Interviews from LearnX - Using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in L&D with Peter Clowes

Peter Clowes from MAXART talks about how they have been using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in L&D.   


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Transcript -  Using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in L&D

Robin: Peter, welcome to the Learning While Working podcast. For the audience, could you just give an introduction to who you are and where you're from?

Peter Clowes: Yes so, my name is Peter Clowes, the founder and director at Maxart Virtual Augmented Reality Technology. So we build VR and AR applications for clients that want to do training applications essentially.

Robin: There's lots of hype across the whole tech industry about VR and AR, what are you seeing the sort of trends and application of it in L&D?

Peter Clowes: Yes you are right, there's a lot of hype and a lot of noise. We're very lucky in Brisbane that we sit away from that noise a little bit and work quietly at our desks, which is great. Trends that I'm seeing? I'm seeing more uptake which is great. We've been in space for a long time now, it feels like a long time and it's always been difficult to implement the technology, it's been cumbersome, expensive, difficult to set up, so many things. And now, with new types of technology and new headsets coming from Oculus and HTC, our clients are like, “Well, actually we can start putting these pilots into production environments now,” which is great.

Robin: It feels like the technology is at a point where it's mature, it's both really easy to use, it's affordable for all now, and the easy to use [aspect] means that it's actually affordable to actually do a lot of work with.

Peter Clowes: Yes and being affordable means that people are getting their hands on it in the L&D space so not just companies like Max Art but also the corporate entities are able to go out and buy four or five headsets and let their team experiment and explore, which is great and you're not breaking L&D budgets to go and do that work, which is wonderful.

I think what we really want to see is that there are so many great learning designers that have been developing in 2D spaces, can we get them to now start developing in 3D? And I'm really interested because we don't have all the best ideas, we don't even have great ideas, there are so many people out there with wonderful ideas, we just want them to have the tools to bring those to life I suppose.

Robin: It's obviously really interesting from an instructional design point of view because essentially it's just such a different paradigm, you're actually building a space, you're building a world so you have to work with experiences, rather than-

Peter Clowes: Yes.

Robin: I've seen a few VR things, where people have put things up onto whiteboards--projection style things--and sit there and go, “Oh my God, you're just duplicating the Power Point.” Actually, to use it, you need to actually totally rethink your instructional design.

Peter Clowes: You're exactly right, Robin and I love that example that you have given because we see it all the time and exactly, you can't do that in VR. That's a big no-no to give blocks of information that you would in 2D design. Like if you're doing Power Point or if you're doing e-learning or something like that, you can't do it. It disengages the user straight away. So we're really lucky, Dale from our team, he's a psychologist and he does all of our UI and UX stuff and he started with VR fresh, like that was his first medium, he skipped e-learning. So, he sort of hasn't been burdened by any of that, so he's always thinking of really creative ways to transform e-learning into VR.

Robin: Because that's also interesting, that a person is possibly doing their work around figuring out what the value experience is actually coming from the UI point of view.

Peter Clowes: That's right.

Robin: And user experience and it’s that experience thing that’s the important bit--

Peter Clowes: Absolutely.

Robin: --to build that up so that people can then have that learning experience through that.

Peter Clowes: I agree, yes it's a huge part of the applications we build, Dale's a godsend, absolutely love him and he just builds great stuff for our clients. I really-- my hope is for the technology as it gets cheaper, is that there are plenty more Dales out there in the industry here in Australia and we need to just get them hands on with the tech and building things and who cares about experimentation, and experiment.That's how we got to where we are.

Robin: Just a thought--so essentially I segment VR into 3D real time and video based VR--what do you think is the easiest way to get started in L&D in terms of which direction to go in?

Peter Clowes: We personally don't do a lot of video based stuff and the only reason is because we're all about kinesthetic learning and in video you tend to stay still and just observe, there isn't a kinesthetic component to it. So we really love learning by doing, but [video based VR] is an easy way to get in[to VR] and understand how immersive it can be and it can give you that walk-a-mile-in-someone's-shoes experience or that empathy piece and it's a great way to get in.

Then, from there if you want to start building great things, then get into a game engine, like learn a game engine like Unity and start just tinkering and playing.

Robin: So the way I'm starting to think about it is when to use different types of VR. The video based VR is when you can easily take a video camera in there, you've got someone to be in the shoes of, but you're happy for a passive experience.

Peter Clowes: Yes that's right and that works.

