Recognized as a leader in extended reality (XR) learning, Sam Sannandeji is founder and CEO of Modest Tree, a Canadian company providing immersive software to empower non-technical people to create and maintain their own augmented reality and virtual reality training. He brings both a technical, hands-on expertise of how XR works with an understanding of the needs and pain points immersive technologies can successfully address.
In this fifth installment in our seven-part series on the frontiers of learning technology, Celisa talks with Sam about the future of XR, its potential dangers and opportunities, and related advice for learning businesses on how to make practical use of augmented or virtual reality.
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[00:21] – Intro and background info about Sam
The Frontiers of Learning Technology
[01:23]- When you hear the phrase “frontiers of learntech,” what comes to mind?
The groups or the industries of people who are trying to change the scope of the platform as it exists. As the training is evolving, our consumption of it is evolving as well. Our attention span is lowering so we need things to be flashier. Being on the frontiers of learntech hopefully means our training continues to evolve to meet those needs.
Defining AR, VR and XR
[02:08] – Can you briefly define AR, VR, and XR?
- XR is the variable of X. Once you put the X in there, it could be whatever you want—mixed reality, augmented reality, extended reality, etc.
- VR takes someone into a virtual world, immersing them in that environment and closing off the existing world.
- AR is often wearable, and we use it to augment our existing reality.
Over-Hyped Trends in Learntech
[03:39] – Which trend or trends in learntech do you think might be the over-hyped, shiny objects that are maybe distracting us from what really matters?
The shiny objects are the new headset or new device that’s coming out. We get distracted by these because of the marketing. Sam says 90 percent of the time, we don’t get what’s actually promised. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars or be part of a special group to get access to a new device. Rather, wait until it becomes something that all consumers can pick up at the store.
People are getting distracted from the fact that VR is great when you use it for the purpose of building muscle memory and for creating immersive learning environments. For Sam, the focus of learntech is about how to evolve from the old way of doing things in training using these technologies. Not to get derailed by a shiny object like a new headset, but rather focusing on the main concept of the method of delivery of the content.
The Near Future of Learntech
[05:47] – Which trends in learntech have the most potential for significant positive impact in the next three years or so?
Sam hopes the trends related to devices or equipment become mainstream and affordable. He’s seen increased usability in trends like VR, particularly because of the current state of the world not being able to meet face-to-face.
The new technology and evolving game technology related to the training and learning has become very valuable. If that continues and the hardware also follows along, Sam says the trend will continue. We will be at a point where everybody can have that headset, they’re okay with this new method of delivery, and can now comfortably use it.
The Near Future of XR
[07:12] – How would you characterize the future of XR in the next three years or so?
For XR, it always comes down to the lower technology that’s underneath it. We’ve seen huge leaps in the graphical powers of computers lately with some of the new graphic cards coming out. We’ve seen some new leaps in the chip sets for the phones that are coming out that are allowing us to push the boundaries for XR technologies as well.
We’re still trying to figure out what that sweet spot is between AR and VR and MR—or whatever the different X for the R is. We’re trying to still figure out which is the one that people are going to like.Sam Sannandeji
Until we get mainstream usability out of it, the hardware cost is going to be key. Sam doesn’t think we’re going to make that huge leap in three years, but he does see it in the next five years or six years if we get to a point that there is a standard in the industry of VR headsets.
For example, phones are all pretty standard now. The hardware is different but interface-wise they are similar. The technology related to XR needs to do the same from a usability perspective. The gaming industry is pushing it forward a bit but there still is yet to be that standard headset. For example, everyone in the industry has different preferences for these. There need to be more standards and uniformity so that there can be broader adoption.
[10:12] – If you’re looking for a partner to help you explore the frontiers of learning technology, check out our sponsor for this series.
BenchPrep is a pioneer in the modern learning space, digitally transforming professional learning for corporations, credentialing bodies, associations, and training companies for over a decade. With an award-winning, learner-centric, cloud-based platform, BenchPrep enables learning organizations to deliver the best digital experience to drive learning outcomes and increase revenue.
The platform’s omni-channel delivery incorporates personalized learning pathways, robust instructional design principles, gamification, and near real-time analytics that allow organizations across all industries to achieve their goals. More than 6 million learners have used BenchPrep’s platform to attain academic and professional success. BenchPrep publishes regular content sharing the latest in e-learning trends.
To download BenchPrep’s latest e-books, case studies, white papers, and more go to www.benchprep.com/resources.
The More Distant Future of XR
[11:21] – What might XR look like out in the distant future?
With technology, Sam describes the three-release lifecycle:
- The first one is usually the device or the hardware. It’s often innovative and seems amazing, but it’s not accessible and/or has glitches and usability problems.
- Next, the second one comes out. It’s improved upon with better technology and the price goes down.
- Then the third release comes out and that’s usually the one that makes things a lot easier for the users. It’s closer to mainstream as possible, which is where we need it to be.
Right now, in many cases, we’re in that second phase. Going back to that standard, Sam predicts we’ll have a breakthrough in the next ten years. In fact, there’s technology right now where contact lenses have chips in them for augmented reality. But the question is whether people will put that in their eyes—will they trust it? There’s also the lack of information about spending 20 hours in VR and whether or not we’re even okay having that AR headset or sunglasses that gives us information.
In the next 10 years as the graphics, hardware, and chips grow—and with 5G being introduced, which allows us to get the information we need a lot faster—then it seems that we are moving in the direction of making it mainstream.
