Webinar Highlights: Experiential Learning with Immersive Technology

12 November

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Webinar Highlights: Experiential Learning with Immersive Technology

Experiential learning is a learning methodology that essentially involves learning by doing. And while experiential learning isn’t a new concept, recent advancements in immersive technology have transformed digital learning. 

Never before have digital learning professionals had so many opportunities to apply experiential learning practices to their instruction – and been able to reap the benefits of doing so. Because of the power of experiential learning in digital learning, we’ve invited Laurence Chater, an expert on immersive technologies, to speak at this week’s webinar. 

As a Learning Experience Designer at Virti, one of the leading immersive technology platforms, Laurence has over ten years experience designing immersive content for clients, such as Visualise London, Speed VR, Royal Court Theatre and UAL. In addition, he has five years experience working in instructional design for clients, such as Senta, Room One London and Ravensbourne. 

If you missed the webinar and want to gain expert insights on how you can make the most out of immersive technologies, keep reading for all the webinar highlights.

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What is experiential learning?

Laurence began the webinar by requesting that viewers consider how they learned as children. He mentioned that we’re exposed to incrementally greater challenges as we progress through life, and referred to children as ‘mini scientists’. For example, we learn through play, experimenting and testing hypotheses. According to Laurence, the interesting aspect of children is that they don’t have to be taught experiential learning – they do it automatically. And they do it because it’s fun, stimulating and exciting, and it’s how they operate. 

He then asks the audience to consider why it is that we tend to shun experiential learning or play learning as adults, and why we lose this mindset and get blinkered in our thinking. Laurence believes this is because our learning environments, schools and workplaces play a large part in terms of getting us to work, learn and operate in one particular way. 

Experiential Learning Theory

Laurence explained that Experiential Learning Theory is a more holistic view of learning than traditional cognitive or behavioural approaches. The theory purports that, ‘everything around you, everything you think, everything you do, and everything you feel is your learning process’. It also advocates for deep learning rather than surface learning. Unlike surface learning, which involves studying something once, or rote learning, deep learning involves learning through a range of activities. For example, while surface learning could involve studying from a text book and then taking a test, deep learning involves doing multiple activities, such as discussions with peers, and learning through a range of different mediums.

To further elucidate the concept of experiential learning, Laurence shared a quote from the psychologist and education reformer, John Dewey: ‘Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself’. Laurence also recommended that the audience read, ‘Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development’ by David Kolb, the educational theorist, who conceptualised the Experiential Learning Cycle.

David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

Laurence described Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle as the ‘core mechanic’ of bringing experiential learning to the real world. The cycle is composed of four parts:

  • Concrete Experience: This is anything that happens to the learner, whether they are experienced or novice. It can be any activity, such as learning to ride a bike or instrument.

  • Reflective Observation: This is an important phase where learners have the opportunity to examine what happens to them, or to examine others going through the same activity.

  • Abstract conceptualisation: This step involves learners making sense of their experience, thinking about next steps, considering a plan to improve their experience, and consulting with an expert, like a mentor, coach or teacher. 

  • Active experimentation: This stage involves learners taking everything they have received from the three stages and trying them out in a safe environment.

Following the completion of the four stages, they are repeated again. A core part of the theory is that it is a continual cycle, not a singular training. However, according to Laurence, it is normal to come across many variations and different adaptations in practice. Depending on the case, it may need  to be adapted in different ways, such as having several stages of reflection.

Laurence compared the Experiential Learning Cycle to the manner in which top athletes train. They are not expected to only train once and then win gold medals. Rather, they train daily in a repeated and cyclical process.

Experiential learning for human-centric skills

Human-centric skills, also known as soft skills or power skills, include skills such as empathy, decision making, active listening, prioritisation and accountability. According to Laurence, these are skills that have to be experienced to be understood and can’t be learned from reading a book. He also believes it is a misconception that these skills are fixed and employees just arrive already having them. But according to Laurence, learning science shows us that this is not true and these things can be trained and developed. Because of this knowledge, many organisations are moving away from surface learning and moving more towards continuous learning programmes for human-centric skills development.

What tools do you need to design experiential learning?

