There are some books you simply know will be recognized, in time, as classics. Not in the “Tale of Two Cities,” sense – as literature, per se – but as well-told stories that shed real insight on a particular person, place, thing, or time. For example, if you are interested in the exploding field of virtual reality, or “VR,” as it’s commonly known, and want a better understanding of what it is and how it works, grab a copy of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”. After reading it you’ll have a better sense of what the technology can do and how we’ll interact with it (not to mention a great beach read to recommend to your friends).
In the story the teenage protagonist embarks on an unprecedented epic quest to take control of the common platform in which users of virtual technology interact, called OASIS. This is the environment in which individuals, corporations, and organizations have their virtual iteration, and where, 25 years in the future, people spend most of their time. Like most teenagers, the hero of “Ready Player One” spends most of his time – when not socializing; in school.
There’s a tipping point when every impactful technology goes from “emerging” to “mainstream.” Whether it’s electricity, automobiles, personal computing, smart phones, social media, or the cloud, and whether determined by cost savings, increased efficiency and productivity, mass adoption, or a combination of all three factors, it’s relatively easy to recognize the new “normal” when the standard is adopted. If you’re not among the majority and/or utilizing the new standard, you’re at a disadvantage. In Ready Player One, the tipping point for the mass adoption of VR technology comes when the classroom migrated into Oasis and education went entirely online.
This new, virtual classroom has tools and benefits that remedy many of the issues hindering education in contemporary American – and indeed, global – classrooms. These advantages make it virtually impossible to defend the physical counterpart, and include the administrative, such as tracking devices to monitor and facilitate attention spans and muting options to eliminate bullying, to the systemic, such as classrooms that are never overcrowded, teachers that are never overworked, and infrastructure that never decays. All a student needs is a headset, a pair of haptic gloves, and a laptop and they can pursue curricula from anywhere in the world, at any time.
Are we at that juncture in this most recent technological epoch? No, but we’re close. And the future is hurtling at us like a freight train.
Two months into 2016, investment in VR had already passed the total amount invested during 2015($1.1B USD). Goldman Sachs, Digi-Capital, and ABI Research estimate an average augmented and virtual reality revenue forecast of $100B as soon as 2020.
The rush to seize thought leadership – and market share – is well underway and all signs point to its continued acceleration. VR headsets and haptic gloves are readily available online and at consumer electronics stores. It’s now possible to watch a major sporting event, attend a concert, participate in surgery – even play Jenga on Mars – using virtual technology. In eCommerce, furniture vendor Wayfair is pioneering technology that will allow the user to virtually project items from its catalog into their personal space. Startup VirZOOM has combined stationary bikes with virtual technology to offer an exciting glimpse of the future of exercise. Another, called Labster, offers virtual laboratories for science education and training and claims to boost learning outcomes by 76%. Data has been collected that indicates a dramatic, positive impact when VR is utilized as a teaching tool, boosting learning effectiveness by greater than 100%.
The education industry is taking notice. Harvard University is debuting its most popular on-campus and online course, Introduction to Computer Science (CS50), as a virtual offering this fall.
When the university students of tomorrow matriculate to the institutions of their choice, they likely will be referred to as “VR natives” in the same way Millennials are currently referred to as “digital natives,” as VR technology is increasingly making its way into elementary school. With power players like Google actively promoting virtual reality as a teaching tool, it’s likely that this push will continue.
Here at EMC, exciting hints at what the future holds for product management and training reality have been produced. In this video, EMC’s President of Products and Marketing, Jeremy Burton, and Senior Vice President and General Manager Jeff Boudreau give us a virtual tour of EMC’s newest flash storage platform, UNITY. At EMC World, EMC Education Services offered a tour of a virtual classroom to over 200 “attendees.”
Both of these videos illustrate the single factor that will define virtual reality in its infancy: content. Specifically, how it’s defined and how users interact with it. In the virtual realm, content will evolve along two frontiers: the environment in which the user is immersed, and the degree of interactivity with which the user engages its components. To that end, a scenario where a student in a virtual classroom can be learning about, for example, the processing chip of a storage platform and be instantly transported to that chip within the platform – at the scale of the chip itself – is both compelling and easy to envision.
Will the classrooms of tomorrow exist exclusively in the virtual realm? The answer to that question is being formulated as you read this. Companies and organizations from industries as diverse as defense and elder care are positioning themselves as pioneers in their respective spaces, and education and training are no exception. As the videos above indicate, EMC is embracing this oncoming, technological tide as surely as it has embraced previous applications of technology to the learning experience, such as eLearning and Massive Open Online Courses, or “MOOCs.” (Including the Modern Data Center MOOC, starting July 19) Watch this space for updates from the virtual front line to learn more about how VR technology is evolving, and impacting education and training in particular.