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NKD Connect: Learning Through a New Lens; VR

What is next for learning and development? Paul Chamberlain discusses the possibilities that Virtual Reality gives us & how this could change the way we learn.

In Conversation with…

Paul Chamberlain

Having worked as a Senior Video Editor and Motion Graphic Designer for 10 years, Paul has a wealth of experience in video creation spanning across Broadcast, Advertising and Corporate media. Having worked for such clients as BBC, ITV, Sky Atlantic, BlackBerry, Microsoft, Vodafone, EY and DPDHL, Paul has built up a skill base to tackle any video production from beginning to end.

“Advances in technology make processes more streamlined. With that efficiency comes the ability to create better design and freedom… but freedom isn’t always a good thing”

NKD: Let’s talk about how technology is changing how we work? Have you noticed it changes the way we design our learning?

Paul Chamberlain: Yes, definitely.

Computers have become a lot more powerful and adaptable – so you can design quicker. If you take film for example, this used to be a manual process where you had to physically cut the film in half to make transitions. However now, with the advances in technology we can make the process more streamlined. With that efficieny comes the ability to create better design and the freedom to change more. Although that doesn’t mean that freedom is always a good thing.

You can push the boundaries further with the changes in technology. With the film ‘Avatar’, which has some revolutionary CGI and motion capture work, it took 47 hours to create one frame, not one second – one frame! of the animation. If you were to put that on to a normal household PC it would take fifteen thousand years for the film to finish!

NKD: Wow!

PC: The same kind of thing happened in my working career. When I started broadcaster were still using standard definition, as well as transitiong to high definition content. Web videos were just beginning to take off – there was a whole lot of infrastructure that came with that. It’s a lot easier now for us to host videos and stream content now thanks to changes in technology. Then you take one leap further and you have experiences like the iMAX cinema which is shot at 4 or 8 K, and you have beautiful films like Dunkrik being produced.

We started working in VR and 360 filming last year, again it was different to what I had done in my entire working career. Now it’s all on a sphere, and it’s on 360 degrees.

All my previous experience was relevant but now I had new things to consider, because we were working in a sphere. Where am I going to put lights? Where do actors need to stand? How do we hide things? It’s a completely new world in a sense. There’s a process when you finish the 360-filming called stitching, where you effectively stitch together the views and even that is mind boggling, and because your checking something which is all around you so that takes time.

NKD: It must really be a challenge. 

PC: Challenge is a very good word. You have to really concentrate, everything is moving around, so you’ve got to check it all – it was very difficult, but when it came together, it was really good. ­

NKD: Does technology help the creative process?

PC: Yes – when you start on a project, you often latch on to one idea, and that concept is in your head, but thanks to technology, we now have really powerful tools that can bring that idea to life, but there’s more to it than that, because of the speed we can play around with different ideas.

The best way that I think that technology helps us, is that it supports the journey of creation. For example, design is a huge community now, especially in film and motion. There’s a lot of material on the internet and people are happy to share certain information, which aside from using it to create, it’s also using technology to share ideas.

NKD: People are learning from many sources these days, perhaps it’s the ‘sharing’ economy’s influence…

PC: I use Twitter a lot, and often motion designers, or other designers, may share 3 or 4 minutes of animation, but they might just share a GIF. One of the motion designers I follow, shares a GIF every day. He has one character rig and that character is then put into different situations. When he talks about it in the comments, he talks about this challenge is always pushing him to try new ideas or scenarios. This type of sharing is becoming more and more prevalent.

NKD: The work we do is often based on learning and development, how do you feel technology is impacting what we do?

PC: Especially with what NKD does, technology has a huge part in the ‘blended’ approach to learning design. As creatives, notably with learning, we want to create a story or a narrative around the key messages. If you sit down and tell people they need to learn this and often with quite manual tasks, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t resonate with the audience, but if you create a story around it it’s then much easier for the participant to understand and retain the information.

NKD: Does a story then bring the learning to life?

PC: Absolutely, technology is truly helping that, in cases where we have different platforms and different ways that we can communicate that message and that story. Whether it be through film, printed materials or virtual reality. You now have a variety of platforms that can help with that message.

NKD: That must really be a positive for people who learn in different ways?

PC: It really resonates with me – I’m dyslexic, and went to a school where there was a very traditional approach to learning. Someone would write things down and you would have to repeat it, and that never worked for me. I soon realised where I did well, and that was when I was drawing and doodling stuff, because I am a visual learner.

