Powered by Learning

The Opportunities and Challenges of VR

July 06, 2023 d'Vinci Interactive Season 2 Episode 55
Powered by Learning
The Opportunities and Challenges of VR
Show Notes Transcript

Learning and development professionals are leveraging the power of virtual reality to build immersive learning experiences. In part one of our interview,  Sozo Labs CEO Jason Haddock discusses the opportunities and the challenges of VR in organizational training.


Show Notes:
Our guest Jason Haddock offers great food for thought on how and when to use VR in training. His key points include the following:

  • If you haven't yet experienced VR, get a headset and try it out. Then you can start to imagine the ways in which you can use VR in training.
  • VR allows you to simulate the work environment and therefore can provide critical training in a safe environment before an employee gets on the job.
  • VR helps learners adapt quickly since VR takes you through the learning and application processes to help you master the material. 
  • Being able to do the same process over and over again with VR until you feel that you've mastered it, is an incredibly powerful way to train. 

Coming up: Join us for Part 2 of our interview with Jason Haddock where we'll discuss how to leverage VR in learning experiences.

Read more about Sozo Labs
Read Jason's blog, Reality Bytes

Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.

Learn more about d'Vinci at www.dvinci.com.

Susan Cort: [00:00:00] Virtual reality or VR is revolutionizing how people learn. But how can organizations start to understand the business value of this experiential learning and put it to use?

Jason Haddock: Where we use this idea or concept of practice makes perfect of being able to use the headsets and the controllers to immerse ourselves in the world where our brains can't tell the difference from the virtual world and the real world. You learn the skills as you would experientially, almost like when you first started learning to ride a bike or to swim, we did it through trial and error. I think 70% of learning today is done by trial and error inside the business, so it is a very powerful way of learning.

Susan: That's our guest, Jason Haddock, CEO of Sozo Labs. Jason joins us today to explore use cases for virtual reality in learning experiences. Our conversation is up next on Powered by Learning.

Narrator: Powered by Learning [00:01:00] is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. d'Vinci's approach to learning is grounded in 30 years of innovation and expertise. We use proven strategies and leading technology to develop solutions that empower learners to improve quality and boost performance. Learn more at dvinci.com.

Susan: Joining me today are d'Vinci, CEO Luke Kempski, and our guest Jason Haddock, CEO of Sozo Labs, who's joining us from his office in England. Sozo Labs uses virtual and augmented reality solutions, apps, and gamification to build immersive learning experiences. Welcome to Powered by Learning, Jason. We're really looking forward to talking to you about the opportunities and the challenges of VR in education.

Luke: So great to have you, Jason.

Jason: Oh, thanks, guys. It's lovely being here and hopefully, we can have a great chat.

Susan: Oh, we will, I'm sure. Now, Jason, you describe yourself as a frontier technologist, which I think is a great title. Share a little bit about your background and your role at your company.

Jason: I think the frontier technologist is the [00:02:00] fact that I've been always at the forefront of every place I've worked, always being that annoying guy who seems to run ahead of everybody else. Probably the last 10, 15 years, it's morphed from emerging out of the technology side into the business side and being able to complement those two worlds and hold them together. Now I find myself having gone from financial services to gaming, to human genetics, and now into immersive applications like AR and VR. So, very, very typical career trajectory that would happen to most people, yes.

Susan: Well, you won't be the annoying guy today. You're going to be the helpful guy. 

Jason: Let's hope so.

Luke: Sure, by now, pretty much everybody's heard of virtual reality, and they know about the headsets and the idea of immersion and being put into another world with it. But it's surprising how many people have actually not experienced it. And if they have experienced it, it hasn't been for any serious [00:03:00] purpose. This of course also includes Leaders or the people who are responsible for learning and development inside an organization. Where do you start with the people who really lack that experience in terms of how should they think about where VR can fit in training and learning within their organizations?

Jason: All right. Firstly, I think what you meant to say is virtually nobody's heard of virtual. There will be more dad jokes, so fasten your seat belts.

I think for me, a lot of people and probably very rightly believe that virtual reality and generally immersive tech still sits in that kind of gimmicky space. And I can't blame them for thinking that because I think like Uncle Ben said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Only, actually, he never said that.

I think the technology has been used in ways that maybe don't deliver business value. It's understandable that there's a lot of [00:04:00] skepticism around this type of technology.

For me, I think where I see the technology fitting in is where it plays to its strengths. Other than really avid gamers, I can't really see people spending their entire day in a virtual reality headset. In fact, even this idea of virtual meetings, for me, seems to be a forced conversation because if anybody has worn a VR headsets for a long period of time, you'll feel it. There'll be a little bit of stuffiness, maybe a bit of sweatiness, especially if you've been playing virtual table tennis, but you'll feel it.

