Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Niall & Rachel's VR Odyssey - part 4 - Summary & Lessons Learned

Rachel Burnham writes: Over the last few months Niall Gavin and myself have been learning about VR and how it can be used to enhance learning experiences in the workplace. In our first blog post, we explained why we started out on this voyage of discovery and explained what VR is.   In part 2 we shared our experiences of using VR in a short video conversation and accompanying blog posts.  In part 3, we discussed the potential of VR and also its pros & cons in a second short video.  Here is the final part of our journey.

Ancient Greek ship (Pentekonter)


VR in Learning Research – Summary & Lessons Learned Rachel Burnham and Niall Gavin

After our three month discovery Odyssey exploring Virtual (and Augmented) Reality, its potential impacts and possible applications, we feel much more informed about VR and how it is currently being - and could in the future be used in Learning and Development.  In no way do we consider ourselves experts and, of course, the field continues to change and evolve at pace, but we find ourselves much better informed and alert to the possibilities and also to some of the risks.

We’d like to share our current thinking with you here.

1.  Virtual – and Augmented - Reality is the shiny new kid on the block in the consumer world, in education, in business and latterly, in Learning & Development. As has tended to be the case with the increasing consumerisation of technology (think smartphones, think Siri, think Pokemon GO, think Amazon Echo…), the people who will show up looking for learning and performance support in the workplace – and looking to L&D to demonstrate leadership, expertise and potential solutions – will have an expectation that VR may be part of the mix.

2.  VR, with its immersive experience, has tremendous potential as a tool for use in Learning & Development.  There are some very exciting ways in which it can be applied to create powerful, engaging and effective learning experiences.  And this can be done within all price ranges.

3.  VR is not a magical tool that will once and forever transform L&D.  It is potentially a great tool – but like all L&D tools, only when it is used in the right place, for the right need and in the right context.  Consider carefully if the VR experience is adding to the learning, beyond that which can be gained from another approach.

4.  Consider where on the scale of VR immersion (passive <> some interaction <> total immersion) would be the most effective approach to meet the need.  If the requirement is for less than total immersion, then go for the cheaper option, with less investment in kit and skills development and which uses technology already familiar to employees.

5.  As an L&D professional, it is important to build your own awareness and familiarity with new tools such as VR, so that you can spot where and when it can be used in your own organisation or to support your own clients effectively (and also where and when it would be inappropriate to use it). So make sure that within your network you have people who are working with VR and are sharing what they have learned about it.

6.  If you do decide that there is some potential for using VR in your own organisation, start small.  Consider a small pilot using equipment and VR software at the low/no cost end of the spectrum.  And then review, learn and experiment again.

7.  Where you need a bespoke, rather than an off-the-peg, solution make sure that you use an experienced and reputable provider.  Ask around first, compare and contrast.  Speak to other clients that they’ve worked with.

8.  Consider how accessible to the intended learner a VR option would be.  Think especially about those with disabilities, those who wear glasses and/or those with conditions such as vertigo.  How robust is your proposed solution for these individuals?  We had a mixed experience, in most cases with no problems at all, but some VR options did not meet our needs and, indeed, proved to be ineffective and unproductive.

9.  Keep an eye on developments in AR – Augmented Reality.  This is a related field, which is developing rapidly and could have even more applications to improving performance than VR. The principle of overlaying ‘real life’ (as seen through the smartphone or tablet camera and/or a headset or tech-enhanced glasses) with other imagery and or text, has huge potential in engineering training, medical training, safety training, asset management and location/geographically sensitive experiences. The recent news from Apple (conspicuous by its absence in the VR arena thus far) that it sees AR as the next big thing – as big as the smartphone, according to CEO Tim Cook - suggests that AR may be the ‘killer app’ here. Expect some interesting ideas and applications here from the tech giant.

10. We have compiled a Resource Sheet to complement this blog and video series, with curated links to other research, blogs, webinars, podcasts, reports and other curated resources and is published separately . Inevitably, in this fast changing and evolving landscape, this will be (indeed, probably is already) out of date shortly.

Finally, we would love to hear about your experiences in using VR. Tell us your stories. Have you used it? How and where have you used it? Are you now thinking about using it or have you decided not to use it - and why? Let’s keep the conversation and the learning going in the rapidly evolving and dynamic field in Learning and Development. Use the Twitter hashtag #VRinLearning.

