By Tom Pizer 

Extended reality (XR) is a catchall term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), all of which use a device to present additional information in real time.

  • VR: Offers a fictionalized space where the user typically wears a headset to enter and interact with the digital world through controllers or hand tracking.
  • AR: Presents interactive, just-in-time, or as-needed information that is overlaid on real-world items.
  • MR: Uses elements of both AR and VR on-site.

The Rising Adoption of Extended Reality

Greater adoption of VR and an uptick in development of augmented programs for the metaverse mean more tools come to market, more people are familiar with the technology, and the initial development cost and barrier to entry drops. With employees working remotely, companies are exploring how XRs fit into their IT and learning environments.

The Efficacy of Extended Reality for LearningWith more XR tools and learning programs available in the industry, adoption of XR technology has increased, leading to more metrics. PwC recently published a study showing that learners were exponentially more engaged during VR experiences. They found a VR headset created a focused environment with less opportunity for multitasking. In addition, VR learners were more likely to complete an activity from beginning to end.

Applications of Extended Reality in Learning: VR Versus AR

Many companies struggle when deciding which technology to use for which purpose. In developing learning programs with elements of VR and AR, we’ve seen strengths in a few key areas and applications.

Strengths of VR. VR began in the learning environment as a way to onboard and orient new employees, but it has since become more nuanced. VR is a great opportunity to allow someone to practice a skill they are unfamiliar with. Learning teams and designers can place the user into a fixed, safe environment to learn about and practice a concept. It can be an effective environment for both hard- and soft-skills adaptations or assessments in which learners demonstrate their abilities to perform a task such as opening a valve, manipulating objects in sequence, practicing conversations with customers, or role-playing.·

Strengths of AR. The type of information offered through AR tends to be more valuable at the point of performance or during the moment of need. Learning teams and designers create AR training and interactive job aids to help an employee who needs a reminder or assistance while performing a task, allowing them to reference a manual while working, phone a friend or coach to collaborate, and more.

Challenges of Developing and Implementing Extended Reality

In traditional e-learning, we assume the learner has a laptop or desktop computer to access the program. But to deploy XR programs, companies need to build or supply some of the components. Do you buy or rent headsets and controllers? Who handles the logistics of distributing and managing inventory?

Additionally, learners must be oriented to the technology components—understanding how to use the hand controllers and getting comfortable with the headset for the first time, and you may want to debrief afterward to identify how to improve the experience.

Developing XR experiences requires a new skillset with a learning curve of its own, but like the technology, greater adoption means a better experience as knowledge evolves. One of the unique aspects of XR development is that the programs need to be limited for maximum effectiveness. Designers must be mindful of the length and breadth of content. Ranging from five to 20 minutes, most XR learning experiences are part of a broader learning journey or experience.

The Future of Extended Reality

In the future, will new employees receive a company-issued VR headset along with their laptop? It’s clear that the technology is booming, devices are more affordable, and toolkits are built into our phones. The learning audience may soon expect to use a wearable device while training. And as devices become more innovative and easier to use, obtain, and distribute, XR will become integrated within the work environment.

Now, we are in the infancy of XR, just beginning to understand the technology and its capabilities. Designers are getting better at developing XR experiences, and the tools are becoming more sophisticated to deliver them. The question for the future is not whether the technology will be a part of the work environment, but to what degree.

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