The Internet Is Cool, But Have You Heard of the Metaverse?
The Metaverse will change our world as we know it — what does it mean for us in L&D?
Imagine you’re a high schooler and your parents have insisted you get a summer job. You’re scrolling through the listings on LinkedIn— lifeguard? nah. Server at the new burger place? nah. Ice cream Scooper at Ben & Jerry’s? nah. Casino Host in Decentraland.
Hold up. What’s this?
That’s right, Tominoya Casino in Decentraland (a virtual world to shop, socialize, and play) is hiring real people to greet new guests and introduce them to the casino. Just like a “real” casino.
Here’s another example of this thing that’s happening.
In July of 2021, Facebook held a meeting with the press in their new Horizon Workrooms virtual meeting space. An avatar of Mark Zuckerberg greeted fellow meeting attendees and they discussed topics in a conference room, but it wasn’t a “real” conference room.
What is this “unreal” casino? What is this “unreal” conference room? It’s the Metaverse. Welcome.
I mentioned just two current examples of jobs changing, but if we zoom out a little bit what we’re really talking about is a new economy. And wherever there is an economy — there are jobs. And wherever there are jobs there are people like us who have to support people to do well in those jobs.
What is the Metaverse?
Read and re-read this section multiple times if this is your first time hearing about the Metaverse. Instead of giving you my own version of the definition, I’m going to let a few experts do it for me.
From Matthew Ball’s very excellent Primer on the Metaverse:
we need to think of the Metaverse as a sort of successor state to the mobile internet. And while consumers will have core devices and platforms through which they interact with the Metaverse, the Metaverse depends on so much more. There’s a reason we don’t say Facebook or Google is an internet. They are destinations and ecosystems on or in the internet, each accessible via a browser or smartphone that can also access the vast rest of the internet. Similarly, Fortnite and Roblox feel like the Metaverse because they embody so many technologies and trends into a single experience that, like the iPhone, is tangible and feels different from everything that came before. But they do not constitute the Metaverse.
From Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:
a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces…It’s an embodied Internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at. We believe that this is going to be the successor to the mobile Internet.
From Digiday’s article WTF is the Metaverse:
The term “Metaverse” was coined by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” In “Snow Crash,” the Metaverse is a massively popular virtual world experienced in the first person by users equipped with augmented reality technology.
Why are we talking about this now and not when Second Life was released back in 2003?
- Covid — Social distancing meant we had to find new ways to work, socialize, and play. Overnight, everyone had to learn how to safely socialize and a big part of that was getting together virtually.
- Tech Advances & Convergences — The rise of Crypto, NFTs, Blockchain and advancements in networking, computing, and platforms all combine to make barriers to entry much lower for the average person.
- More People — People want to go where other people hang out. This has been true forever. If all my friends are playing a game in Decentraland on Friday nights, I want to go there, too.
Some Basic Facts for the Naysayers
You might be thinking, Emily, this is wild and not very practical. I disagree. While we are still a long way off from full-vision widespread adoption and technological capabilities of experiences in the Metaverse, there are several signals indicating that it is the next major disruptor. And, sure, there’s a hype factor and it is totally possible that this fizzles, but do you remember when Netflix came out and people were like “that’s dumb — I can just go to my Blockbuster down the road” or when people wondered why you would want to do anything other than make phone calls on your cell phone?
Facebook’s Big Bet
Everybody’s friend, Mark Zuckerberg, has said that Facebook is transitioning from a Social Media Company to a Metaverse company over the next 5 years. That is a giant statement and a bold move. There’s a lot of smart people that work at Facebook, I have a feeling they did their research on this one.
12 Million People
12 million people watched a virtual Travis Scott concert in Fortnite. Guess how many people watched the Oscars in 2021? 9 million.
Follow The Money
Have you checked Bitcoin’s value recently? (It’s 49,000. It was 11,000 1 year ago.) How about the market cap of Roblox? (It’s 47 billion.) Do you know any kids who have purchased V Bucks in Fortnite recently? (Fortnite’s revenue was 5.1 billion last year.)
Where Are The Kids Hanging Out
Three out of four 9–12-year-olds have active Roblox accounts. They are natives to the immersive Metaverse — they are used to an internet that functions this way. If you are over 18, you are used to scrolling a page, but the kids are interacting with brands and each other in a totally new way.
This is Dystopian!