Rachel Burnham and Niall Gavin

March 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Niall & Rachel's VR Odyssey - part 2 - Our Experiences with VR

Rachel Burnham writes: Over the last few months Niall Gavin and myself have been learning about VR and how it can be used to enhance learning experiences in the workplace. In our first blog post, we explained why we started out on this voyage of discovery and explained what VR is.   In this video and the accompanying blog posts we discuss our experiences of using VR.

The range of immersive experiences with VR - by Rachel Burnham

My experience of testing out VR

Over the last couple of months I have tried out a few different examples of VR, with varying degrees of immersion from a passive experience, right through to a fuller immersive experience where you could manipulate objects within the setting of the VR experience.  Each of these different levels of immersion made use of different equipment, which becomes progressive sophisticated and correspondingly increases in price. 

My first experience was to try out a pair of Google Cardboard Glasses, bought very cheaply and which played an app on my mobile phone.  For this example, I downloaded a free app from The National Autistic Society which allows you to briefly step into the shoes of someone with autism.  Once I was wearing the glasses and the app started playing, I found myself experiencing something of the overload of information which many people with autism experience, with loud noises and bright lights.  Although wearing the glasses, particularly over my ordinary pair of glasses was a bit awkward, I soon found myself concentrating on the 360 degree experience and realizing that as I moved my head I could move around within the scenario. 

The experience was short and afterwards I did feel a bit dizzy, but then I do experience vertigo and so stayed carefully sat down, whilst I reviewed the experience.  

I think this particular kind of VR experience could be an interesting and impactful addition to a face to face session – with this sort of topic, I think it would be useful to discuss the experience with other people to put it into a wider context and to work through the implications of this for your organisation.

I had a different, more interactive experience with VR, when I tried out two programmes by eLearning Studios.  These made use of rather more expensive VR glasses, with the addition of headphones, but which also utilized mobile phones to play the software.  With the first pair of VR glasses, I had some difficulty because of the large size of my ordinary glasses frame, but with a second type of VR glasses there was no problem at all.  

The first programme I tested out was a health and safety scenario, where a fire started within an office and you had to decide what steps to take.  The scenario was fast paced and  you had to make decisions along the way about what was the right action to take in response to a series of challenges posed such as what type of fire extinguisher to use.   It certainly got the adrenaline going and I can see how it could play a part in providing a repeated risk-free rehearsal of the steps to go through in this kind of stressful situation.

The second scenario provided an opportunity to rehearse in a very different kind of stressful situation – this time practicing a presentation in front of a large audience.   This time you could hear a heart pumping as you were about to step out onto the stage – I was convinced it was my own, but of course it actually was a recording.   Both of these programmes provided you with feedback on your performance and would enable you to practice repeatedly, enabling you to develop a smooth performance and thus improve your confidence.

The third type of VR experience was much more immersive and involved the wearing of glasses, earphones and handheld grips, so that you could actually operate and manipulate objects within the VR room, which amazing appeared around you.  In this test experience by Immerse Learning, you could lift and drop objects, open doors, unhook components and most dramatically also move inside the equipment you had been servicing, which was an odd but intriguing experience.  It allowed you to look at the equipment from an angle which you never could with the actual equipment! 

When I removed the glasses and unhooked myself after a few minutes in this ‘room’, I looked around and felt real surprise at not being able to see the room and objects which I had just been interacting with – that’s how real it felt!

After I had initially drafted this piece, I tried out some further VR experiences and one of these was a much less positive experience.   I had a go at VR simulation of driving a fork lift truck.  I immediately noticed how wobbly the visuals were for this and within a few seconds I started to feel very uncomfortable.  By 1.08 minute in, I decided to stop – but the damage was done and I had terrible motion sickness.  In fact, that brief experience was sufficient to trigger a migraine, which had me in a darkened room, despite my medication, for about 6 hours.  Not a pleasant experience!  I know that the best VR experiences don’t have this impact on me and other people, but clearly some VR experiences do, so shop around and ask questions of providers about their experience of this issue.

Why not read about Niall's experiences in his blog post?

Rachel Burnham

February/March 2017

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rachel & Niall's VR Odyssey - Part 1

VR Research - Why Did We?