I think for that reason, for me the virtual reality technology plays incredibly well in short, impactful interventions. Where we've placed our bets is very much on the training side. If I was advocating for any business leader out there, or anybody in the learning and development space to start, I would start with specifically learning and development, but more specifically, [00:05:00] applied learning. Where we kind ofuse this idea or concept of practice makes perfect, of being able to use the headsets and the controllers to immerse ourselves in a world where our brains can't tell the difference from the virtual world and the real world.

You learn the skills as you would experientially, almost like when you first started learning to ride a bike or to swim. We did it through trial and error, and I think 70% of learning today is done by trial and error inside the business. So it is a very powerful way of learning. If there is this understanding that experiential learning is a very powerful way of learning, and it is a very fundamental way that we learn on the job. Then up until now, experiential learning has been quite difficult to scale, and the reason for that is that often experiential learning like the bicycle example, you're not going to find that dad probably training two or three of his children at once. It's a very hard thing to [00:06:00] scale.

In the business world, the reason it's hard to scale is because we need … someone who's got that depth of experience, has been there and done it before that wise old sage. That person often comes at a cost to the business, because they've got to be taken away from their job. Secondly, in certain environments, we need to have very, very specific environments set up. If I think about maybe the building industry, learning how to erect scaffolding, you've got to have a lot of space, you've got to have a lot of time. You've got to reset that environment every single time so that you can reset the learning.

Last obviously, and by no means least, is being able to scale out that wise old sage because some people just love to teach and other people don't. Virtual reality for me is a first technology in human history that allows us to offer experiential learning at scale. That's quite a profound thing.

Luke: That's great. I like how you mention both the [00:07:00] hands-on skills and also soft skills. Let's separate them out for a minute and say that you're a learning leader inside an organization, and you're looking at potential use cases for inside your organization and specifically, you're looking for ones that you see potential business value in scaling hands-on skills. How would you go about evaluating whether that's an area worth potentially investing in and taking a different approach? What criteria would you use?

Jason: I'll give you a real-world example. Many years ago, I was a part of a team that was pitching to a customer, a big steel manufacturer. I think like a lot of these situations, the guys hear about virtual reality, and they go, "Cool, I want some of that, please." We went in there and said, "Okay, so what exactly would you like?" They came up with a whole bunch of ideas and scenarios of what they would like to do in VR. And I kind of flipped the [00:08:00] table on them and I said, "Instead of just jumping into the solution, tell me a little bit about your business and tell me about some of the challenges that you're having." They talked a lot about this concept of working at heights and the challenges of working at heights.

There's a lot of safety challenges of working at heights, and I think VR plays a very critical space in allowing us to train and learn the skills that would make us work safely without all the risks of doing it for real. In this case, the clients told a story about how they were losing a lot of money through their training. Now it doesn't really sound like a clear-cut case for virtual reality. And totally realized that what they were trying to do is they were trying to almost do what the Harry Potter Sorting Hat did, is they were trying to essentially have some of their workers go to basically to Gryffindor. In this case, that was working at heights training, and then the other guys going to Slytherin because that's the way they sort.

It's like on-the-ground training, so what they would end up doing, [00:09:00] is they would get frustrated because they had viable parts for people who could work safely at heights and people who didn't want to work at heights. As a guy, I can safely say this, we suffer from a little bit of basically masculinity syndrome or macho syndrome. If you put a bunch of guys in a room together and ask them if any of them are afraid of heights…

Susan: No one's afraid of heights.

Jason: No one's afraid of heights. They would essentially train these people up in this eight-week course for six weeks before they could take them up to heights. And then they would find out, sadly at that stage, that they had a whole bunch of people on the course who had everything ranging from subtle issues of just thinking and clarity of thinking right the way through up to debilitating fear of heights where they would see the ladder, and they go, "That's it. I'm out." In that case, we used a simple VR simulation to simulate working at heights just to be able to measure. [00:10:00] whether people were to show any symptoms of vertigo. Now that was such a successful project because: (A) we could associate it with a real tangible cost to the business. So we knew that every single person they trained, they spent a certain amount of money on that training, and if they could get people to go onto the right course, there's a quantifiable metric that they would be able to identify. Which meant in that specific scenario, we were actually able to calculate the return on investment. For the project that we did, their return on investment was achieved in the first six to eight weeks, which in all my 30 years of being in the IT world I haven't really seen before.