According to Laurence, it’s important to give learners concrete experiences that are impactful and enable them to embed learning emotionally. They need to have a safe environment to put that learning to the test. He says that you, as the learning designer, also need a way to assess where their failures are, how they need to improve, and where in the learning cycle they are at. Laurence believes a robust feedback system and a safe place for learners to reflect are key in order to design experiential learning.

Why is it more important than ever?

The workplace is changing and organisations are ‘waking up’ to experiential learning as a valid training design route. In Laurence’s experience, he is starting to see a shift from employees asking for more than just a salary from their employers. Rather, they want their employers to invest in their development and feel prepared and skilled at work.

Laurence showed data from Glint that demonstrated employees who feel cared about at work are 3.2x more likely to report being happy to work for their current company. They are also 3.7x more likely to recommend working for their company. Therefore, making employees feel cared about should be a business priority. And investing in their development is one way to do this.

Because of this trend and the lack of HGV training programmes in the U.K.,Virti created their HGV Driver Training programme. This programme enables employees to develop their skills without face-to-face contact. It is a way for organisations to adapt to this growing demand and retain talent. And since organisations are becoming aware that this skills development is so important for employees, it is a positive development for instructional designers as well.

How to start developing experiential learning processes

According to Laurence, the first step when designing learning processes is to consider the needs and wants of the learners and organisation. And this will not be a one-size-fits all approach. You’ll need to recognize that since every organisation has their own set of priorities and responsibilities, learning designers look for a happy balance between the needs of learners and those of the organisations. 

He also urges learning designers to get a seat at the table when these decisions are being made – and if they aren’t getting it, they need to fight for it. This is because the voice of the learning designer will be so important in developing effective and engaging experiences – and they are the ones who understand the theory, practice and needs of the learners.

Laurence also advises learning designers to ask clients the tough questions. For example, how are they operationalising? How are they measuring success? What are their targets? Do they actually have opportunities for learners to grow and develop in the way they want? Are learners being given opportunities to develop human-centric skills, like leadership and management skills? These questions are important in reaching a convergence between learning design and L&D. You’ll need to understand what outcomes they want to achieve.

Another important step in creating learning processes is to gather data intelligently and regularly. Laurence asserts that it is important to gather data and have a plan to evaluate training design. However, very often it gets lost as a ‘robotic exercise’, like surveys, which doesn’t end up providing the information needed. Therefore, learning experience designers must develop meaningful evaluations that give insights as to whether a learning cycle is working, or if adjustments need to be made.

How can immersive technology help?

Laurence believes that the problem with traditional methods like role playing is that they can be time consuming and are difficult to implement operationally. In his experience, employees often express that they aren’t satisfied with these types of trainings. And it also might not suit a particular organisation’s structure anymore, such as if employees are working remotely, or if they aren’t seeing the results of that type of training clearly through objective information or data. Therefore, learning experience designers can come in with technology to address these concerns, and improve the learning experiences.

According to Laurence, conventional corporate eLearning, such as powerpoint slides are typically not engaging enough. And even though they may be interactive, it doesn’t mean people will want to keep doing it. If eLearning is introduced as part of the learning cycle, it’s important to ask yourself if learners want to stay in that cycle. Are they going through the states of reflection, conceptualisation and application? Are they benefiting? Or is it being done in isolation? 

Therefore, there needs to be a way to make eLearning more of an exciting, engaging and concrete experience. It should be stimulating, with stories and something at stake. According to Laurence, these are many of the reasons that people binge watch shows, buy box sets or play video games. They enjoy media that enables them to have something to lose, something to risk and something to achieve. 

Laurence believes that since learners today have so many ways to compare their experiences to others, creating engaging learning experiences is more important than ever, which he refers to as the ‘grass is always greener’ paradigm. And because of these opportunities to compare on social media or through messaging, learners have become more critical and have a spotlight on the quality of their learning. Therefore, the challenge for learning experience designers is to delight learners and keep them coming back for more. This is particularly true if designers want to keep their jobs and keep clients.

Laurence shares that when you start to think about the framework for introducing technologies, the job of learning designers is to seek out ways to craft experiences that leverage stories, excitement, relatability, stakes and challenge. This is because you are going to have to capture learners’ attention, keep them coming back for more, keep them in that cycle and expose them to greater challenges. This enables them to continue getting feedback and growing. 

How can you start designing these experiences?

