In the past, when we used the term “video” in a discussion of eLearning, we generally meant a medium involving capture of sequences of images into a recording that had a beginning and an end, edited to a specific length. In the near future, video will mean truly dynamic interactive video. Video will be created “on the fly,” not locked into a sequence, and under the control of the user or of software.

Computers and smartphones have changed the way we create and view video. We know that. Video is moving to strange new lands where nothing will be as it appears. OK, in video nothing has ever been as it really is. Not since the 1950s, when video first started to change our society, and certainly not now. It used to be that video had to be recorded to 16mm film. For live-camera video recording we had to wait until the 1960s. And video could only be shown in one format; black and white. Before the 1960s, video was filmed on a device known as a kinescope where a film camera faced a video screen (very small) and film was recorded at 24 frames per second. Then when it was shown back on your television set, it was converted back to 29.97 frames per second (don’t ask why). It was insanely analog.

The invention of commercial videotape in the 1960s changed everything. Live TV shows could be recorded and played back at a later time. Think The Tonight Show: recorded around 5 PM, then played back at 11:30 PM. This was a breakthrough. Early video recorders were huge, used two-inch wide tape, and took a lot of skill (learned!) to operate. Fast forward: Today there are a plethora of options for recording and playback. It makes my head swim given all the options. We can make video in almost any form, format, or shape if it’s a rectangle of some sort. We’re also beginning to make virtual reality (VR) video, which has some incredibly interesting applications. We’re attempting to make real interactive video as well, albeit with less success on many levels. Most of the real application of VR in eLearning is in the future. First, I think I need to share my definition of interactive video.

Interactive video’s current state

The “interactive” video we create in eLearning today isn’t really interactive at all, in my opinion. The interactivity we use today is where we stop a video, ask a question, then go on to the next thing or repeat what the learner didn’t get right. Or we allow the viewer to choose what happens next. None of these approaches is truly interactive to me. Yes, it’s a bit more immersive than passive just-sit-back-and-watch-it video. But interactive? Minimally at best.

There have been some videos made that are highly interactive compared to stopping the video, asking some questions, then starting the video. Notably, the Resuscitation Council did a video series several years ago that was highly interactive. It was done in Flash, which is now deceased, of course, but the video lives on (I had to allow Flash content to be shown in my browser for this site) and is still far beyond any other interactivity I’ve seen or found in many searches.

There’s no easy way to create more interactivity than we currently can in Captivate or Articulate. You have to keep it simple. Say what you want about Flash, it certainly helped creativity and allowed video content creation with a lot of interactivity. Now that Flash is pretty much gone, interactivity has to be written in HTML5 and it’s difficult to create. There are no really great tools with user interfaces that developers can easily understand. But the Resuscitation Council’s video lives on in Flash.

Adobe Animate (the “new” Flash) will write your interactivity to HTML5, but it’s spotty at best, in my experience. While the current state of interactive video leaves a lot to be desired, at least to my mind, it has to get better and it will soon. As an aside, remember that when creating an interactive video or interactive anything, the images, video, animation, whatever, are just the beginning of your project. Creating eLearning content is getting complex!

Real dynamic interactive video (or animation) is a technique primarily used in gaming and not in training. In gaming, a FPS (first person shooter) game is one in which the player reacts and interacts with their environment. Sometimes the environment interacts with the player, and in general, you want to keep it so you’re interacting with the environment. Almost all games require a level of interaction that’s almost never achieved in learning and eLearning. Gaming, serious games, are the rage right now in eLearning. But games with a high level of simulation fidelity don’t have a wide application in many sorts of training.

In several important ways, VR is more of a niche in training right now than a mainstream application. Virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) are becoming the new video currency. VR, by its nature, needs to create a 360-degree sphere of video around the viewer or learner and the learner still needs to put on a “face brick” to hold a smart phone or other display before their eyes. Right now, the technology to create simple VR is easily practicable for eLearning video production. 360-degree cameras are getting inexpensive and software is getting easier to use. As of this writing, Samsung has a 360-degree camera that sells for less than $150 and can be sometimes found on sale for less than $100. The software to stitch the video streams (two of them, front and back) together comes with the camera, or you can use Premiere Pro to stitch the video streams together when there are four or six (or more) cameras.

Augmented reality is different. A whole lot different. Its definition is fuzzier. There are so many things that people consider to be augmented reality. So, what is it exactly and how can it interact with interactive video production? That is, as they say, a loaded question. There’s no clear definition of augmented reality. It can be many things. One thing might be moving an object from one environment that is live in front of you immediately into the scene on your computer screen. And that’s just one tiny thing. Without a clear definition it’s hard to pin down anything that augments reality, since just about everything we interact with augments reality in some way. Watching TV (or your computer) augments reality. Listening to the radio augments reality. Now we’re getting sensors and other things that can augment reality. Fun to think about. Not everything is easy to, or is ready to be, implemented.

Interactive video’s immediate future state: Virtual reality

While writing this article, I was at an event where I got to “play” with the next generation of immersive (read interactive) video. All I can say is “holy smoke.” Interactive video will soon be, um, truly interactive with a few caveats.