Luke: We don't see that in the training world either.

Jason: The reason I told that story is because often we jump ahead to the outcome. We focus on, "There's a problem in front of us, let's solve that problem, and basically we'll put some training together." [00:11:00] I always like to take a step back and try and find the underlying root cause, really hook into the business.

I think a lot of people in the C-level execs probably know a lot of where the big challenges are inside the business, but they're probably at too high level, especially when businesses get larger to really understand what's happening on the ground. A lot of the line managers are looking at the problem right in front of them and not necessarily understanding the strategic importance of what the business really needs from them, often.

So I think the new learning and development functions in the business, especially nowadays with this huge future of work challenge that lies ahead of us. Needs to kind of sit almost understanding the strategic direction of the business and understanding how it ticks, where the opportunities are for innovation, where the opportunities are for cost savings. And link the training initiatives and outcomes to those real business metrics, because in this case where you can quantifiably prove the [00:12:00] value of something, then suddenly the upfront cost doesn't become so much of an issue. That is one of the things I think a lot of people face is a roadblock with virtual reality and all these immersive tech, although the headsets price have come down, when you're buying one or two at home to go and play virtual table tennis, that's one thing.

When you are buying 50 or 100 to train people, it suddenly becomes quite a significant cost. Bespoke development of these solutions, become quite a significant cost as well. So It helps if you come in from that side and really understand where the opportunities for real savings or how you can in some way be able to increase revenue in the organization. If you come back to your question of the hard skill side, I think in that way, the most obvious use case for me is basically being able to solve scale. Is being able to remove that reliance on the [00:13:00] expensive trainers you might have, the guy inside your organization who's being defocused from the work, or you might be using an expensive consultant.

A use case I heard recently, which I also felt was really fascinating, was agility of-- in this case it was a manufacturing environment. One of the metrics with VR is that VR often-- the learning increases by three to four times in terms of speed. You get through the content three or four times faster. Which means that the journey from being a beginner or new to mastery is three to four times less, which means in manufacturing environments, you can very quickly train people on all of the different pieces of equipment and machinery.

If you think about the theory of constraints and being able to move people around to address bottlenecks in the process, this technology can be very powerful to give the business that agility to be able to train people on different machines almost just in time, and then be able to shuffle them [00:14:00] around the organization to be able to address key constraints and bottlenecks. So, there's a number of different reasons, I think in the hard skill space.

Luke: Yes. That really makes sense. I would imagine too, in some industries, based on the success that they've had using VR to simulate, to help expedite training for specific functions that maybe it's spread within that industry in the sense that from a competitive standpoint, they start to look at their peers and competitors and say, "Hey, we should get into that too." Then you start to get more adoption. Have you seen that in any industries in particular?

Jason: I think in the manufacturing and maintenance industries, definitely. Manufacturing, I think because there's now been proven case studies and proven results to show the efficacy of using VR training as a onboarding tool to get people up to speed. The frightening statistic in last year is that there were 61,000 fatal injuries on the job in the US that was largely attributed to a lack of proper training in the first year. [00:15:00]

As a way of being able to help people learn how to use complex machines, or working at heights or working with dangerous chemicals safely, I think VR has now been proven to be a really, really powerful way to be able to learn with impact, but without consequence.

Luke: Absolutely. That's where you really get to the fact that you're in a less risky, you put an environment that takes away the risk. I know when you think about soft skills, sometimes you don't think about the risk, but when you put your employees with your customers or your prospects, there's very high risk in terms of the impact that it could have between a successful or even from employee or from a manager to an employee. Talk a little bit about what you're learning about applications of VR for training around soft skills like communication skills.

Susan: Yes, Jason, I love that you call it real play instead of role play. So talk to us about that.

Jason: Yes. We like to say how to go from role play [00:16:00] to real play. Soft skill has always been the fascinating one for me because I can see a lot of really, really obvious use cases for the hard skills training. With soft skills, I was always a little bit skeptical probably up to about a year ago because I wasn't sure that VR was there yet.

Where I think we've come to a critical inflection point in soft skills training is with the intersection of immersive technologies and AI. With VR and with these large language models, what we're starting to see is we are moving from a really scripted linear process. Everything that I've seen from diversity training to sales training to how to be better at customer service has always been done in quite a linear way, so it's difficult to scale this. It's difficult to adapt.

There's been a lot of voiceovers [00:17:00] required and a lot of costs involved, but now for the first time, what I'm starting to see is this technology starting to find its place because of this blended approach to technology. Of being able to use avatars which are becoming more and more lifelike and are starting to break that barrier. Our brains already can't tell the difference between a virtual reality world and the real world. I've seen that play out firsthand. The fact that you've now got avatars which can behave in very humanistic ways, that you can train, that avatars through large language learning models to take on a persona like a really disgruntled employee or a really angry customer.

