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Implementing Virtual Reality eLearning: Challenges

As with every new technology, VIRTUAL REALITY eLearning offers a lot of possibilities in almost every field to make things more interactive. We must admit, however, that we are still a few years away from actually having full implementation of VIRTUAL REALITY on our day-to-day lives, and we are slowly seeing advances, especially in the entertainment industry.

In fact, the trend is for entertainment giants (like Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo) to come up with new technology that can later be used in other sectors, such as education or research. A clear example is the arrival of devices such as the Kinect sensor for Xbox or the PlayStation Move. These pieces of technology encouraged researchers and different companies to delve more into image processing applications on their respective fields.

And now the turn is for VIRTUAL REALITY, with the arrival of technology like the HTC Vive or the PlayStation VR. However, as with every new technology, it also presents challenges for both developers and users, due mainly to its recent launch and that there are still of unknowns that will be cleared up with some time and a lot of research.

Being a user (we all are at some point), I can attest to different challenges that can be present if I want to start using VIRTUAL REALITY technology:

  • Cost: I think this could always be an issue with new technology. If I want to use the HTC Vive, I’ll have to pay around $1500 only on the device (headset, controllers and sensors) and on top of that, if my computer is not suited for this kind of technology, I would be looking at upgrading it, which depending on what I need to change, I could be looking at another expense of around $2000 or more. The PlayStation VR is marginally less expensive, but you would still be looking at an expense of around $1500, and subjecting yourself to less content. It is quite an investment for now, but I am sure in the future prices will come down, and we will even have more device choices. Of course, there are more cost-effective options like the Samsung Gear VR, or our all time favourite, the Google Cardboard (Here at Pathways, we developed a mass casualty VR training module, using web technologies and featuring the Google Cardboard).

  • Content: It can become an issue at the beginning, since the content for this technology can be very limited, depending on what you want to use it for. It all comes down to the training objectives justifying the use of this technology.

  • Space: It may or may not be an issue depending on your setup and the device you want to use, but keep in mind that you will always need a defined space regardless, since you will be moving around interacting with the elements in the virtual world. Just make sure you have the necessary space recommended by the device’s developer and you are good to go, although if you make use of a device like the Google Cardboard, you won’t need to move at all!

As for the developers, and being close to the development of interactive pieces, specially in the eLearning industry, here is what I think could be an obstacle if you decide to take one step further with this technology:

  • Skills: Even though there are tools that are compatible with the VIRTUAL REALITY devices, especially game engines like Unreal Engine or Unity, that can be used to also create interactive content and not just games, there is still a number of skills that have to be present in the members of the team, in order to produce outstanding content. You would need 3D generalists (Modeling, texturing, animation, etc.) and even pure programmers, who know how to code in C++ or C#. Especially in the eLearning industry, you will notice that the reduced gap between IDs and programmers, that allowed IDs to get their hands we with authoring tools and help create products, will now be infinitely bigger, given that you need a very specific background in order to use the new authoring tools. However, there is also the option of using 360 video and web technologies, that will definitely keep you within the budget (in both skills and money).

  • Upgrading equipment: This could signify an obstacle if you are not still completely sure about getting into VIRTUAL REALITY eLearning and investing some money, since you will have to purchase powerful computers in order to develop for this kind of technology, and the amount of the money may vary on the size of your team and the configuration you want to get for the new equipment.

Getting to sales: It probably won’t be a problem, depending on your sales team, but keep in mind that the customer will not only have to invest in the actual development of the product but also, the client will have to invest in the devices. So just be mindful of that when pitching the idea to the customer.

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