Stimulated by a LPI Webinar on 13 Dec 2016 “Go Virtual!” with Ron Edwards from Serious Games International, both Rachel (@BurnhamLandD) and I realised independently that Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality – more on that later) was a subject area and practice about which we knew very little but wanted to understand more. For myself, my reasoning was that, as an independent L&D & Learning Technologies Consultant, VR was an area which was gaining more and more attention and interest both within the L&D world, but more importantly, outwith L&D, in the real world! And I needed to be able to experience it, play with it, understand its capabilities and limitations, so that I could, as a minimum, discuss intelligently and with confidence both within my L&D/HR and OD network, but much more importantly, in conversation with potential and existing clients who may have expressed interest in its potential to support their learning programmes.

We had a brief discussion after the webinar and decided that we would collaborate on some research on VR for Learning, to increase our own knowledge & understanding, but with the added benefit of being able, perhaps, to share that learning for others’ benefit later.

As has become the norm with so much these days, the consumer/domestic uptake of easily accessible and easily grasped technologies has the potential to leave L&D out in the cold without the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to understand, discuss and/or apply them appropriately. Often, what people do and use in the private lives becomes their norm and their expectation elsewhere, especially in the workplace.

Now, it’s not just down to L&D to be responsible for the adoption and integration of relevant technology into the workplace. Often, corporate policy and/or cultural practice mitigates against rapid inquiry, experimentation, refinement and adoption of such tools. But Rachel and I feel that L&D has an opportunity to show some leadership here, to be seen as a bridge-builder and a trusted partner to business and its people by offering advice about and practical experience of using such tools in the support of performance improvement.

What follows is our individual and collective journey in Virtual Reality discovery to date, some personal insights, a curation of further analysis, thinking and resources, and an invitation/call to action to others to engage and share their virtual journeys with us.

Niall Gavin

Feb/Mar 2017

What is VR?
VR or Virtual Reality is a technology that is widely used in gaming to create a 360 degree/3 dimensional experience that immerses participants.  The degree of immersion can vary from simply being able to looking around you 360 degrees, at either an image or video of the real world or some kind of simulation, through to being able to interact with this ‘world’ by picking up and working with objects.  Increasingly, people in L&D are working out how to use this technology to enable effective learning for individuals and organisations.
A closely related, though different technology is AR or Augmented Reality.  This is where technology, utilizing a smartphone or tablet, is used to project additional information or images into the real world, as an overlay.  One of the big hits of the summer of 2016 was the game ‘Pokemon GO’ which used AR technology, through mainly mobile phones, to enable people to see and collect ‘cartoon-like’ creatures whilst out and about.  AR technology for use in L&D is not as advanced, at the time of writing (February 2017) as for VR, but some authors believe that there is even more potential to use AR in the workplace eg as part of performance support.
VR is often thought synonymous with the use of expensive headsets, but there are different ways of accessing VR to suit a range of budgets.  At the cheap and cheerful end, you can purchase a ‘Google Cardboard’ headset for under a tenner and use this to view VR apps through a mobile phone.  The quality is not as good as with the more expensive sets, particularly if you already wear glasses and they can only be used for VR apps which involve no interaction. With this equipment some sound is possible, either broadcast through the mobile phone or via the earphones for your mobile phone, though the quality may not be great. It is worth searching online for access to free apps to use with this type of equipment and this is an easy way to get a flavour of what is possible with VR.   
At the next level of expense are a range of headsets which not only include glasses, but also more substantial earphones.  These also use mobile phones to play the software, but the addition of the earphones means that they can incorporate sound much more effectively alongside the visual images.  They also can incorporate some options for interaction within the VR programme, so that the participant can make limited choices between options for action eg to see some tips or to jump straight in or to choose between answers.  This makes the whole experience much more engaging for the learner.   Some programmes will also build in feedback for the learner on their performance in the activity and this also enhances the experience.
With this middle range equipment, you can continue to use the free apps, but there are also a good range of developers offering off-the-shelf VR experiences that could be used.  However, for many learning and performance needs you may find that you need to commission a bespoke VR solution.  Whilst it is possible to create VR solutions in-house, it is much harder to produce interactive solutions without external specialist support at this stage in the development of the technology. 
At the top end of the market a much fuller immersive and participatory experience can be gained using a combination of headsets, with earphones plus handheld devices which allow you to interact with the environment.   This means that you can pick up objects, turn handles or levers, open doors and manipulate objects in other ways – leading to a much fuller experience and vital for VR software that is about becoming familiar with servicing equipment for example.   It also means that it is possible to have a much more interactive experience in VR, which of course can contribute to more effective learning. These sets are much more likely to be used with bespoke designs for the VR environment, created to meet the specific needs of an organisation and a specialist provider will be needed to support this.
For details of equipment please take a look at the accompanying curated resources list, which will appear at the end of this series.
Rachel Burnham
March 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

