What’s the Reality of Virtual and Augmented Reality?


Is virtual reality defined by the tech or the experience? Is new high tech equipment a prerequisite for a virtual experience? Could reading a good story be a low tech virtual reality experience? Could listening to a symphony conjure up a VR experience in your mind? Does the experience NEED to be in 3D? If you have yellow sticky notes stuck all over your computer monitor, has that augmented your computing experience?

If you ask 10 people you will get 10 different answers. The tech is so varied and new that only the key tech players building these solutions know what’s going on. Why do we concern ourselves with it? Because it’s what we do. As learning professionals we are curious about everything, right?

Let’s take the easy way out and focus on the two most talked about tech’s in this space: virtual and augmented reality.

How Do You Define VR and AR?

The term that is getting the most press is virtual reality. So let’s start there. A quick Google definition search returns the following for virtual and reality:

“Virtual: almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.”

“Reality: the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”

I’m not sure defining each word gets us to where the combined term is today, but if we took each definition literally, then we end up with something like “almost real” or “nearly as it actually exists.” In some cases this fits, but in other cases, it’s the ability to have experiences that cannot exist in reality that is so powerful.

Let’s try the same exercise for augmented reality:

“Augmented: to increase in size or value of something by adding something to it.”

“Reality: the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”

This is much easier and defines the technology it represents more accurately,  by placing digital content in your field of view, over your existing view, of the area around you. The additional digital content displayed over your view of the real environment, is adding value to your experience. This value is usually delivered using a heads up display, or HUD. . The goal being that you don’t need to look down at a panel of controls or your smartphone, to monitor critical data about your environment. The important data just appears as a layer of digital content related to the environment you are in. Think Ironman!

Should You Bet on VR, or AR?

Whether to use AR or VR, depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I think many people are surprised when I tell them I created VR training twenty years ago. I did it for manufacturing and also for logistics/warehousing. Both industries are perfect for virtual reality training, but augmented reality is used in both as well. I think you’ll be even more surprised when I tell you that it’s not VR, but AR that is more prevalent in industry today.

Augmented Reality in the Enterprise

The enterprise is leading the way in finding effective uses for both virtual and augmented reality. However,  it seems that augmenting reality has the advantage in the business world. Virtual reality takes you off the job and puts you in a space to experience the virtual training. Augmented reality is part of the job And AR improves your performance, something  that is understood by all departments within the enterprise. Not to mention that the hardware is cheaper and more cost effective and will anyone care if the visor attached to your hard hat makes you look goofy. Or if the added device on the side of your safety glasses isn’t sexy. Within in the enterprise, it’s about the work, not a fashion show. While the average consumer waits for the tech to become almost invisible before adopting it, the enterprise is already on board and increasing demands for both the hardware and software solutions.

There are many companies doing some fantastic things in both VR and AR, but for this blog post I’ll pick on a company called Daqri. Check out the web site and watch the videos to get the full effect. But let me share their marketing with you for the sake of conversation.

Data Visualization: Utilize distributed information and situational awareness from the office to the field, improving efficiency while reducing the amount of movement required in a centralized location.

Guided Work Instructions: Access and assign intuitive AR instructions on the job, displayed in your field of view, relating relevant project data, maximizing efficiency and accuracy in task completion

Remote Expert: Allow your experts to remotely assist workers, by enabling them to see their colleague’s point of view and elevate their skill level. Both the expert and the onsite team member will be able to address issues quickly.

Can you read those words and NOT think about how your job as a training professional will change in the next few years?

Don’t Get Left Behind…Again!

Our industry is currently being disrupted by these technologies. We used to hand out 3-ring binders of “Guided Work Instructions,” as part of new hire orientation or other training events. With AR solutions workers just put on a headset or pair of glasses. We used to schedule classroom sessions with subject matter experts to present their knowledge 1 or 2 times a year. Now those SMEs can engage employees in real time as they are needed from anywhere in the world as “Remote Experts”.

It’s all about improving human performance through experiences either fully simulated in virtual reality or augmentation, during the work, not instead of the work. All of the VR and AR experiences are related to learning experiences that we should take on as our responsibility. At the very least we should be engaged with the departments already in using these new technologies and working out ways to integrate learning solutions.

Don’t worry. While many learning thought leaders will tell you that you got left behind during the informal learning revolution, I will instead tell you to ignore that and get your eyes set on what’s next: Virtual and Augmented Reality.