Virtual, Augmented, Visual Realities: LearnTEC 2018

The Executive School of the University of St. Gallen went to the biggest European digital learning fair: LearnTEC.

LearnTEC is the oldest and biggest digital learning fair in Europe. It displays the current eLearning trends since 1992. I visited its 26th incarnation in 2018 and here are some of my get aways for the executive education and digital transformation in general.

A Visual World

An undeniable trend is that digitalisation is more and more a visual matter. The internet once spread the written information, then it added a few images in the coming years, and social media followed suit with facebook posts and twitter’s short messages. And then videos and images conquered both website designs as well social media formats with Instagram and Snapchat being on the rise. Where once we sought information on Google, Youtube now has videos teaching about any topic or how to build anything.

This trend was clear in the LearnTEC2018 discussion, which revolved around videos, video production, augmented and virtual reality as well how to improve elearning content with those elements. Let’s get into these topics one by one.

Mixed Reality: the ripening

Forum presenters explained the concept of mixed reality to participants: the space between the real and the digital world. This catch-all definition houses both AR (Augmented-) as well as VR (Virtual-) Reality in its core, both being shades in the big spectrum between real and digital realities. Using this definition AR is closer to physical reality, and enhances it by adding digital components to the user experience, for example through objects seen and interacted with via Microsoft’s Hololenses. Virtual Reality glasses displace individuals into an almost completely digital reality in which the physical element is the possibility of interacting with most of one’s own body as opposed to a simple monitor-keyboard interaction.

In the fair itself it was clear that the terms AR and VR were being used interchageably by many participants, not acquainted to the distinction made above. Yet the distinction is important to facilitate discussion over use cases. The Gartner Hype Cycle of 2017 puts AR as in the trough of disillusionment, while VR would be reaching the slope of enlightment. The trade fair confirms this tendency, with VR applications being more common among the new offerings, and AR a niche yet to be filled. I’ve got the impression that these technologies made big advances since mid-2017. It can be expected that they become a more common approach in training and education not only where mechanical/visual needs  are high (like in Medicine or Engineering) but also in the soft skills area. Last can be exemplified through the use of VR Glasses to simulate immersive conditions where one has to fire someone, or handle being fired.

Videos: Lean Back vs. Lean Forward: Stances and Quality expectations

With videos being produced by everybody and their neighbours, talks on improving video content creation received a lot of attention. In a conference meeting about best-practices, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Seitz discoursed on the importance of having your video tuned to an audiences “stance”. By that he meant the difference between the Lean Forward stance, a pro-active, “i need an answer now” mood; and the Lean Back stance, i.e. “please entertain me”. This difference being crucial to the individual’s assessment of a video’s usefulness or value. Individuals in a lean foward mood do not care if what they see in Youtube has a bad resolution or sound, as long as it goes to the point and delivers the answer to their immediate problem, be it fixing a software code line or building an IKEA wardrobe. However, when individuals are exposed to videos without having an immediate need, as is often the case in classes, both online as well as locally, they find themselves in the lean back mood and quality expectations go through the roof. People want to be entertained and cinema-like storytelling and image quality is what the video is being compared to.

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Seitz pointed out that even the humblest among the popular Youtube bloggers already use quality cameras and sound caption material to produce their videos, while in universities many do the common mistake of expecting a simple smartphone captured lecture to fulfill their students expectations and so fail miserably. “Nobody wants lay theater”, he said, therefore educators should pay special attention when creating videos and either produce high quality content and/or try through storytelling to bring the audience to a lean forward instance, to lower the production expectation bar.

Conclusion

I recommended a visit to this fair for both (higher-) education institutions as well as for business managers working with innovation or digital transformation projects. It was clear that a lot is changing in the way people learn as well as how or where they search for information. It is up to business to keep a lean forward attitude towards these upcoming methods.

 

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