I recently interviewed Brad Koch, VP of Industry Management and Partnerships at Open LMS, about the progression of technology in the field of learning. Brad has over 30 years of experience in educational support. Starting as an associate publisher at Pearson, he crafted books and software in support of technical certifications. His journey continued into online learning with product leadership roles at ANGEL Learning, Blackboard, and Instructure Canvas. Brad is a seasoned observer of online learning's swift evolution. He collaborates with institutions dedicated to refining the online teaching and learning experience.

BB: How will VR and AR support communication and play a larger role in training programs in upcoming years?

BK: It’s an emerging practice. I think in the coming years we’ll see VR and AR starting to make some inroads on the skills-based learning side of education. I’ve found that technology has moved ahead faster than education, so technology is often in search of a problem to solve. In the coming years, we’ll see AR and VR moving ahead where learners need to demonstrate competencies in situations that are very expensive or very dangerous to reproduce or those that can’t be reproduced at scale.

BB: Are you seeing any places where the kinds of applications that were shown at CES this year are spilling over into online education and training?

BK: We’re not necessarily seeing it in higher education yet in a meaningful amount. Some friends of mine are experimenting with it in different universities for student-led projects and making some inroads in fields like nursing and others, but those are very specific use cases. They are covering a very tiny part of the curriculum at this point. I think this year, like with CES, we’ll see the technology and the price, and the sophistication of VR and VR tools continuing to drop as they grow and reach commodity status with VR goggles and tools. I think we’ll still see a significant lag in adoption in both higher ed and corporate, primarily due to the cost of developing and maintaining VR-related content. It’s one thing to purchase a headset, and it’s completely another to create the models and integrate them into a curriculum in a way that adds value to the educational experience.

BB: What about the cost of maintaining the content?

BK: I was in publishing for a long time in a previous career, and maintenance will be expensive but things change. It’s expensive for publishers to update a print book, but it’s even more expensive for VR/AR vendors to go update their products, especially if the content is specific to an industry or potentially to an individual company. Technology will leap ahead of adoption. Content is the next piece that must become more manageable, less expensive, and easier to create and maintain. You’ll see it becomes more widespread when there’s more off-the-shelf content.

Looking at the various certification markets like EMT training or those medical bits where there’s an incentive to allow training to occur in a safe environment at scale in models you can reproduce as soon as those become more off the shelf. As soon as I can go buy a training course for my EMTs that has that content in it, then we’ll see more rapid distribution. I love the models that involve teaching how to do a blood draw or something like that where the actual performance requires some familiarity with the steps. You can get an A in an online course on how to waterski, but that is completely different from sitting in the water behind a boat and getting ready to try it for the first time.

BB: How are companies integrating VR now?

BK: They are creating VR environments. Take my example from earlier. In nursing courses, integration is achieved by using a very simple specification called LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). The learner is in their online course. They click a link that takes them to the AR or VR experience and records their entry into the experience. If there’s an assessment in there, when they exit it records their completion statistics and sends them back to the environment. This does not require goggles or immersion technology. Many organizations use LTI.

(Editor’s Note: LTI is a specification developed by the 1EdTech® Consortium (formerly the IMS Global Learning Consortium). The LTI specification is publicly available and open for adoption by anyone, including corporations. Organizations can use LTI without requiring specific membership in 1EdTech. However, while membership in 1EdTech is not mandatory, corporations should adhere to the licensing terms associated with LTI. The license agreement governs the use of LTI and ensures compliance with the standard. Information on procedures related to rights in specifications can be found on the IMS Global website at https://www.imsglobal.org/spec/lti/v1p3/

BB: Speaking of integration into processes, are you seeing any progress in reducing the cost of development of instruction for VR as opposed to instructor-led?

BK: No. That just matches with the cost of instructional design and content creation in general. It’s still a very human labor-intensive skill activity to conduct. We may see AI begin assisting in some way to reduce those costs in a couple of years. But right now, developing high-quality VR and AR content takes human editors and skill. We all know how to use PowerPoint and we all know how to make a presentation using charts and graphs. There’s a big difference between making charts and graphs ourselves, and what someone who is a graphic artist and designer does to make them beautiful. To extend that into a 3-D environment, then suddenly it’s 3-D modeling skillsets, a much higher order of skill than you see for a lower level of fidelity. It’s no longer one designer sitting at a desk, now it’s four or five people involved. It still starts with a human at a desk and some solid thinking about the objectives and what the goals are. At that point, it makes sense to bring in some digital tools.

BB: Even when we bring AI into the process, there are so many things to be concerned about.

BK: I’ve built some chatbots recently and I’ve found that AI is good as a prompt to get someone started. It may not create a finished product. You can then delete what you don’t think is right and add what is needed to flesh things out. I’ve found on some instructional design tasks, I can give the AI a topic and tell it I want an outline that follows a particular model or format, and it will build the outline of the course for me. It helps me to think about what I need to add and what is missing in the first draft. AI is also great at summarizing long research notes and quickly writing one-page executive summaries.

BB: When do you think we’ll see VR take a larger role in corporate education and training?

BK: I think that it will take about five years to get to that space. When we look at where certification or competency-based education is concerned, or where training on proprietary machinery, such as putting together million-dollar military jet engines, there will be the impetus to create that content more quickly. Those individuals will be able to ramp up faster and with more confidence. We’ll see it in industries where there are high-stake processes that are custom to those industries. It’s already occurring in training for HVAC engineers, and in cases where there are a lot of technicians in widely scattered locations.

BB: Brad, thank you for your time and for sharing your experience!