Laurence refers to virtual reality as a type of ‘sensory highjacking’. And he believes that experiential learning has a big advantage because of its ability to completely control the visual and auditory experience of learners. While he states, ‘there is nothing worse than cheesy VR experiences’, if it’s applied in the right place, VR has a lot of potential. 

He uses the example of a medical procedure, which has actually been a use case for Virti clients, to highlight a practical use of VR.  Traditionally, junior surgeons would get experience learning procedures by watching a surgeon, or for rare surgeries, they would just do it themselves. However, with VR, we have the prospect of allowing a learner, or a trainer, to stand next to someone performing a critical operation. And this can be done anytime, and on-demand. Laurence shared that a surgeon wanting to have a library of high quality surgery simulations was actually one of the seeds of inception behind the Virti platform.

In terms of feedback  and reflection, Laurence stated that this has many applications as well. For example, data that can be gathered from someone using virtual reality is often much more objective. Virti also has detailed analytics, so administrators can get a host of objective and detailed insights about how learners have been performing and engaging throughout their experiences.

VR is also not as costly to achieve as it once was, and there are lots of new technologies coming to market that make the creation of this type of content much easier and more accessible. For example, in the past, you had to have a large desktop PC hooked up to your website. But Laurence says that this is not the case anymore, and there are standalone VR headsets. He urges the audience to ‘take the plunge’ if you can, and to learn what is available. 

Immersive 360° videos

According to Laurence, immersive 360° videos are much easier to produce than they used to be. He shared that when he started creating 360° content, it involved having to hack together different cameras that weren’t synchronised and using a range of software. However, it’s not so time-consuming anymore. Laurence recommended the company, Insta360, which is one of the market leaders for immersive video. And to learn and develop your skills, he suggested watching the YouTube channels, Hugh Hou and 360 Rumors. According to Laurence, these can both help you learn most of what you’ll need to know for 360 filmmaking.

Story-rich / “Choose your own path” media

Another component of immersive technology that Laurence mentioned in the webinar is story-rich media, or ‘choose your own path’. This involves taking elements from game design, or gamification, such as story, excitement, relatability and stakes. He advises that learning experience designers play video games, do escape rooms, or play games on their phone to get ideas for story-rich media and an understanding of what makes stories compelling.

AI / Machine learning technologies

In terms of AI and machine learning, Laurence shared that virtual humans, or avatars, for skills training can be beneficial. For example, at Virti, they have virtual humans that are set up with a script and operate with machine learning and sentiment analysis. They can be used for on-demand role play training, either on a desktop or VR, and provide a safe environment for learners to practise what they have learned. He says that it is the job of learning designers to apply a game design structure to the process of designing scenarios, where there are different outcomes and different endings.

Mixed / augmented reality training

Another area for learning designers is mixed or augmented reality training, which involves scaffolding learning through actually having learners see a live example in real life. According to Laurence, this is already a blossoming market and there is a big demand for learning experience designers in areas, such as manufacturing and safety training. One example of this type of technology that is already being used in many factory floors in the United States is Microsoft Hololens 2. 

Learning in the Metaverse

Laurence describes the Metaverse as ‘currently still a vision’, and not yet something concrete. However, he believes ‘Metaverse design could be the realisation of experiential learning because it borrows from game design, VR, remote working, blockchain, remote education and ecommerce’. It basically seeks ‘to marry all these things together’. However, he can’t yet say what the Metaverse will actually become and how people will engage with it. Since the technology is still being worked on, this is yet to be seen. But he believes that with well thought out design, ‘it could be the future of human development’.

Final thoughts

Laurence wrapped up the webinar by providing the audience with four key takeaways:

  • Engage with Experiential Learning Theory: Consider whether the learning moves you and review the frameworks and philosophies from John Dewey and David Kolb.

  • Consider the needs and wants of your learners: Although this is a primary concern for any form of instructional design, it is crucial for experiential design. 

  • Find compelling reasons to use immersive tech: In order to create deep learning experiences, you need to ask tough questions and be the difficult person in the room.

  • Plan for evaluation and feedback: Learning experience designers need to be the ones proving or disproving if these technologies work. It is their job to provide evidence that they are working.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to apply experiential learning to your digital learning experiences, a Professional Diploma in Digital Learning Design from Digital Learning Institute will give you the knowledge and skills you need.

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