Virtual reality and the new problem-solving paradigm

Understanding how VR, AR & MR technologies can improve learning in the workplace.

The Assignment

Virtual reality (VR) is finding its way into classrooms everywhere. From virtual field trips to demonstrations of interstellar physics to virtually training medical students about anatomy, it is making a critical impact in the classroom and the way minds absorb pertinent information. It makes sense – students in a typical lecture class retain roughly 5-10% of what is taught, while students engaged in an active learning experiences like VR, show numbers of more than a 75% retention rate. With numbers like that, it is clear that virtual experiences can activate the best parts of how people learn and will soon become a mainstream learning modality.
This got us to wonder – how can virtual technologies make learning more engaging and productive? How can VR extend beyond classrooms? With these questions in mind, we set out to explore how virtual technologies can create value by improving learning and problem-solving.
The Learning Pyramid
The Learning Pyramid, researched and created by the National training Laboratories in Betel, Maine.

How can VR improve employee training, strengthen engineering & design decisions, and make workflows more efficient?

Enter the Realities

There are many forms of new “realities” emerging – “virtual,” where users are immersed in a completely digital world, like game worlds; “augmented,” where digital images are layered on top of pictures of the real world, like in Pokémon Go; and “mixed,” where digital images are layered on reality and can be manipulated by people in the real world, like with Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Mixed reality (MR) is the most applicable for productivity and education, and has the easiest route to integration across many industries. This is in large part due to MR’s ability to merge augmented digital content into real-world scenarios seamlessly, giving the student/user the most realistic context of the experience at hand. In addition to integrating digital objects into the real world, it will enable multiple people to simultaneously view and manipulate shared digital objects, allowing for both singular and group learning activities, dependent on the material, learning style, and use of application. With hardware like the HoloLens, it is extremely portable and accessible to non-techy organizations. While still in its infancy, MR is already proving to be a capable tool for the classroom and workplace.
For our exploration, we experimented with how a HoloLens could decrease learning time over conventional classroom methods. Along the way, we followed a few “best learning practices:” learning-by-doing and working-together.
Augmented Reality Engine

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
– Malcolm X

The Actualization

We began by identifying a real-world educational scenario that was limited due to cost and feasibility of hands-on learning. From there, we created a digital model engine that a HoloLens wearer could interact with. To create an active learning experience for teams, we enabled tablets to show the engine and information about its state, while mirroring on the device the experience the HoloLens wearing instructor was implementing.
The exploration demonstrated several important aspects of the technology:
  • Cost and size are no longer barriers to getting complex and large equipment into classrooms;
  • Students can explore, try and fail, iterate, and ultimately come away with a deeper, more holistic understanding of engines and other models;
  • Engagement and attention are higher than conventional lessons;
  • Students have strong emotional connections with the lesson, increasing their retention and ability to apply the learnings;
  • Students can work in teams, building rapport and strengthening their collective problem-solving abilities;
  • Different viewing angles of the 3D model reveal different insights, just like in real life;
  • Because the simulation is more life-like than abstract diagrams or descriptions, it’s easier to translate learnings into practice.
Relatively simple proofs of concept like this allow us to experiment with the potential impacts in both learning and working environments. It enables, like never before, a new learning paradigm for professionals in complex industries, restructures team dynamics, and allows for people to take a giant leap forward in their ability to learn, test, and innovate on ideas, with little to no physical barriers or limitations.

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