Robin: Yes, you transport someone, put someone into a difficult-- into a spot where they are having a difficult conversation. But if you want to build up something that is a simulation, a dynamic world, that people can actually move around and act in, it needs to be in that 3D space.

Peter Clowes: Yes it needs to be in a game engine or something like that, but that's changing, Robin, too. So now VR companies are building tools where you can prototype experiences. So, Google's already got two, they've got Tilt Brush and Blocks where you can just, with your hands and VR, build your world out. And Microsoft just announced one yesterday, so allowing you to do set decorations and prototypes and build these things with just your hands, you don't need to be an amazing artist to do it.

Robin: Just one I've had a little bit of a play with is the Amazon one.

Peter Clowes: Ah, Sumerian.

Robin: Which had the bots in them as well-- which at the same time I sit there and go, “Oh there's a risk of you to just have the bot sit there and talk away at you all the time.”

Peter Clowes: Yes, Sumerian is a really interesting piece of technology. I'm really glad Amazon is playing in this space and they've got something at the ground level but I think we'll see more from that, like in the next 12 months.

So it's an engine we've actually done some work in and I really like it. I think, when you go back to that question, what's an easy way to get in, Sumerian is a really easy way to get in.

Robin: Yes because it also had-- this is the other interesting thing about the area, there's so many existing models that can be brought in.

Peter Clowes: And it's web based so you can drag it into your browser and it's very, very easy to use. I think for us, we don't use it as much because it's web based, so I suppose if it wasn't web based, we'd use it a lot more, like if it was a standalone application, we'd use it. Our internet connection is not as good I suppose at the office.

Robin: There's also that classic difference between what's really accessible for, say instruction designers inside of an organisation that's doing something that is DIY, compared to people who are coming to you who actually want something that's high end, polished. You need to use different types of tools.

Peter Clowes: That's right, yes. Sumerian though, I don't know, I'll keep one eye on it. I really enjoyed the time that I did use it and I think when they iron out a few of the little-- I think the limitation is size. So our asset sizes are massive and I think Sumerian only lets you put in like a certain amount of megabytes. So we always are like, “Oh we have to pull this car into 50 pieces to put it into Sumerian,” so it was like very hard.

Robin: Cool. We've ended up going down a track talking about VR, you also said that you do AR work.

Peter Clowes: Yes we do. Yes so, probably our most notable projects in that space are we did some AR accessories apps with hololens for a large vehicle manufacturer and we've also done some with Jones Lang LaSalle to do fitouts, so like virtual fitouts for their office spaces and understand where tables and chairs go and how people might use and walk around a space, but all on a hololens. We've done a little bit with AR kit and AR core as well in that space.

I kind of have a rule with our work, if our clients are saying the word experience, we'll build a VR app and if they're saying information, knowledge, transfer, then AR might be the better tool. It's not always that clean cut, not everything is that black and white but sometimes we tend to follow those guidelines.

Robin: That's really interesting, because I've heard people talk about the augmented reality and performance support, putting knowledge back over the world.

Peter Clowes: Yes, it can be. So yes, for information-- it's great for information overlay and it's great for just augmenting something that would be plain. So an example is like, [if you] need to learn how to use a notebook or a printer or any of those things, AR can be really handy for that and it's great for just-in-time learning, so I love it for just-in-time, which is just like, I've got this manual task that I need to do, here's some AR instructions or remote instructions from a subject matter expert. It's great for that sort of stuff.

Robin: I’d like to finish with a little question around gems of wisdom. Now, if you were actually an L&D person who sat there and said-- if an L&D person was really interested in VR, what do you think the first step is? Is it to get the knowledge of what's possible or…?

Peter Clowes: I think yes, I think absolutely it is knowing where the tech is today and what it is it capable of. Where is it going to be in a year and where will it be in five? I think if people really want to see results and corporations want to see results, they've got to be looking five years out. You can't look a year [out] here because you'll build something that people will be frustrated with in 12 months' time and then that dies. So VR is now looked at as it's not the right solution. And people that didn't take that approach, they're accelerating towards that five year mark. So, most of it is exactly what you said, it's just like, learn what the tech can do, talk to consultants, go and do research and then start slow.

So we have like our three Ps. We build a prototype, client says “Yes that's great.” Then we take it to pilot small group, 5 to 10 people doing testing, and then to production. And sometimes we don't go to production, sometimes it stops at pilot and we'll go, “Next year we'll put it into production,” so there's my advice.

Robin: Yes, and there's a nice framework for getting started with probably anything that involves a little bit of risk.

Peter Clowes: That's right.