Considerations for utilizing VR in a professional context — part 1 of 3

Last week I got a call from someone asking me about the application of Virtual Reality (VR) for his line of work (thanks Eric), it concerned reintegration trajectories of employees. Very briefly I shared some of my insights on why and how to apply VR. This conversation triggered the thought that there may be others out there who are playing with the idea of applying VR for their line of work.

The start

So there you are… you and who you are as a professional… trying to pursue a dream, to become a better professional and you took some interest in Virtual Reality. You got introduced through either your nephew, your mobile phone provider, some conference gimmick or the guy tumbling over on TV trying a roller coaster… And now you are thinking of how it might be of use for your profession, but you have some concerns/questions: it should be something doable, tangible, that makes sense and has (commercial) value for example. Where to start? Allow me to share some insights to get you on the road.

Writing this post I felt a growing need to make this an organic post, meaning that the table and information below should ideally grow into something more. With the help of you, the reader, so please if you have thoughts toshare. Thanks in advance and I will use it for final part 3.
Talking about part 3: this approach also led to dividing this post in 3 parts: based on the categories: users, goals (this post), contextand distribution. Next week I will post the 2 other categories and a last one with conclusions and the full (adjusted) matrix.

The concept, the technology

Virtual Reality as concept has many different faces. Combine that with Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality and for the average laymen this world becomes foggy as can be. Virtual Reality in the definition I use here, has the ability to transport you to another world: you experience another place while being where you were before putting on the goggles. VR comes in many shapes and forms. You might have heard or experienced a roller coaster for a short but intense ride, or saw some of the growing number of VR games out there, playable on the various known game consoles (Playstation for example). Also examples of tourism and education purposes like visiting Rome etc. have been in the spotlight. VR has been dubbed the ultimate empathy machine (and questioned) and various experiments proof the sense of actually being there (as in being in the other world). Aided by 3d surround sound the mind is tricked in believing what you are seeing. The VR industry is also very tech driven, so new headsets, super computers, controllers, sensor suits are taking center stage, contributing to the feeling of hype, gadget and “will be over soon”.

The more reason to start with VR as a technology, hype or gimmick but to start with a real life problem or challenge (not necessarily being boredom and escapism) and VR being a solution, or at least part of it.

Let me be clear about my personal goggles: I primarily look at VR and its application from a Learning and Development perspective, VR as a tool to help (lots of) people become a better version of themselves. That said I think VR is interesting to take into account when talking about human behavior and how to influence it for the better.

The worlds

VR as I like to explain it has two different worlds to be immersed in as a user: one that is computer generated in other words animated (CG) and one that is filmed with a 360 camera (360movie). Some argue the latter is not VR because there is nothing virtual about that world; it is the real world, but filmed. Yes, check, agreed, but for us, the ordinary people, this is not a variation that is being made, so therefor I won’t either. The distinction between the 2 worlds (CG and 360movie) is worth defining because there are some important characteristics or limitations of choosing one or the other.

Basic characteristic statements

To make comparison a little easier lets state that for a basic quality CG experience one needs decent hardware meaning an Oculus, HTC vive: wired goggles attached to somewhat of a super computer to provide a seamless experience often accompanied by controllers.

And for a 360movie experience you need a decent smartphone (2014 and up) and a piece of plastic with two lenses, be it a comfortable version of the Google Cardboard, for example the Homido or the VRBox

More on all the headsets here.

Your application

The application you have in mind or searching for has characteristics and limitations on its own: types of users, the goals, the context etc. So let’s define these categories.

Users: what kind, what context, number, demographics, technology savviness / accessibility, (need) for mobility etc.

Goals: think about: learning by doing, practicing skills, experiencing emotions, stress level, building confidence, going places, meeting peers, process driven or content driven etc.

Context: is it dangerous, hard to get to, hard to simulate in real life, high on human interaction, lots of people, need for completion (compliance), planning/rostering of (operational) people

Delivery: individual, smaller groups, larger groups, on site, off site, flexible in use, availability of hardware, ease of use, time to market, performance data reporting, budget.

Now lets try to put this in some sort of matrix, giving you questions/points to think about when you think about an application or you have an idea to use VR for your profession.

Users — a Human Centered Perspective

To stand a chance to really make an impact for your user some careful thought about who he or she is, is key. I cannot know the exact purpose of the application you are looking at but whatever is may be someone will someday experience your VR application in his/her professional context. The way he or she experiencing it plays a crucial role in the acceptance and therefore value of the application. So the table below gives some areas to think about and the implication for choosing a VR direction hardware/content wise.

Goals — the (business) objectives

The next pillar to think about is the result you want to accomplish by using VR. Is it purely about giving the user an experience, or do you add behavior and trying to influence that behavior. Is that behavior very practical skill focused or more about emotion and showing behavior in the situational setting. Talking about setting you have to think about what about the setting is valuable, in other words does it have to be real or would an abstraction of reality do? The following matrix gives some questions and implications of the two VR paths in combination with the objectives you have.

As said: this is my first real attempt to put this in a matrix and therefore work in progress but would really appreciate any comments, suggestions to aid this attempt to shed some light in the choices to be made when thinking of applying VR in a professional context.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Context & Delivery

A big thank you to all I have met on this journey so far and special thanks to Chris Koomen, Marjolein Pasanea of KLM and Thijs de Vries and Team for all the valuable insights!