How to Supplement Learning by VR?

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Technology empowers. It liberates. It gives access to corridors from any part of the world. Now, picture this – you are interested in art and you would like to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or MoMA. Say, you are keen on observing the priceless artwork collections of renowned artists that adorn walls. What if you were armed with a technological tool that allows you to see the minutest details of a masterpiece and remain in that immersive state of what the art manages to do to you?


“…And what if you want to see how Van Gogh actually created this masterpiece? You zoom in. You really go in. I’m going to go to one of my favorite parts in this painting, and I’m really going to get to the cracks. This is “The Starry Night,” I think, never seen like this before,” says Amit Sood, now the director of Google’s Cultural Institute and Art Project, in a TED Talk he made 5 years ago.

Virtual reality (VR) has come a long way. Few years ago, it could enable one to see the brush strokes of great artists, whose precious artworks are collectors’ items. The scope of exploring, discovering, and getting more immersive level of details has gone up. That is what the advancements in the current digital environment have done. VR, like emerging technologies, is being used in ways and means that were inconceivable in the past.

In February this year, Sood gave another TED talk. The essence of the talk would present the headway that VR technology has made so far. On a giant wide screen, showing an object, he says it is “the Venus of Berekhat Ram. It’s one of the oldest objects in the world, found in the Golan Heights around 233,000 years ago, and currently residing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It is also one of the oldest objects on our platform.”

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“So let’s zoom. We start from this one object. What if we zoomed out and actually tried to experience our own cultural big bang? What might that look like? This is what we deal with on a daily basis at the Cultural Institute — over six million cultural artifacts curated and given to us by institutions, to actually make these connections. You can travel through time, you can understand more about our society through these. You can look at it from the perspective of our planet, and try to see how it might look without borders, if we just organized art and culture. We can also then plot it by time, which obviously, for the data geek in me, is very fascinating. You can spend hours looking at every decade and the contributions in that decade and in those years for art, history, and cultures.”

Smart phone or mobile technology has made it possible to get these experiences “on the move,” anytime and anywhere. The elements of fun and engagement are what drives VR to be accepted as a more meaningful and relevant technology. Using VR technology to attract learners can be as exciting as the bunch of kids, who transformed from being typically disinterested to go for a museum tour through the immersive experience. At the center is the learning analytics piece – as what you seek, see, and learn gets measured. Learning using the VR technology constitutes a blended learning of sorts.

Formal learning combined with a liberal dosage of learning using the VR medium has worked for organizations embracing this technology. It “supplements” learning with the clicks and navigation possibilities giving the shape of an immersive experience. Consider the transformative course of interpreting meta-data using the gigapixel technology. An image of a painting shown by Sood has around 10 billion pixels! A deeper plunge enabled him to “discover” a game that probably in the painting remained confined and concealed in the background to the naked eye!

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“….And so I started playing around, and I found something going on over here. And I was like, ‘Hold on. That sounds interesting.’ Went in, and I started noticing that these kids were actually beating something. I did a little research, spoke to a couple of my contacts at the Met, and actually found out that this is a game called squall, which involves beating a goose with a stick on Shrove Tuesday. And apparently it was quite popular. I don’t know why they did it, but I learned something about it. Now just to get really deep, you can really get to the cracks.” To keep the audience glued to the narrative, he zoomed out to show the extent of immersive experience possible in a painting.

Now, consider replicating the same experience in a learning environment of a manufacturing business. You may be located in a particular place and yet have access to a holistic learning experience. That is what was possible for a locomotive transportation major. By deploying a VR technology learning solution, the group of learners dispersed in different geographies could get a thorough understanding of a locomotive stationed in a manufacturing location – by knowing how each and every minute part in, say, the driver’s cabin functions. With a swing of the head and clicks and touches in your control, the VR gear used for the purpose gives an engaged, fun, and immersive experience.

Repeatedly doing a particular function using the VR platform enables the learners to annotate, deep dive, practice, and perfect in a simulated environment. Such exposure, experience, and learning methodology drives conversation around learning the immersive way. If the fun element can make a huge difference in the field of art and culture, a similar experiment or approach in the sphere of learning can reap rich dividends for businesses too.

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In conclusion, the overall learning framework has to accommodate newer and innovative ways of absorbing relevant skill-based training. Sood responds, when asked the question if he wanted to replicate the experience of going to a museum, “And the answer is no. It’s to supplement the experience.”

Every piece of art you’ve ever wanted to see – up close and searchable
Building a museum of museums on the web

Amit Sood is the director of Google’s Cultural Institute. He and his team work on making art and culture accessible and engaging for everyone. They have partnered with over 1,000 museums, archives and other institutions from more than 70 countries to bring shared heritage onto the web and connect them with people through new technologies. Most recently they have been experimenting with combining art with machine-learning algorithms and other advanced technologies to create new ways to explore cultures.

“This isn’t just about putting the collection online. Through our partnership with Google, we hope to give people new ways to experience and enjoy the museum, new ways to learn, and new ways to teach.” — Neil MacGregor, Evening Standard, November 12, 2015.


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