We want people to know, this isn’t classroom learning, what we’re doing is creating key experiences and moments. Whenever they go back into their role, or further than that – it’s something they will remember.

The best thing I’ve seen at pilots and launches is when the penny drops, where a participant really understands something for the first time. That’s a brilliant moment – it’s amazing to see.

NKD: Last year we worked on a VR project for a client, how did you feel about this type of project?

PC: It was a really interesting project, it started when Darren (our creative director) and I, talking about whether or not we could do it. It was on the scene, but as a company we hadn’t explored it yet.

We started off by finding a partner company called Neutral, who helped us create the apps. Working with Neutral was a good example of a technology company who are so enthusiastic about the technology. They really gave us this, inspiration, they told us – ‘you can do anything you want to do’. They gave us a couple of examples and that really started the ball rolling.

We already had the idea of having people see one scenario and they have two different options, and as soon as we saw the VR it started to click, with the potential of that platform to make the content really exciting for the user. There were two really powerful things about that:

A) It’s such an immersive experience, so as the user you’re put into positions and scenarios that hopefully the participant should be fairly used to experiencing anyway. But we can present options that align with the service standards and see which option that they choose.

B) The second part was for the client itself because we could get so much data out the VR headsets. Not only did it effect the participants during training, but the information we got at the end of it influenced the client’s decision on their next training solution.

It is a great example of how technology helped to create a brilliant design solution as well as a getting instant feedback for the client to analyse. It isn’t just one programme. Because of the way the hardware is set up, rather than us having to design a whole other new course on something else, we could just update the VR headset with a new scenario. Which is relevant in say, logistic environment where they don’t want to take people offline all the time because people only have 15 minutes –  it’s a really easy way for them to assess people, and follow up

We also had this really nice idea about gamifying it, so different stores could play against each other. It was just something that was really easy to pick up, and that in and of itself was driving the participants to be a part of it, and their buy in to do it.

NKD: Was the client excited? Was it a new experience for them?

PC: They were really excited. Every time we showed both the client and also everyone back at NKD it was really interesting, because we could see all the different ways we could integrate this into our solutions for other clients and the potential and the benefits could be huge.

NKD: Did you come across any challenges, from either a learning or a creative perspective?

PC: The learning itself was still based around the service behaviours that the client wanted to continue to have their staff practice, so there wasn’t a challenge in terms of the learning because the learning stayed the same, no matter what platform we delivered it on.

Creatively, we were challenged, because we had to learn very quickly about filming in 360, we were lucky we could do testing and development and that we had assistance from Neutral to create the app.

NKD: We’ve touched on this already, but is there anything that VR can bring that other methods can’t?

PC: It’s just the method – the delivery platform. You can have for example role play in a class room, where you could have someone pretend to be the angry customer. I think the difference with VR is how immersed you become in the headset. You’re in it, you have to make a choice, you’re looking around to see things, it very much drives interaction. It has the power to enhance the learning methods and techniques.

NKD: In ten years will it just be part of our blended learning approach in the same way that apps are now?

PC: Definitely! I would say two or three years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it will be a huge part of learning and education in general very quickly.

NKD: What do you see as the potential for VR?

PC: It sounds a little cliché but there’s a huge potential.

The gaming industry has really excelled in this field, and that’s really pushed the development with brands like Oculus and PlayStation. Gamification of learning is quite a big part of what we do, so it’s interesting to see how the gaming industry is using and developing VR, because we can take inspiration from that.

NKD: It’s quite mind blowing really if you think about it…

PC: Take a webinar for example, you have 100 – 200 people connected where they are discussing a certain topic. I’ve been part of those webinars, and there are times when they’re really engaging and sometimes not. Maybe it’s a condition of modern attention rates but it’s so easy to switch off on those types of things. But if you’re in a VR space, that would be so engaging.

Sky in the UK are already doing a lot with VR. I was at an industry conference this year and they already have the content built up, it will probably come through in sport first – because that’s where they invest a lot of the money. It’s almost as if you’re at the game – part of the appeal of football games is the incredible atmosphere.

You’ve also got augmented reality, like you have something called the HoloLens. You could create any manner of simulations for someone to do. One example that I saw was created for an airline – it was incredible and I think the potential is huge. All the key industries are picking it up.

NKD: We saw it last year with ‘Pokémon Go’, look how quickly that gained popularity – the whole world picked it up!

PC: ‘Pokémon Go’ was a brilliant idea. A fascinating concept that really revitalised an old brand.

NKD: So, what’s next?

PC: Whatever Charlie Brooker writes into the next series of Black Mirror!