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Preparing for Learnfest 2017

As some of you may know, a couple of weeks ago, Pathways Training and eLearning presented the Virtual Reality eLearning module at the I4PL Learnfest in Toronto. While the outcome of our presentation was really good, I have to admit that it took a lot of work for us to have a successful presentation, from preparing graphical assets, to creating strategies to mitigate any technological issues. Here is a brief description of some of the things we prepared for our presentation at Learnfest.

Video testimonial

We thought it would be a good idea to show people what challenges we faced while creating our VR eLearning module. To do this, we tackled the video from two different angles:

  • Instructional Design: We had Jennifer Coles, our Senior Director of training and development, explain the challenge of designing the content and interactions in an environment where you can virtually go anywhere and select your own path.

  • Programming: I also made an appearance in this video explaining what different technical challenges we faced, from researching and experimenting with different code and APIs, to other challenges in the production phase, like not using additional lights, due to the camera recording in 360.

Here is the video for you to take a look:

Virtual Reality eLearning demo

One of the things that made our presentation successful, was the opportunity we gave the audience to experience our Virtual Reality eLearning module. Of course, we are talking about a significantly large audience, compared to the number of people we used to concurrently demonstrate our VR module to (Usually between 10 and 20 people); in this case we are talking about 130 to 140 people. Here is how we ensured all the participants had access to the demo:

  • Google Cardboard: With the help of the organizers, we were able to distribute in the participant package, a Google Cardboard for each participant, thus making sure everyone had the tools for experiencing the VR Demo. On top of that, we prepared a video tutorial and a job aid to help them assemble the goggles when the time came.

  • Server load: Keeping in mind the number of users and the data volume transfer of the module, we needed to ensure our server wouldn’t crash at the least opportunistic moment, so we designed a simple plan to avoid this to happen while keeping things simple for the participants to access the VR eLearning module. Here is a short description of our plan:

  • Distributing server load: As I said, we were a bit afraid that our main server would slow down at the time of the presentation, thus we decided to, first, remove this server load from our main server and second, distribute it in several small servers. In our case we decided to initially have 4 servers running the demo.

  • Easy access: After nailing down the number of servers running the demo, we still needed to keep things simple for the participants accessing the VR eLearning module, while giving us the opportunity to modify our computing capacity on the fly, to minimize the increment in latency. To do this, we decided to create a unique URL pointing to an Elastic Load Balancer (as opposed to having a URL for each server, which would make it more difficult for us to evenly distribute the load), which in turn would automatically distribute the server load to our 4 servers, depending on the capacity of each server. The beauty of this Load Balancer is that, since it is elastic, we would have the opportunity to add more small servers, in the case the server load was too big, and it would automatically include them in its distribution algorithm, without interrupting the user experience. In retrospect, I think we had way too much computing power for this simple demo, but if there is something I have learned in life, is that it’s better safe than sorry.

  • Wi-Fi connection: Because this demo is accessed using a mobile phone, we needed to rely on either the data plan of each participant or the internet connection offered at the venue. On the previous day to Learnfest, we went down to the venue and tested the Wi-Fi connection, and found that it was very fast and stable, of course we couldn’t simulate a load test of 140 concurrent users, so we could only hope for the best the next day, although we instructed the participants to use their data plan if the internet connection became too slow. Thankfully, it worked out fine, but it honestly was expected to be that way, since the file size of the VR eLearning module is approximately 12 MB. So, having 150 participants, it would be a data transfer volume of not even 2 GB in a short period of time, which an internet connection with several network extenders, nowadays is more than capable of handling.

So, there you have it, these were some of the things we prepared for our successful presentation, of course there is more to it, like the facilitation component, which was carried out by one of our best facilitators. If you want to know more about our experience with Virtual Reality and eLearning, please make sure to check out our website.

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