable. It’s something to think about and budget for because it can get very expensive if you’re looking at tons of different pieces. That could be well within your budget but that’s just something to keep in mind.

AB: It’s really a function of “what does that cost come down to” and “how do you make that business case”?

I think you touched on some interesting things; the speed with which the retention obviously increases, the speed with which you can train decreases. It’s all trying to build that business case. And I think that’s the hard part for a lot of people to get started with this topic, to justify the spending.

So I think to wrap this up, we touched on a lot of points here. Going back to my original point about the gap between you working with your clients and they have a learning person (or sometimes they don’t like you said to me earlier) and then you guys take that brief and put it into a virtual experience, what are some of the characteristics of a rock-solid brief to be able to do that?

CH: What is my dream brief? The more information you can give us, the better. The more clearly defined your goals are, the better. Not just saying we want to do VR training, but what problem do you really want to solve using VR? And why do you think VR is a solution to solve that problem? The more you can give us on that, the more we can help shape the creative. We’re happy to talk to people who are not super clear on it.

A huge part of my day is walking people through answering those questions. We have a Q&A that we send to everyone once they approach us and get a little bit further down the path with us, which has a set of questions that helps them go through and define; “okay, what exactly am I trying to do here and why is it going to work in VR versus why don’t I just do something else?”

We can help you understand that and that’s a big part of what we do. I understand you can’t do everything at once. So really focusing on “what is the biggest problem we’re trying to solve?” “Can we solve a chunk of it using VR or AR?” And then just again, having a really clear sense of how much you’re willing to spend. And the more stuff you can give us upfront, the better.

So in an ideal world, we get a brief, which is like;

  • Here’s the problem we’re trying to solve.
  • Here’s why we think it works well in VR.
  • Here’s the budget range we’re looking for.
  • Here are some of our existing materials so you can see how we’re training people now.

Then what we do is every Friday afternoon for a couple of hours, towards the end of the day, we have a whiteboarding session where the entire team gathers. We put up some of the briefs on the board or sometimes we make up briefs just for fun, sort of noodle on stuff. But generally, we’ll put a client brief up on the board and we’ll just go nuts whiteboarding it and really try to come up with something creative and then come back to them. That’s sort of the initial start.

So, I don’t expect everyone to understand everything about VR based on what you read on the internet or this Webinar. If you just have a general sense of wanting to do something, that’s fine. I’m not going to be mad at that. But the more information you can give us, the better.

AB: It sounds like the key thing here, and I think this is true in all training is it’s important to know what you’re trying to do. What are you trying to solve? What’s the problem? It’s identifying that problem with that training. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation, so thank you for joining us. Any last thoughts you want to share Cortney?

CH: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This is what I do all day long. I’m more than happy to talk about it. Quick consult calls, happy to do them. If you have VR related questions, definitely hit me up.

And go get an Oculus Go.

They’re really not that expensive. And just to be very clear, I have no formal relationship with Oculus. I have some friends that work there, but I don’t get paid for anything. The Oculus Go is just a really good headset. It’s a great introductory headset. It’s $200. Just start playing with it. Get your boss to buy one for the office and I can send you some stuff to look at, there’s stuff on there you can download. The challenge really with VR at this point is that so few people have done it. It’s sometimes really hard to explain. It’s much easier to put a headset on someone and show them because then they get it. So the more that you can get in a headset and get familiar with the headset, that’s gonna really help.

AB: I think that’s excellent advice and such a great way to start – spend the $200 on the headset experience with yourself and then let your imagination start running.

Cortney, thank you so much, it was really great discussing this with you. I’m fascinated by this and I think this has got huge potential going forward. Maybe we get to work together.

Get in touch with our guest

You can connect with Cortney Harding on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Some of it is VR related, some things are photos of her dog, but she’s pretty cute. 

Email: cortney@friendswithholograms.com  

Website: www.friendswithholograms.com

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