I’ve put an Oculus headset on hundreds of people from 5 year to 85 year olds, all over the world. I’ve even put one on a dog! The reaction is the same ‘Awesome!... Amazing!... I want one now!” Well, apart from the dog, who barked.
There are many reasons why I think this new medium is relevant to learning. And remember, VR is a medium, not a gadget.
What is Oculus Touch?
When you open your Oculus box, you’ll get a lightweight headset with built-in headphones (for 360 degree audio) and a wireless Xbox controller. Within months you’ll also be able to buy two hand controllers that will provide hand-presence, the feeling that your hands are there in that 3D world. This will unlock lots of interesting learning applications. Each has a small wireless pad with a ring that gives you three things:
· motion-based input
· physical controls
· haptic feedback
As well as the ability to move your hands, tracked by the same IR LED system that tracks your head, you’ll be able to input actions and receive haptic feedback (vibrations).
1. Why? Head and hands
This homunculus shows exactly why VR needs handsets. Our brains are huge but lots of that brainpower is related to our hands. We think with our brains but do most of what we need to do in life with our hands. So the VR headset alone is not enough, we want to look, then we want to touch, then handle, manipulate. Arms and hands are what we use for most practical tasks, even gestures in communications. Even an Xbox controller, that will come with the Oculus Rift in Q1 next year, is OK for moving through environments, making choices from menus and shooting things, isn’t enough. As you believe you’re in another world, the natural thing to do is lift your arms, make gestures, reach out, touch things, pick them up, place them and so on. This ‘near-field VR’ is an important advance and opens up a whole new raft of learning applications
2. Relevant learning theory
First up, some basic lessons from proven learning theory. VR gives you immediate and involuntary attention (necessary condition for learning), intense emotion, low-cost simulated worlds, ability to learn from failure, context and real increases in retention. But the big win is in giving learners the ability to learn by doing. This is rare in institutional learning, yet we know that it is, in practice, how most us of learn. For more on this see this article.
3. Tool use
For vocational tasks where one needs to use real objects, such as tools and meters, this will be possible, for example, in the training gas inspectors and any skills that involves the manipulation of real objects. I can see this progressing to the training of everyone from hairdressers with scissors to surgeons with scalpels.
When one has to dismantle or build an engine, boiler or any other piece of machinery, these handsets will allow you to do maintenance and perform any task that involves the placing, insertion, pushing, pulling, screwing, unscrewing and joining of objects. The possibilities in porn have not gone unnoticed but there’s no end of possibilities in learning.
5. Vehicle sims
For all of those driving skills or any other vehicle skills on boats, trains and planes, one can see how manual manipulation matters. More than this you’ll be tested on defensive driving, on why mobile use is dangerous, even driving while under the influence of drugs.
6. Lab work
Lab work largely involves doing things within arms length. Techniques can be practised and perfected without using or breaking expensive kit. MRI machines and a host of other expensive healthcare kit can also be used without wasting valuable investigative time on real equipment.
In sports where one uses one arms and hands – that’s almost everything - I can see this being used in coaching, especially in technique – in everything from tennis, golf and fly fishing to throwing a javelin. Dangerous pastimes, such as parachuting or scuba-diving could benefit from preparatory training.
For soft skills, the ability to use body language and gesture may be important. But it is the use of gestures as controls that also matter, so that you’re unencumbered by navigational menu issues or Xbox controller issues. You will be able to shake hands, thumbs up, give the middle finger, wave goodbye.
9. Training, assessment & certification
I have seen a 3D gas inspection simulator that trains, assesses and gives partial certification. This could provide an opportunity for huge reductions in the cost of all three. At present vocational learning is plagued by high cost assessment.
10. Social media
Make no mistake, Zuckerberg wants to take social media into VR. With one and a half billion regular Facebook users, this is the big audience, the big win, not just the gamers. Want to hold a virtual meeting, seminar, tutorial, class, collaborative learning session? That is mind-blowing.
Renaissance of vocational learning
These handsets give you more freedom and movement, more importantly they allow you to DO more. This will allow us to implement what the likes of James, Dewey, Kolb and Schank have been saying for decades. Many countries are now turning to re-examine vocational learning. In the UK, the winning party fought the election on the promise of 3 million apprenticeships, Finland, S Korea, Singapore and other countries are reassessing the excesses of overly academic approaches to education. This approach could make vocational cool. Imagine a world where young people want to do things, rather than spend years inside lecture halls. We learn by doing – so lets do it!