Getting Learntech Right
[13:33] – If we collectively get it right, what do you think is the good that we might see from learntech in general? Or if you want to focus on XR, AR or VR—in the near future, what would it look like to get it right?
Sam doesn’t think we should look at it and say “if” we get it right, we should just get it right. The new workforce coming in has a different way of thinking and they were educated differently than older generations. We need to keep their attention.
The retention rate drops if the learntech is not there to evolve the type of training we’re doing. What we need to do is collectively try to improve the methods of learning as much as we can to the direction that it has the highest retention rate.Sam Sannandeji
Based on existing data and research, Sam retention rates are not high—but the retention rate is a lot higher than just sitting behind the monitor when you introduce XR. When you get the engagement up, you get the retention up. We end up not only improving the training as we’re going because the old days of manually building these teachings might not be the best option.
Learn more about Xplorer 2.0 (below), Modest Tree’s latest software iteration, which is another milestone in the continued evolution of AR, VR, and XR technology viability for enterprise use.
We might also want to look into doing data-driven teachings and data-driven training for when it comes to that. Then use the data we get from the end case—the learners—to improve that learning.
Getting Learntech Wrong
[16:44] – If we get it wrong, what are the dangers that might come from XR or, more broadly, learntech if you’d like?
We have a problem right now where people are always looking at their phones. Imagine instead of having a phone in your hand, you’re spending 10 hours on a headset, talking to everybody virtually. Sam points out how this can be beneficial for people, particularly introverts who maybe don’t like to engage as much. VR and XR make that very easy to do. For example, he says gaming allows for that [ability not to engage], but it’s also bad that you might get used to living in that XR world and lose social skills.
The other part is that we become too reliant on it. For example, with cars, all the augmented reality (the heads-up displays) and sensors that are going in. They’re reflecting your speed and a bunch of other information into the front windshield, so you don’t have to look down or even be aware of it. This can actually cause us to become really bad drivers because we’re relying on all this technology to help us.
There are certain skillsets that we’re going to lose in the process. It’s a learning balance, that, as a unit, we have to work together to not lose some of those skillsets that we gained…It’s how much do you want to stick to the legacy information we have or the knowledge we have versus the technology moving us forward?Sam Sannandeji
Technology to Address Problems and Opportunities
[20:01] – Are there problems or opportunities that we need technology to address? What can’t we do without XR?
Organizations are usually concerned with two things: how they can make more money, or how they can save money. If talking about educational institutions such as schools and universities, it’s how can we teach better and how can the students learn better? It’s all about making what we have better, even though we’re okay with what we have.
Sam asks how can we take less time—because time is something we can’t get back—to get something accomplished and get the knowledge base back? For example, if you are putting together a piece of IKEA furniture using the manual it will take a certain amount of time. But consider how XR or augmented technology feeding you information through glasses as you’re putting it together makes that process faster and more streamlined. It’s not that we can’t do things without XR, it’s how can we use it to amplify our processes and the way we do things.
One of the risks we face is that the new workforce coming in has no interest in our old way of doing things. Sam says they aren’t very comfortable sitting in a class, spending five days looking at slides They want a virtual world to practice the skill or practice being in certain situations using the teacher’s guidance to learn. Also, there’s no cost of destroying real equipment.
Advice for Learning Businesses
[23:49] – What advice do you have for a learning business looking to get started in XR, trying to decide what to focus on and what to invest in the near term?
- Don’t get caught up in the flashiness of things. A lot of companies make the mistake of seeing something in AR and VR and immediately getting the device.
- Don’t fall into judging the effectiveness of XR based on a prototype. Use your old data to help your new methods of delivery so you’re not building things from scratch. Instead of doing a prototype project, try to have a data-driven focus on trying to expand it from one prototype.
- Don’t fall into the traps of press releases and marketing videos that show something amazing that was rendered rather than the real-life product.
[26:05] – Are there particular ingredients or factors that you think contribute to organizations’ successful use of XR?
The big challenge Sam sees many organizations have is that they treat XR technology as the same old way of doing training. The problem with that is—because you’re getting into that third dimension with XR—it’s no longer two-dimensional. If you’re talking AI and about 3D, data-driven content, it’s about trying to build something holistic where you can have a full-feature product that is useful day-to-day and can grow. This requires an entire team of people because the key to being able to launch a successful product requires the maintainability of code.
Writing code is like fruit. If you don’t maintain it, it rots…Building XR technology or immersive training is the same way. If you’re not constantly updating it, it rots, and it becomes useless.Sam Sannandeji
You need a dedicated team from design, to development, to maintenance that are working all together to maintain that dataset and content. If you don’t want to create a team and have the overhead of 20 people doing that for you, Sam recommends partnering up with a company who can.
[29:08] – Are there practical tips or suggestions about how to make practical use of AR or VR specifically for learning and education? Or pitfalls to avoid?
Find the actual pain that you’re trying to solve and be clear on your desired outcome. Then find how you want to solve it, through what technology, and what the outcome is for it. Once you have that, you have your ROI, and now you can quantify it.
[31:43] – Wrap-Up
Sam Sannandeji is founder and CEO of Modest Tree. Based in Nova Scotia, the company provides immersive software for enterprise digitization. Sam is passionate about educating others about the practical possibilities of XR. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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[33:20] – Sign off
Other Episodes in This Series:
- Learntech: The Next Generation
- AI, Data, and Optimism with Donald Clark
- The Future Learning Ecosystem with Sae Schatz
- Bias and Equity in Learntech
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