VR-Training: Don’t Build Castles in The Sky
Sergei Vardomatski, founder of the software development company HQSoftware, recently talked about using AR/VR in education with Thomas Hoger, a co-founder of 3spin Learning. Thomas has utilized their no-code AR/VR platform for building learning courses. He and Sergei discussed the issues that arise in the process of immersive learning, as well as some interesting use cases.
“When you look into this industry, you will quickly see that e-learning today is rapidly changing from web-based training to more immersive techniques,” says Thomas, who lectures at a university in Darmstadt in a course on VR and AR in learning and merging VR/AR with education. Educational and training courses are usually created by people with the didactic knowledge and subject-matter experts who know the learning content well. A particular pain in VR, he points out, is its technical complexity compared to both offline and older web-based learning techniques. VR requires programmers, and here’s where the costs start to ramp up.
This problem is not unique. Web-based learning also needed specific tech skills, and low-code tools, like Articulate, were a part of the answer. What is built today by Thomas is kind of an Articulate for VR/AR, with one huge difference: it’s not just an authoring tool, it’s also a distribution platform and a tool for “playing” these courses.
More or Less Unity Framework?
Unity Framework is one of the most popular software development tools for VR. It’s widely used for making custom experiences, as well as the apps themselves. However, it’s “software development” with all its pros and cons: flexibility, but tech complexity and cost.
Will low-code platforms like 3Spin Learning push Unity out of the market? “I fully agree that to some extent they surely will,” Thomas said. “There are many use cases that don’t require super-detailed VR experiences for the learner to get the point. No need for golden door handles if you just need to learn that the door should be opened. Once you set up structure and logic, you can go directly into the room that you’ve created and use an extended authoring tool in the headset, directly in VR, and you can pull out the object from the authoring tool and then put it somewhere in the scene. It’s more that we are bringing together lots of things that are usually separated and then making something out of that that is accessible to non-technical users. That’s really the problem that we solve.”
“I fully agree,” Sergei responded. “We had a similar product for AR marketing. The customer activated marketing campaigns with AR, so they asked us to make an “AR CMS” that was a combination of authoring and distribution tools, including an online editor to combine different assets and build AR scenes. It didn’t make things “perfect” but it was just good enough to cover a huge part of cases. The rest could be addressed via custom development. Just as with 3Spin Learning. However, the CMSs themselves still need to be made. Therefore, software developers won’t be losing their jobs.”
Input Devices – A Huge Issue to Be Solved
While giving a merely “unlimited view” to the Metaverse VR devices still lack versatility in how they handle user input. HQSoftware once developed a laparoscopic VR simulator for surgeons. Users can wear a helmet and learn how to do the surgery inside a realistic VR experience, but they won’t get used to the feeling of holding a specific laparoscopic tool.
“To solve this issue, our client ordered a specific custom manipulator that felt right, like real surgeon tools,” Sergei said. “Though creating this IoT device was probably the most complicated part of the project, it allowed for better movement perception and learning for surgeons.”
Thomas shared another case. The company found that students who had learned how to handle fire extinguishers in VR had problems with the real one, due to its weight. So, they had to 3D-print specific handles that matched the real ones and combine them with Oculus’s joysticks, with the sole purpose of letting learners feel the full weight.
Streaming and Processing Power
Thomas expanded further on the next trend.
“So, how to use a high-poly model on this low-powered mobile device? One way of doing this would be that the mobile device wouldn’t render the 3D content at all, but rather you’d have processing power in the cloud that would render it and then stream that to your mobile device. And basically, what the app would do is understand your inputs and then in real-time display the VR content that has been rendered in the cloud on your headset. These solutions exist, however, the cost is too high for mass usage. Very hopefully they will develop. If not – more and more processing power will be needed on the helmet.”
No Castles in the Sky
According to Thomas Hoger, most people consider VR too expensive. It’s true that creating VR and AR content, especially a custom type, may be expensive. This learning will pay off either in volume or if it’s possible to save on things like sending trainers to remote locations, adding remote support, etc.
However, perceiving your first VR or AR learning scenario as a lighthouse project is a common mistake. All eyes are on the VR team, and they’re struggling to impress the management with ultra-realistic VR. This could seem good for a supplier, however, the company spends, like, fifty to two hundred thousand on a single piece of content only to discover that it still must be distributed, needs to be “slightly altered,” learning performance also needs management, etc. In other words: content is king, but the king can’t win the battle alone.
There is no need to build a castle in the sky to transfer learning material to users. Ninety percent of the web-based training content in use today is not award-winning content that is going to Cannes or the Oscars. It’s just good enough; it’s built with an `80/20’ approach — you get 80% of what you want for 20% of the cost or the effort. And I think that’s the mindset that needs to go along with whatever technology you use.
This article has been published in accordance with Socialnomics’ disclosure policy.