The Learning + Training podcast

Virtual Reality has proven to be an effective and engaging platform for employee training. But is this millennial learning environment as effective for the baby boomer generation? Here to discuss the learning curve and effectiveness of VR training for the baby boomer generation is Anthony Garcia, e-learning and VR developer for Epsilon XR.

 

Host – Steven Maggi: Virtual reality is an important part of 21st century technology, and this is the way businesses are going to be operating and learning from here on out. But for some of us, the millennial learning environment might be a bit of a challenge. So to help us with that today, we’re talking to Anthony Garcia, e-learning/virtual reality developer at Epsilon Systems Solutions, Inc.

Well Anthony, welcome. First of all, kind of catch us up. Virtual reality is no longer just something you read in science fiction books, it’s really out there.

Anthony Garcia: It really is. It really started picking up in the early 70s, especially in the military area. But nowadays it’s kind of picking up everywhere. So for instance, the latest headset, the Oculus Quest, sells out within a couple of hours of a new batch being produced the same day. So yeah, it’s picking up a lot of steam.

Steven: And of course it’s not just something for gamers. We’re using this, as you say, the military started it, but now business is using it all over.

Anthony: Yeah, they really are. And surprisingly enough, the training sector really has picked up on the virtual reality and using that to help train employees.

Steven: Well, let’s talk about virtual reality. First of all, what does it really used for, in terms of what we’re talking about, and what is it not for?

Anthony: Yeah, that’s a good point. VR has some pretty specific use cases, and there are some things that it’s really not good for. What we see VR being good for is training. And not on-the-job training either. This is before they step foot in a factory or an office or anything like that.

VR training is really supposed to supplement the existing curriculum that a company or entity already has; it’s not supposed to replace training by any means.

VR training is really good for really expensive procedures, or procedures that are not practical to do in real life. For instance, if you want to do some training for a boom lift operator in some high winds, or during a storm or something like that, you can’t really safely simulate that in the real world. That’s where VR comes in handy. So we use that, for instance.

And another one is a lockout/tagout, where you can simulate some very dangerous scenarios without putting the trainee at risk, or the trainers at risk as well.

Steven: Is this kind of what we see pilots going through for years now, with the simulators and so forth. Go ahead, and here’s something that could happen, and go ahead and make your mistakes because it won’t kill you here.

Anthony: Exactly. And it’s been proven very beneficial for pilots, both private and military-related. There’s already a bunch of use cases supporting that. We’re just kind of leveraging that data and our own experiences to develop VR training

Steven: Talk a little about virtual reality in terms of the experience. Because it is not something you look at and kind of imagine you being there, you’re actually in there. Or you feel like you’re in there. It’s a completely different way of experiencing things.

Anthony: It doesn’t really do any justice when viewing a recording of VR. You’ll see a lot of that online, whether it’s YouTube, or some other website, or someone showing you a recording of a friend on their phone doing VR. It doesn’t do it any justice whatsoever, because you’re not the one making those movements. So it’s kind of sometimes jarring to watch a recording of VR, when you’re not the one in it.

Once you put the headset on and you kind of start tricking your mind and believing that you’re in this space, no matter how low-fidelity the environment may be, your mind starts filling in the blanks and making those connections to say, “Hey, this is actually happening when my move my head this way or my hands that way.” And those actions actually happen, and you can see and kind of interact with the environment. It’s pretty amazing.

Steven: It really is. And we’ll kind of go through that process. But before we get there, I just want to talk about, for some of the older folks, for people that didn’t grow up in this environment, this is really the way now, we take in media and information. We kind of have to know it, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.

Anthony: Exactly. And some things that happened not so far in the past, for instance, like CD ROMs or DVDs, the Internet is a huge one; it’s just a different technology that we’re using to consume media, to consume information and utilize that for training.

Steven: So what do you do with an old guy in this? Because this happened to me. I remember, I went there and they go, “Hey, you’ve got to try this. It’s unbelievable.” And I got to tell you, Anthony, it’s a weird feeling when you’re putting on that helmet and so forth.

There tends to be this fear of the, really not only the unknown, but this is something we didn’t even hear of before, so this is really new. As a company, how do you make people feel comfortable with that? And go ahead and make that move to put that on with the right enthusiasm?

Anthony: I think the first thing is to do it yourself. If you’re trying to introduce it to someone else, put the headset on yourself and say, “I know I look silly. I probably look silly doing these different movements and actions without any context.” But as soon as they see that we’re comfortable with it, it kind of puts them at ease and allows them to put the headset on.

And then, once they put it on, they kind of forget that we’re there. And one of the first comments that someone will say when they put the headset on, and we start talking to them, giving them directions, they’re like, “It’s so weird to hear you in front of me, but I cannot see you.” And it’s just that whole disconnect when they do put the headset on, between the virtual and the real world.

Steven: Now I remember putting that on, Anthony, and all of a sudden there’s this about, maybe 30 seconds of fear. And then you’re like, okay, well, now that I know I can’t hurt anything, it’s really weird. Because you kind of, you’ve got to be taught how to play around there, and how to get comfortable with it.

How long do you find, most new people to this, how long does it take them to really feel accustomed to it, and start getting used to working on this?

Anthony: Yeah, great question. Of course it varies person by person, but on average it takes between five minutes to maybe eight minutes. After that, they kind of really get familiar with the controls, and what they can and cannot do in the virtual space.