You say agile and I say agility

Rachel Burnham writes: Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a CIPD Manchester session, in which Andy Lancaster, Head of L&D Content for CIPD spoke on the topic of ‘Delivering Agile Learning: 10 Quick Wins to Support Business Needs at Pace’. Andy spoke about the pace of change plus the range of changes impacting on our organisations, as a prelude to getting us to think about ‘How agile our L&D functions are?’  He then went onto to set out 10 points to enable L&D to be more agile.   I created a Sketchnote to capture the key points from this session and also recorded a short video, using Snapchat, on the event (see under #agileld on Twitter).

Whilst the event was still going on, over on the backchannel on Twitter under the #agileld, a debate was going on fired by the question posed by Paul Duxbury who asked

Is "agile learning" another buzzphrase set to confuse? Do we actually mean applying agile design principles? Genuine Q.’

This question was then picked up and discussed by a number of other Twitterers who explored whether what was being discussed was agile design or something broader, possibly agility within L&D, but also whether this was a muddling use of language.

I confess to having missed this debate during the session, as it would have been good to put this question to Andy.  Whilst I do multi-task – participating in the session, Sketchnoting and recording a Snapchat – are more than enough for me and so I didn’t get to read this debate on the backchannel until after the event.  But afterwards it got me thinking.

What had the session focused on?  And what is in a name – agile design or agility in L&D?   Does it really matter or are we splitting hairs?  It’s almost a cue for a song – a Gershwin song for Fred & Ginger rewritten for the modern era.
My understanding is that agile development  is an approach that was developed in the field of software development as a more effective alternative to a traditional planning heavy led approach, which is often referred to as the waterfall approach. Agile development is an approach that is particularly suitable to complex projects where it can be difficult to specify all the elements at the outset. This approach is now being adopted in other design fields, including in the design of L&D programmes.   Here are a couple of useful introductions to this approach:

So agile development and design, refer to some specific approaches to design, such as focusing on business needs, involving clients throughout the process, creating minimal viable products and multiple iterations.  Looking again at what Andy Lancaster presented in the session, he touches on this in points 1, 2 and 3 of his tips, but then goes broader to suggest a range of other steps.  I think a wider approach than agile design is being explored – it is more about the agility of the L&D team or even our overall responsiveness. 

Owen Ferguson argues in his piece '(Fr)agile' that we are misusing the term ‘agile’ by broadening it out in such away and by doing so run the risk of losing the more specific insights from the agile development field.  

Already I’m hearing L&Ders talking not just of agile L&D, which I understand is the need for the function to work with agility, but I also hear people referring to agile learning, agile learners and agile leaders.  This is definitely a broadening out and a unhelpful fuzzying of language.

There is a risk that in using ‘agile’ in this broad way, some people will misunderstand and over-simplify what is meant by agile and the genuine insights for the design of L&D from agile will be lost.

I think the 10 quick wins set out within the session by Andy Lancaster are all worthy steps for an L&D team to consider – for me it is about responsiveness and about a modern approach to learning that makes effective use of digital technology and the understanding of how people are tackling the everyday challenges they face in their work.  And agile design principles can play a part in helping L&D professionals to achieve this. But let’s keep them distinct and separate.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sketchnotes from Acas NW HR & Management Masterclass

Rachel Burnham writes: Today, 1st March 2017, I participated in a day-long conference organised by Acas North-West at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.  The event was packed out and involved a mix of keynotes and workshop based sessions with group participation.  A range of topics were covered including employment law and performance management. I participated in sessions on Productivity, Mental Health and Resilience.  Here are my Sketchnotes from all the sessions I attended.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I do this through: writing & design commissions; facilitating learning to update knowhow, 1:1 and bespoke ‘train the trainer’ programmes; and the use of Sketchnoting to facilitate learning.