Then you can essentially put that into an immersive technology like VR and put the person in front of what feels like a high stakes real world situation where it's a little bit different every single time. Even if it isn't different, just being able to do the same process over and over again until you feel that you've mastered it, is incredibly powerful. I can speak with [00:18:00] absolute certainty around what it feels like when you walk into a high stake situation and you've done training and you are completely unprepared for that situation, I did it.

Luke: Great. So many ideas coming to me as you talk Jason, in terms of especially looking at the combination of the large language models and to be able to combine that with avatars and to simulate really human communications and how to respond in the moment to those kinds of situations, which often involve variations of personalities and emotions and all those things that make them as high-risk as almost any situation.

Jason: They're doing fascinating things at the moment with Skyrim. The whole massive multiplayer open world is that they've trained some of the non-playing characters with large language models. Instead of this very scripted gaming experience now you can just have a full-blown conversation with them. Ask them what they had for lunch and ask them what the weather's like in Albuquerque and what they think of the Northern Lights or pretty much anything and, [00:19:00] and it'll be fairly responsive conversation.

Luke: Very interesting. What do you see as some of the barriers to the adoption of VR? We all see the benefits and the value, what's getting in the way of it being more adopted right now?

Jason: Oh, that's many things. I think there's definitely a cost component. Anybody who tells you that there isn't is probably trying to sell you VR. Probably a maturity. I think when I've seen technology really take off, it's when it's basically been moved out of the early adoptive phase where you have a few very skilled people who can connect the dots and find out how this technology can best fit an organization. When that starts to become absorbed by the people who are at the cold face of the problems happening in business. The most fundamental part for me is I think when you are sitting inside a company and you are being [00:20:00] hit with all of these issues, you are going to try and come up with solutions. As a learning and development manager, what that's probably going to look like now, is you're going to use the tools that you know and trust and understand, and that's like a video for that checklist for that. The big problem is often by the time the experts like myself come in, there's already a lot of investment that's been made in traditional learning. You've always got to beg, borrow and steal for the budget that doesn't exist and try and find a way to make this work.

Luke: Do you recommend starting with a pilot to look around, to see, to start with something that has high impact, but maybe it's not your number one, but your number two best use case in the sense to start there and manage and learn and get more support and then build on that so that you're at least not waiting another year or two more years before you've actually even gotten started?

Jason: Well, look, what I would suggest is that everyone probably just [00:21:00] gets a Quest 2 headset or finds someone who has one and just experiences VR because it's so much easier to understand what you can do when you know the technology. Imagine that you had never seen a laptop before or a mouse or a trackpad and I was explaining to you how to navigate with something. You would have no frame of reference. In terms of the types of solutions, I would say that for anything where there's an application of learning. What I wouldn't recommend anybody to do is to go and uplift their current learning in their training inside a learning management system, which is imparting a lot of theoretical knowledge. I would say that where VR fits is in that the 70 of the 70-20-10 model, is where you move into that level of application, that level of mastery. What VR does exceptionally well is really takes you by the hand through the learning process into the application process so that by the time you come out of that you're closer to mastery. [00:22:00] You would probably still feel a little bit of anxiety when you had to do this thing that you've learned in the real world, but you would be so much closer to that level of confidence. Coming back to that first project, I would say it's less about whether it's a mission-critical project or whether you want to play it safe. It's more about-- like I said, finding some of the biggest pain points in your organization and see which ones are great candidates for learning through the application of skills and whether those are soft skills or hard skills. I would say that, if there's a huge benefit in people coming out of that process with more applied knowledge then-- and also that, it's not as a type of situation where you're training one or two people every year. There's got to be some volume through that process as well in order for it to be a good candidate for a VR project.

Luke: Yes, that's really great advice, Jason. How do you envision VR evolving in corporate training? Been a lot of talk about Metaverse [00:23:00] and you mentioned earlier you don't see VR becoming the best place to have meetings and maybe facilitated training might, if you're just trying to simulate a classroom that might not be the best environment. Where do you see it? You talked about AI, where do you see it evolving?

