A Training Revolution

The good news is that e-learning can be incredibly exciting and engaging. It just needs what is known as a 3-D game engine.

Why has Google embraced a new technology that will revolutionize training, yet Apple seems to be burying it? Please read on.

Thirty years ago, computer-based training (CBT), or computer-aided learning (CAL) as it was known then, held tremendous promise. Training time and cost could be slashed. There was one problem. A big one. CBT proved to be as boring as watching ads for laundry detergent.

Time passed and the name changed from CBT to e-learning, but the fundamentals didn’t. At first e-learning sounded new and exciting, but it didn’t take long for folks to see through the window dressing. Most was as boring as ever.

Now in 30 years, one would have imagined that focus would have been placed on the elephant in the room. There are now more than 52 e-learning development tools on the market. But what key benefits do they promote? “Create e-learning with no programming!” “Easy e-learning.” “Convert (boring) PowerPoint into (boring) e-learning.” Vendors of development tools seem to have buried their heads in the sand.

Gamification is a major buzzword in the training industry, and for good reason. If training can be made fun, employees will learn more. It is much better if games are made directly relevant to the material that is being taught. There are a couple of e-learning development tools that do promote gamification. “Just select a game template,” claims one. The games are so boring, even a 5-year-old child would turn up his or her nose up at them. Games must be fun!

Look to the Computer Gaming Industry

I feel myself sounding depressing. The state of the e-learning authoring industry is depressing. However, the good news is that e-learning can be incredibly exciting and engaging. The clue is the computer gaming industry. This is almost as big as the learning and development industry, but the two haven’t really held hands. While e-learning is at the level of PowerPoint slides, computer gaming has people enthralled. It’s not just young folk either. Fifty-five- to 64-year-olds are the second biggest audience for the latest 3-D car racing game.

What e-learning has been missing is what is known as a 3-D game engine. No, development isn’t easy and you can’t convert PowerPoint slides to entertaining 3-D games. Yes, you do need to program.

In simple terms, a game engine works by building a 3-D model of some scene, adding characters with articulated joints with motion-capture movement controlled by some intelligence, then providing a means of moving through the scene. The view from a learner’s perspective is rendered in real time. It doesn’t matter whether the learner is on a PC or mobile. The learner can move between media seamlessly.

We now have created the world’s first full 3-D training package, based on a 3-D game engine, using 40 different 3-D scenes. It makes conventional 2-D e-learning look like something from the Stone Age.

Bringing a Real-World Story to Life

Our subject area of Continuous Improvement lent itself particularly well to the medium. One example is training in histograms. Here, a real-world story in process improvement is taken from maritime history and built into a training game using an interactive 3-D ocean simulation—seemingly real ships fighting on a real ocean. The aim is to do what was done in the real world: to shoot the enemy ship. The realistic scene makes it easy to see why hit rates were so poor. The final step is to discover the process improvement that was invented a century ago, long before the age of gyroscopes, and to play the game with the improvement.

By generating their own data in the game, students gain a far better understanding of the concepts of histograms and control charts. The program allows students to interpret the meaning through the different histogram shapes generated and how they have come about. This one game covers almost every aspect of quality improvement, from process variation to the meaning of World-Class Quality.

The Magic of WebGL

Much imagination and creativity is needed to build great learning. In some cases of other subject areas, this may be difficult, and a trainer should then ask whether better approaches are possible. In some cases, such as perhaps e-learning in say, Excel, it doesn’t matter if the e-learning is all text and boring, because the student expects and accepts it.

The choice of game engines for e-learning 3-D development is much easier than the plethora of 2-D “pop-out” e-learning tools. It’s really a choice of one of two. You will have to learn to program. You’ll also need to learn how to build and rig 3-D models for your game engine. Blender 3-D is one powerful—and free—option. You’ll also need at least 2-D graphics editing and audio editing software. It is definitely more work than the pop-outs, but your audience will no longer be bored silly.

The magic can only happen with easy delivery. The new technology that makes this possible is WebGL. It allows interactive 3-D training running in a PC browser. No downloads. No plug-ins. No need for IT department approval. One click and you’re having fun learning in 3-D.

Such 3-D training in the browser is a threat to Google, Microsoft, and Apple app stores. However, Google—along with Mozilla—is leading the charge with WebGL2. Meanwhile, Apple turns WebGL off by default and buries it. Our 3-D training uses WebGL (as well as a mobile and a PC app) because it also is supported by MS Edge.

We believe 3-D e-learning is the future of learning. No conventional classroom can compete. However, the effort involved will dictate how widespread it becomes.

Tony Burns, BE (Hon 1), Ph.D. (Chemical Engineering), has 40 years of industry experience. Dr Burns is CEO of MicroMultimedia Pty. Ltd., with 27 years experience in e-learning, including development of e-learning Continuous Improvement products Q-Skills and Q-Skills3D.

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