Digital thinking for L&D 101: Media-rich experiences

Posted by on 23 March 2017

Digital learning 101 media rich main

When I was planning this guide I wrestled with adding a section on media because television was invented way back in 1928,  and the radio in 1895. Media is not new. Then again, television and radio where analogue technologies, not digital. Digital technology transformed media in two ways:

  1. Media became cheaper and easy to produce – we all now have a video camera in our pocket.

  2. It’s now easy to distribute media.


In this section, we’ll look at digital technology and also explore virtual reality and augmented reality.

Humans are sensory beings. We engage with the world through our senses: sight, hearing, touch. On the other hand, digital technologies are abstract. They work with symbols, for instance, the rules and data that we talked about before. Digital technologies are not primarily physical (more on that later) and so adding media makes digital experiences more captivating to us. Media engages our senses and makes digital technologies less abstract.  

Using media in learning increases engagement. Engagement is really about aligning the motivations and needs of the learner with the learning experience. Media takes the time to watch and listen to, a result of which is that if it's not used correctly it can make the learning experience boring and less engaging.  

Two trends to think about in the field of media are live streaming and learner-produced media.

Live streaming Live streaming

Facebook and Twitter have recently added live streaming of video, which means anyone can broadcast video to friends and followers at any time. Facebook is seeing a huge growth in video content and they expect that video will be the dominant form of content in the near future. The live video streams we see are often the complete opposite of what we find in slick corporate training videos – most of the time they are shaky, blurry, and the audio is terrible, but it is undoubtedly intimate and direct. With live streaming, everyone can have their own TV station.

Learner produced videos Learner-produced videos

In digital learning projects, audio is common but the video is seen as expensive, especially if it involves actors and motion graphics.

An alternative is for the learners to produce their own videos (on their own phones). It means they go from being consumers of content to producers. It might involve running an exercise to document best (or worst) practice in the workplace, or recording routine activities for discussion in a later session. It gives us a video that is quick and inexpensive to produce.

Immersive media Immersive media – VR and AR

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are not new; I owned a headset that had both capabilities back in the 90s. In the past, however, VR and AR were complex and expensive to work with. The graphics where low resolution and often didn’t keep up with the movement of the user. Motion sickness was rife, and overall it wasn't a satisfying experience. But the processing power of contemporary technology has advanced to a stage where VR and AR are both usable and affordable.

They offer us many possibilities in learning. We can now build natural experiences that are in no way like a mere PowerPoint with voiceover. They have a novelty that attracts learners and stakeholders alike and can pique the interest of outsiders too. Using novel technology in learning can be a way to position an organisation as innovative.

This novelty factor is delicate, though. If the learning experience isn’t meaningful the learner will disengage.

Virtual reality

There are two types: 360-degree worlds, and generated 3D worlds.  

360-degree worlds

360 degree

This is a photographic-based approach. The experience is a bit like being in a fishbowl, where you’re standing in space and you can look around in every direction. It’s not a fully interactive experience but it’s a powerful way to tell stories and show places and experiences that you couldn’t otherwise access. Many situations where the video is used in a learning program could instead feature a 360-degree world.   

An Australian example of a 360-degree video is a training resource made by Victoria Ambulance. They’re using video-based virtual reality to help paramedics manage violence and aggression in the workplace.   

Technically, these 360-degree worlds are shot on multiple video cameras or with specialised cameras with multiple lenses. Then the viewpoints are stitched together into a seamless image or video. Most of the technology is straightforward and many professional video editing systems can now be used to produce the 360-degree video.   


3D worlds


3D worlds


The 3D world approach uses 3D graphics to simulate spaces and experiences. Most virtual reality experiences in the past used this approach. Advances in 3D gaming technologies mean that real-time 3D graphics have got to a stage where they are high quality and affordable.  

Virtual reality experiences are terrific for high-risk situations where a learner needs to practise in a safe situation. Flight simulators have been used in the aviation industry for years.

In the past, 3D worlds were expensive to produce. The high cost was not owing to the technology or the interaction but the vast amounts of time it took to generate the 3D models. But now there are extensive stock libraries of 3D objects. Assets such as buildings and other structures that have already been designed with 3D software can be re-used, making the model and the production process faster.   

The immersive possibilities of these types of simulations are now more achievable for more industries.  

Augmented reality

The term ‘augmented reality’ refers to a wide range of technologies. At the low end, it might be is a simple phone-based system where media is triggered by GPS location. At the high end is a complex headset that overlays 3D objects onto space around the viewer.    



There is a growing use of web technologies and services for building these types of experiences. One of these is Layar. It adds a tag to print media, and when someone points their camera at the tag, media is triggered.

Many learning resources strive to get away from boring old paper, but in augmented reality, we now have a way to make that boring old paper far more interactive.

In the high-end approach, a user wears glasses that overlay 3D objects over what they can see. These headsets are still relatively expensive and the experience is more complex to produce than simple web-based systems.      

Some uses for AR in learning

  • Treasure hunts. An induction exercise where the learner has to find tags around a building. When they find a tag, a video about the what happens in that section of the building is overlaid.

  • Just-in-time performance supports that overlay over machinery to step the learner through a process, or gives them the reference material they need to do the job.

Augmenting reality means a dynamic information layer can be added to the workplace. It’s an enabling technology for moving towards supporting performance instead of providing training.   

Questions and ideas to spark new thinking about rich media

  1. What could content that is now text be turned into a video? This might not just be learning content, it could be reference material as well.

  2. How can your L&D team use live streaming?

  3. Could your learners be producing and sharing video?

  4. How can you use 360-degree video to provide rich experiences? It might be possible for situations like customer interactions or team meetings.

  5. What could learning experiences be simulated in virtual reality? Could virtual reality be used to simulate high-risk situations?

  6. How could work be augmented? Could this be done with a low-tech mobile phone web-based augmented reality system?

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