Jason: If I had to think about it, I think the biggest obstacle is actually the fact that you've got a fridge on your face. The simple fact is, I think technology really finds its place when it becomes almost invisible. I say that very carefully because there's nothing invisible about a laptop and there's nothing invisible about a mobile phone. The reason that these technologies have become so successful is that they serve a real purpose. They're with us all day long, we can pick them up, we can use them straight away. That has a lot to do with the fact that there's a lot of content. I think one of the big things that VR is lacking is content. Even things like the iPad and why it became so successful was about having something that was [00:24:00] a few feet away from you that you could pick up, you could use, it was functional and you could get value out of it.

When it comes to immersive technologies, the kind of catch-22 there is in that word immersive, and where I see these technologies-- so think about it in terms of the example you gave that that I mentioned around meetings. Imagine for a second that there were 20 people around the world, across four different rooms. These people were going to have a virtual meeting inside some virtual space, whether that was Horizons or whatever it ended up being. Think of how bizarre it is when you know that there's four other people in the room wearing a VR headset, but you're not talking directly to them. Then think about what am I really benefiting over and above what I would get out of a Zoom meeting, in all honesty, what is the real kind of additional value I'm getting here? If I can speak to them in a three-dimensional space? How is that benefiting me? I can go and throw a virtual basketball and have some fun.

Well, [00:25:00] how is that benefiting me? The real thing, I think where the Metaverse takes off, and I use the word Metaverse bravery and carefully because I'm still not-- I know that inevitably we're going to get to a Metaverse, but I don't think it's anything like we imagined today. The reality here is that the technology that we use has to be ubiquitous. It has to be something that has inherent value to be part of us. Like we carry that cell phone in our pocket, like we carry the laptop in our backpack or like we go to the office and the desktop is on our desk. All of these things have some kind of nearness to us because they have value.

The challenge with technology being ubiquitous is that it needs to be easy, there needs to be zero friction. Of course, I think that the inevitability is that we'll start to see some inter like human technology integration as well at some stage, but that's a pretty scary conversation, and so [00:26:00]

Susan: So much to think about Jason and the reality of our chat about virtual reality is we've only scratched the surface in this episode. We're definitely going to have to have you back and maybe we can talk to our listeners about how we can integrate VR into their learning experiences in our next episode.

Luke: Thanks so much for joining us, Jason. Certainly look forward to talking to you again.

Jason: Thanks, guys. It's been fantastic and look forward to our next venture.

Susan: Luke, certainly a lot of opportunities and challenges using VR and education. What are your takeaways from the conversation with Jason?

Luke: Yes, it was really great to talk to him. One of the key takeaways is really the value of using VR to simulate the work environment. It's super safe, low risk, and you get that kind of applied learning and practice, kind of like you're doing your job and it gives people that experience before they actually get to doing their job that's going to be almost just like it.

Susan: Yes. It probably gives them a lot of confidence as they head in, especially with some tasks that you really can't do, as you said, safely on the job for the first time. [00:27:00]

Luke: Yes. When you think about that example he was talking about where the company was using it to screen potential workers to see if they'd be comfortable working at heights, so they do VR simulation of working at heights and before they even actually would move forward with hiring somebody they go through that, I know I'd be out.

Susan: Yes.

I'd actually be okay with that. That's a good thing. I don't mind heights. But that's a good thing to find out ahead of time for sure. VR can help with that.

Luke: They are really big value for sure.

Susan: Yes.

Luke: Then we talked about where you start if you're not currently using VR for training and his recommendation was pretty straightforward. "Try one of the new headsets, they're better now, they're self-contained. It used to be that they were tethered to a computer." Then once you get that experience with them, you get a sense of the value of how valuable they can be in training.

Susan: Yes, for sure. I think that's true of anything, whether it's VR, AR, or AI, not using them is not an option. [00:28:00] Just get started, get your feet wet, and start to think about use cases of how it may be applied in your organization.

Luke: Yes, exactly. Get started, put VR on your training roadmap, and think about the ROI on some potential use cases, just like you said. That's kind of why we created the experiential lab here at d'Vinci, to try technologies out, explore the possibilities, kind of get used to saying, "Oh yes, this could be really valuable for this particular application." And you know what, when you look further, it really could be worth the investment now or maybe it's in the future, but what you do right now is what will prepare you for the future.

Susan: Absolutely. Well, we've both agreed that there's so much to cover on this topic, so we've invited Jason to join us again to talk about how to create VR learning experiences, and we're going to do that in our next episode.

Luke: Sounds good.

Susan: Thanks, Luke. And special thanks to our guest, Jason Haddock, CEO of Sozo Labs. If you have any suggestions for a topic or you'd like to be a guest on Powered by Learning, please reach out to us at Powered by learning@ d'Vinci.com. Don't forget [00:29:00] that you can subscribe to our podcast wherever you're listening to us now.