The latest briefing I took was on Lenovo’s VR Classroom 2. It highlights the rarer of two approaches to applying new technology to an old problem.
The most common approach is to try to emulate what it is that you are replacing. This is what most of the new collaboration companies seem to be focused on, including Meta, which are trying to use avatars and virtual rooms to replace the physical classrooms, conference rooms, and auditoriums we have used for physical meetings. And if you have used any of these tools, you have discovered that virtual reality (VR), right now, stinks at replacing reality with an alternative.
The reason this approach does not work well is because rather than using the strength of the VR platform as it currently exists, these tools are using it to replicate the weaknesses of the physical meeting areas. In a meeting room or classroom, you must use presentations, slides, projectors, and TVs to bring content into the room. But with VR, which is an emulation technology, you can take the audience to the content.
This is what makes Lenovo’s VR Classroom 2 different. It focuses on the strengths of VR not the weaknesses of the classroom.
The Advantage Of The Disruption Limiting Approach
Since most of the new collaboration vendors are using the approach that reduces initial disruption by emulating classrooms, there must be an advantage to this approach, and there is. It is easier to sell, because it addresses the problem the entity is attempting to solve. In this instance, that problem is the need to isolate the students and the teacher to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
So it is easier to sell, but it fails because, initially, no alternative technology can just step in, with equal effectiveness, and replace part of an ecosystem that was designed around the older solution. Automobiles were initially not as useful as horses and only became so when roads, gas stations, and new car designs allowed them to fully utilize the unique advantages they had. Early on, horses could go where cars could not. They could exist where there were no gas stations or roads, and riders understood how to keep them healthy.
So the reason that VR solutions are not doing the job is because they are trying to recreate classrooms, so they can be sold more easily. But that approach means they do not live up to expectations, and the result appears to be less effective than the physical rooms they are trying to replace.
The Optimized Approach
The optimization approach specifically builds a solution around the strengths of the technology. In this case, what Lenovo did with VR Classroom 2 is not trying to replace the classroom but provide content-focused solutions, then immerse the student in the teaching material. We know that immersion is a far more effective way to tech, and VR is better at immersion. You can place a student underwater, in the outback of Australia, even on Mars, and allow them to experience the material by living it, which is far more effective than the slides, pictures, and videos shown in a classroom.
By focusing on the material, not only does the VR process work remotely, it will also work in classrooms to accomplish the same theme, allowing for far more seamless hybrid learning experiences. This approach not only allows the student and teacher to be safely remote, but it does a better job of training, because it is not wasting effort tying to be something it is not. And it is not a classroom.
Granted, as VR technology advances, we will be better able to create virtual classrooms. But if we do not need that construct, a construct that was designed and optimized for in-person learning based on technology that was old last century, why take this approach?
When implementing a vastly different advanced tool, it is better to learn about the tool and implement it according to its unique advantages and disadvantages, rather than trying to make it into something it is not to limit disruption.
The latter path is not as effective and much like trying to use a car like a horse. The effort will not end well, because you have overset expectations and asked the tool to do something it is bad at doing. Instead, implement the tool, so the implementation emphasizes the tool’s unique advantages. That way, expectations are set regarding disruption, and the tool can do what it was designed to do.
This is the approach Lenovo’s VR classroom took and why it has evolved from just K-12 education to higher levels of education and in-company training. Not only is it more effective for remote learning, because it is more immersive, but it is also more effective when implemented properly.
As you look at the new technologies you plan to implement, are you trying to emulate older tools? Or are you implementing the new tools in a way that will highlight their unique strengths recognizing that some disruption is necessary for advancement?
Something to noodle on as we look at the year ahead. And here is hoping the new year is everything you hope for.