Currently, we mostly employ interactive video to, say, choose between a few objects in Captivate or Storyline. For the most part the video stops are simple, not 360 degrees, and we can make a choice (the question) and the video starts again. There used to be far more complex actions available in Flash … but it’s gone. It’s not coming back. You can do the same kind of interactivity in HTML5, but you need a programmer to help you do it. What did I see that has me thinking that our ability to make good VR and AR video will exponentially increase over the next few years?

Start with the Samsung 360 camera. It’s lower in price (and a bit lower in video quality) than in the past, but it’s easier to stitch the front and back video loops together than ever before. And it’s not at all expensive, hooks right into the Samsung Galaxy phones so you can put a face brick on and be immersed in an environment. I just checked the price on Amazon and you can get a Samsung Gear VR with an Oculus controller for under $90! There’s not much you can do in the environment except look and maybe get vertigo if you’re inclined to that, but it is VR in the sense that you move your head and the scene moves with you. This is becoming commonplace, but is it really the interactive and immersive video we need? Probably not, at least other than being immersed in an environment. It’s what I played with after the Samsung 360 that got my head spinning and what I saw after that as well.

Samsung, along with Oculus Rift, has the product I just mentioned, packaged with a controller as Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus. While it’s not fully ready for prime time, it is indeed a truly interactive and immersive environment that you can create. It’s an environment where the learner can interact with objects and move them around. Say the training you have needs you to bounce a virtual ball around. Yep, you can do that. Or say it has an object you need to pick up. You can do that too. It’s fairly complex and environments have to be “built” for the unit, but you can use video as well. Now we’re not talking about streaming video per se, but rather video that allows you to move through an environment. So, not strictly video in the old sense of the term.

Chips can change the way we think about video and how we use it. Video no longer has to be a stream with a beginning and end. The video you take can be positionally located, and the headset can track movement through the environment (I’ll call it a room because that word is shorter!) so the video is static until you move. You could never have done this with analog or early digital video, but you can do it now.

Large scale simulations

I’ve been a fan of flight simulators for years. Flight simulators have been a viable pilot training product since about the 1990s. As computers got more capable and complex, FlightSim and all flight simulator programs have become more detailed and, if possible, more realistic. Some people have rigs with three large screens, an appropriate joy stick or yoke for actually flying their simulated aircraft and other accessories to make their experience more realistic. Note that this is a familiar example of dynamic interactive video.

Then I saw the ship-piloting simulation and training at Delgado Community College in Louisiana. I was completely unprepared to view the simulator room at the College. It’s a room for training ship captains and pilots in ship handling. Piloting a ship is about the last thing I think about. I’ve never given much thought about how complex it is to steer a huge container ship. I’m not entirely clear about how this works, but suffice it to say that such a ship can weigh north of five million pounds. It can be about 400 meters long and it takes about 15 minutes to stop, so it’s not quite the same as pulling a water skier with a 14-foot speedboat! Delgado Community College has an entire curriculum for ship pilots and captains. The simulator rooms are made to look and feel like a pilot house, and these simulations make anything you might have thought you’d seen before a toy.

These rooms are most assuredly not toys. They are built and programmed to be an advanced simulation that effectively approximates the pilot houses of vessels ranging from a towboat with barges on the intracoastal waterway, to a tug, an offshore supply boat, a large container ship, a cruise ship, an oil supertanker, or other sea-going ship. The big ships are impressively difficult to operate with a large margin of safety. Great training and evaluation is a must to keep the waters and ships, which carry a huge chunk of the world’s economy, safe around the globe. These huge ships are all powered by computers (as well as honking huge engines) and are steered with a little knob or a track ball. Very incongruous.

What wasn’t incongruous was the level of training and the level of simulation that was available in these simulation rooms. First the screens; I counted 20, of which 10 were huge views out of the windows of the simulated pilot house. Then there were the computers that tracked the ship’s functions as well as a computer that could access the internet, and another that was translating radar. Every function a captain of a container ship might need is at his or her fingertips. Immersive. Dynamic. Interactive. Yes, in some ways it’s an easier sim than flying. In ship piloting there are only two dimensions to be concerned about. X and Y. No Z axis, which would be altitude. (Unless ocean swells are altitude changes.) Are these simulations immersive? If you’re not immersed in what you’re doing here, you’re probably brain dead. Are they interactive? Do you need to ask? Are they dynamic? Ask one of the students. The instructors throw all sorts of problems at them.

Simulation has a place in our training as well. A ship handling simulation can only be created if you’ve got a really big budget, but it’s scalable at a certain level, so think about what kinds of simulations might work for your business. Every business, outside of compliance training, is different, so some or all of this might be appropriate for you. But as all these technologies become mainstream, they’ll eventually find a place in your business. That ship simulation could be done in a few years with a face brick and objects you react to in virtual space instead of real space. Will it be as effective a way of training as the huge simulator room? The jury is out on this one, and we have to sort out the plusses and minuses of virtual simulations as we pass these computational milestones in a few years. Truly immersive dynamic interactive video is coming your way, and sooner rather than later. Time to start thinking about what you might be able to do in a perfect training world with unlimited funds and a friendly boss.