And once they’ve gone through that little hurdle of five to eight minutes, whether it’s the next day, the next week, the next month or later on in the year, they already know what to do. So that kind of hurdle is gone within the first five to eight minutes, just because it is so natural. You are doing physical, actual movements. You’re not learning what keys to press, or what buttons to press, things like that.

Steven: But it’s really important that there are people like you, Anthony, that are not just doing this, but also looking for the greatest changes and so forth. Because this is a field that constantly changes, right? More and more things are possible.

Anthony: It is. And luckily with it being more popular these days, those changes are happening a lot more frequently. It was very stagnant for a while, there were some small improvements and things like that. And the biggest improvement that I think helped VR a lot is the processors that are coming out today, they’re getting smaller, faster, more power-efficient. So it allows more diverse solutions to VR products.

Now we see two different thoughts and theories on what VR, should be and how to implement that. So it’s, yeah, it’s pretty exciting times right now.

Steven: Yeah. I saw one time, one of the sports teams in Las Vegas, actually were using virtual reality to give people the experience of going out on the ice with a team and so forth. Which people say, “Oh my God, I never thought I’d be able to do that.” And in reality you wouldn’t, but this is exactly, or very close to, that same feeling. Are we getting to the point then, when that keeps improving, where maybe you feel the cold of the ice, the splash of the snow, how is this developing?

Anthony: Yeah, so we’re actually pretty close, and we have some technologies out there that we’re utilizing to simulate that already, whether it’s haptic vests, or gloves or boots, that kind of give that tactile sensation of tingling, rain hitting you or getting punched. And they also incorporate some heating elements and cooling elements to give you those different sensations as well. Most of those right now, they’re in their early stages, but they exist, and they’re only going to get better.

Steven: I’m glad you brought up the equipment. Is that something that you have to make people feel comfortable with too? Because you’re not used to this big helmet on. If you put gloves on and all these kinds of things, it’s not just the act of doing it, so just kind of be active putting on the uniform, so to speak.

Anthony: It is. And though ,there is something said to that, where you’re putting on a headset or if you have some haptic gloves or something like that, you are putting on the uniform. But what’s really nice with one of the latest headsets, for instance, Oculus Quest, they’re incorporating some computer vision into the cameras that are on the front of the headset, so you don’t even need controllers for your hands anymore, really.

It is able to recognize your hands and all ten digits, and you’re able to interact with the VR world with just your hands. So the only piece of equipment that you really need is just the headset to trick your eyes into seeing something that’s really not there. Everything else is kind of handled already. Yeah, it’s pretty nice.

Steven: Do you get any pushback from people that don’t like the idea that they’re in this thing, and they can do everything that needs to be done. But somehow, somebody could come up behind them and they wouldn’t know it. Because I know there’s a fear of that, in terms of gaming around town. Is there a fear of that there, or is it just a matter … Is that part of what trainers do, and people that instruct, is to make people just feel comfortable and let them know that’s not going to happen?

Anthony: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely part of the instructors and other trainees and things like that, to keep that in mind and try to make the space very comfortable for the person doing VR, whether it’s not touching them, spooking them, tripping them, things like that.

But I think everything that we’ve experienced, that happens very seldom, very rarely. So it’s not something that we really take note on, or make a point when we’re doing VR demos, just because everybody kind of respects each other’s space. And once someone puts the headset on and realizes nobody’s doing anything funny, and they’re comfortable with it, yeah, we just keep going.

Steven: Well, I feel like you have a little psychological edge to your work. Because you’ve got to make people feel comfortable. And I think once they feel comfortable, do you see the excitement of like a little kid? Like, “Wow, this is a toy. I mean, this is fun!”

Anthony: Definitely. Of course there’s those little baby steps at the beginning where they’re alerting the controls and what they can and cannot do. But once they understand the rules of the environment in which they are in, it’s like kids in a candy shop, right?

They just, “Oh, can I interact with this? Can I interact with that? Oh, that’s so cool. This actually drops or this breaks,” it’s really exciting to see people’s minds just kind of get excited and open up to the idea of the different possibilities that you can do in VR.

Steven:
Do you ever have anybody come back and say, “How can I get this for my home? I want to start playing some of these games.”

Anthony:
Yeah. And most of it starts with, what is the equipment cost? What do I need, do I need a huge computer, things like that. And that’s where we explain, not anymore. Maybe a few years ago, yes. But today they have some standalone headsets that are $300-400 at the current time, that’s all you need. So you could have VR anywhere that you go.

Steven:
Well, finally, Anthony, I know the sky’s the limit, but where do you see VR going in the next few years?

Anthony:
I see it being used in a lot of different things, whether it’s more media consumption, whether it’s like movies or TV shows or virtual concerts, which are already happening in VR. I just see it being used a lot more for that, used a lot more for education and training, as you’re able to visualize in 3D space a lot more things that you can in the classroom. So that’s really exciting.

Of course, gaming’s a big one. That’s a big driver for any new technology, just like the internet and CDs and whatnot. I see VR being a pretty integral part in people’s lives later on. It’s just two or three years out, I think, from getting there.

Steven:
Well, that’s really exciting, and we’ll be talking with you all the way through. Thank you, Anthony. Appreciate the time.

Anthony:
Sounds good. Thank you so much for having me.