While it’s true that most sci-fi books that have the Metaverse as a main conceit are dystopian, I don’t know that it has to be that way in real life. History is chock full of fear of technology destroying us — trains go too fast! TV will rot your brain! Toddlers are spending too much time on iPads! While the way we amuse ourselves as humans has changed, there still hasn’t been an invention that has kept my friends from getting together and hiking or going camping on a regular basis. There are young kids in my Philadelphia neighborhood that are outside playing together every day. When my pre-teen neighbor makes TikToks in the street, she is doing it with her friend. We have a lot of tech screaming for our attention, but we still want to hang out with our friends.
What’s Next for L&D Professionals
Here are my current guesses at the impacts of the Metaverse over the next few epochs in time.
Short Term Impacts (1–2 years)
- Training modules about not only the standard digital literacy — which is the standard now — but also a true need to understand blockchain, crypto, AR/VR, and other Metaverse-related concepts. Particularly if you work in a retail, entertainment, and advertising space. A digital Gucci bag recently sold in a virtual world for the equivalent $4,000 dollars — more than what it retails for in real life. Brands are experimenting with how to advertise within virtual worlds — Stella Artois recently sponsored a virtual horse race. There is a shopping mall in Decentraland and new brands are being created there. In the full vision of the future, you can buy a shirt in the virtual world and then wear it to your next virtual work meeting.
- Get ready for more immersive and better virtual meetings and workshops. Accenture already did this pre-pandemic in 2019 with their release of the Nth Floor — a virtual collaboration office. You know the folks working on the Microsoft Teams app are including immersive features in their roadmap and working on something that will blow Facebook’s Workrooms out of the water.
Mid Term Impacts (3–5 years)
- You will start designing fully immersive training experiences. It won’t matter if your participants are in the same office building or remote. The idea that you have to develop content for an in-person vs. virtual learning experience will be a thing of the past.
- A new category of skilled worker that L&D will have to support. That skilled worker is someone who creates virtual experiences for companies. Let’s say a wine company called Vines sells a bottle of wine and on that bottle is a QR code. You and your friend open that bottle of wine, cheers, and then scan the QR code. The two of you are transported to the Vines winery in Napa for a full vineyard tour with a tour guide. Not only do you have to skill the builder of the experience, you also train that tour guide.
Long Term Impacts (5 years and beyond)
- Even more industries disrupted. For example, healthcare. Telemedicine is already wildly popular and accelerated by the COVID pandemic, we will continue to see this grow into a more immersive experience. What if I could see a world-renowned specialist in his virtual office? What if yearly physicals are performed in virtual offices (current wearable tech offers heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level measurement.) How we train doctors will change, health insurance products and offerings will change which means new language for salespeople and product R&D.
- L&D Agencies that exist fully in the Metaverse. If I own a clothing store in the Metaverse and I need to hire and train people to help run it, I am not going to hire an L&D agency with a good track record of developing in-person workshops and eLearning. I am going to hire the specialists who live and breathe in the Metaverse space everyday.
Things I’m Keeping in Mind
While the Metaverse is much more than a VR headset, it will be one of the key ways to access some of the coolest stuff in the virtual world. But not everyone can physically and comfortably wear a headset — accessibility issues and challenges will come into play. What if I can’t wear a headset in the virtual meeting or workshop? How do we offer alternatives?
Will there be both a physical office and virtual office? Do I have to show up to one or the other every day? Or will I be allowed to be disconnected and working from home?
Last year, when I thought about the future of work, I mainly thought about how automation will change our jobs and how different skills will be needed as the robots take over. Now, that has been completely turned on its head. The lines between the real world and the digital world are getting very blurry. There are now fully virtual jobs and, I’ll be transparent here, I have no earthly or virtual idea about how to prepare for that as an L&D professional. If I am hired into an L&D role a virtual casino, how do I train staff? Basic principles will stay the same, but we are truly entering a new world and we will have to completely rethink how we handle L&D in the Metaverse. Are you excited to think about this new wild west? To be on the edges of the future? I say let’s put on a headset, drop in, and explore.
Matthew Ball dives deep in this Metaverse Primer.
A great intro podcast that breaks down this concept and provides real examples: Welcome to the Metaverse Podcast.
CNet’s Scott Stein details Facebook Horizon Workrooms in this amazing article and video: Virtual Mark Zuckerberg showed me Facebook’s new VR Workplace.
Thanks for reading! You can listen to a recorded version of this article on my podcast: The L&D Forecast. Available on all podcast platforms.