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Adding a Third Dimension to Learning: the How, the When and the Why

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DateApril 13, 2015 Posted by: Rob Keery   Keywords: Ambassadors, blended learning, L&D Skills, learner engagement, serious games


Rob Keery from Brightwave explores the potential of using three-dimensions in e-learning, unfolding when, why and how you should go 3D.

3D Design - going further than Gamification

Gaming is the true powerhouse of today's global entertainment industry - it overtook the movies in sales revenue at the end of the last decade and just keeps growing, with its influence felt everywhere. Gamification - incorporating influencing techniques such as competition, problem-solving, story-telling, socialising and exploration as developed by the games industry to attract, engage and retain learners - has rapidly moved into common practice across the L&D industry.

But there is a further, more obvious yet overlooked element of gaming design that has not been so widely adopted: the graphics. Three-dimensional imagery; the visual 'stuff' that we see when we look at the screen – is becoming increasingly realistic and captivating. 3D graphics have changed the way we think about aesthetics, but most e-learning is still developed in restrictive and uninspiring 2-dimensional templates which increasingly feel like strange relics from another universe.

The appeal of 3D is obvious. We see in three dimensions, with any tech that produces a simulation close to our lived experience of the world connecting and engaging us. 3D fits with how we apprehend our environment and doesn't require extra cognitive steps to transform the flat animated screen into something resembling reality. That extra processing capacity can all go into the learning.

When you need an added dimension

What does this all mean practically? There are certain situations where the near-perfect realism of 3D adds real value that can’t be achieved by other means. It's a great way to safely model challenging, dangerous or unfamiliar working environments. It can be used brilliantly to create interactive infographics - visual representations of raw data that you can explore in a hands-on way; information landscapes that open up as you go deeper into the topic, revealing more information and insight the further in you go. It can be a fantastic medium for captivating learners with your content.

The most immediate benefit of 3D graphics, is in the world of specialist product training, especially when the product in question is not always readily available to learners, or is otherwise impractical to provide real hands-on training on for logistical or financial reasons.

Rather than ship expensive and fragile equipment to your learners or potential customers, a 3D model can give you all the 'hands-on' access you need to become fully familiar with it. This principle goes right down to products or other items with complex moving parts - the 3D model can display all of these, and even extrude them to show parts of the object you wouldn’t usually be able to see without using a screwdriver!

A leading example of this, which performed well at DevLearn 2014's DemoFest exhibition, is Brightwave's recent 3D product training tool for global diagnostic device and service provider Alere Inc.'s new Alere Triage® MeterPro, a high-performance comprehensive medical testing platform.

The training tool needed to be intuitive and easy to navigate, while giving learners a realistic look at the product, using scenarios and hands-on activities to increase speed to competency - you can have a play with it here.

Going 3D: Three things to consider

  • Identify your learning need

Don't put the cart before the horse - nothing turns off today's learners more than using flashy tech for its own sake, when the job doesn't really call for it. Make sure your learning need makes 3D necessary, not a nice to have, and build the right solution from that basis.

Does your learning need include expensive or bulky specialist equipment? Does it require mapping of an inaccessible physical space? Does it involve objects with separate moving parts (e.g. a car engine)? Does it involve complex information that can best be modelled in a non-linear, non-text fashion? If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes' - consider going 3D.

  • Select the best tools for the job

There are lots of 3D development platforms out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and requiring different skill levels to use. The Alere Triage® training tool was built in Unity - a widely used 3D engine which can publish high quality 3D content across a range of platforms, including the web (via the Unity web player, a free plugin) and native iOS and Android apps.

  • For great engagement - remember the blend

Despite the inherent attractiveness of using high-spec interactive graphics in your learning, remember it's not a magic bullet to guarantee engagement and retention. The common rule still works for 3D: If you build it, they still might not come! Ultimately, your learners can ignore a 3D learning course as easily as a 2D one - if it's presented in an unengaging way that doesn’t speak to your learners and how they work.

Brightwave's 3D solution for Alere had two important considerations in this regard. It needed to:

  • Effectively highlight main features and benefits to new and potential users
  • Demonstrate in-depth functionality to existing customers using the tool alongside a traditional printed user manual and supporting collateral

Understanding your 3D solution's real-life use scenarios and designing a working solution that fits them all is important. This means thinking about things such as how a face-to-face or virtual training session might use the 3D solution as its centre; or what traditional printed user manuals and associated performance support aids might look like.

Getting started: The Three D’s

Decide what your learning need is, and what tools and skills you’re going to need for the job.

Design your solution holistically from start to finish: with an eye-catching 3D asset at its centre, what will the overarching campaign look like that will support wide take-up and engagement?

Deploy: Unity can quickly produce and output graphics across most current platforms, including mobile - but make sure the client's complete technical infrastructure can be accommodated by your solution.

Strength in depth: Unity as a 3D elearning authoring tool

'By far the best on-line tool I’ve seen for any of our products.'
  - Alere Regional Sales Director, Midwest Region

Visit Brightwave's website for the full story on how they partnered with Alere to make a truly hands-on product training tool using Unity 3D.

Read the full case study >

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