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Droning on – A New Approach to Learning

Bob Little 

February 13, 2015

Trade shows are meant to be glitzy affairs, and there’s always a danger that the brightest, shiniest thing on display gets more attention than it deserves. Of course, whether that turns out to be true is something that only time will tell.

Among a number of bright, shiny things on display at this year’s Learning Technologies exhibition, held in London recently, were some drones. These drones were supplied by Pauley, the U.K.-based touch screen software specialists.

While they were – unashamedly – intended to attract visitors to the Pauley exhibition stand, they had a more serious corporate learning-related objective. More correctly known as unmanned aerial vehicles but popularly described as hexacopters or drones, these wonders of modern technology are increasingly used in aerial photography, capturing high definition footage and images from an altitude of up to 400 feet above ground level.

In addition to using UAVs for, among other things, aerial inspections, surveys, news gathering and documentaries, and safety surveillance, Pauley’s managing director Philip Pauley says, “Their output is being increasingly used in learning materials for the corporate sector. These are beginning to include immersive e-learning materials.

“Reuters, Rio Tinto and FIFA are among a growing number of organizations using UAVs to collect images – for learning and training purposes – relating to such things as site and stadium safety. Drones are valuable data acquisition tools, gathering everything from health and safety site reviews to bird’s-eye-view mapping, and studying supply chains.

“And, at a cost of around £1,000 a day for all the equipment needed to produce the pictures you need, they can be highly cost-effective. For one thing, you can use the pictures or the footage time and again once it’s been generated – and the cost is easily justified if it helps to train people to look after assets that could be worth millions of pounds.”

According to Philip’s colleague, and Pauley’s creative director, Andrew Solesbury, “People are already talking about combining UAVs with the new wave of virtual reality technologies, such as the Oculus headset. Companies are exploring creating truly immersive and highly memorable learning experiences in which footage from a UAV could be streamed into the cockpit-like view of a virtual reality headset. Thankfully, now that this technology is being taken up more widely, prices are falling.”

Unsurprisingly with such a new technology, neither Vaughan Waller, senior learning architect for Deloitte Learning Technologies, nor Tim Drewitt, online and mobile learning manager, group learning and capability development, at Vodafone Group Services Limited, are aware of anyone currently using UAVs to produce e-learning materials.

While Tim believes that UAVs could have an appeal in terms of niche training requirements, both he and Vaughan are cautious. Vaughan says, “Corporates would have limited applications for UAVs. The cost of making professional quality video is already high – a recent project had a three-minute clip and it doubled the budget – so £1,000 a day is cheap! But it would have to be presented to the stakeholders as an innovative way of ‘getting the learning message across.’ In my experience, that’s a tough call.”

Tim says, “While I envisage certain scenarios in our business where they might be useful, I’m not seeing a pressing demand for the type of content whose creation they’d support. Nonetheless, where you might have had to rely previously on graphics or images in a ‘clean state,’ you could now create and update your learning materials with up-to-date, ‘warts and all’ imagery.

“Looking further to on-the-job coaching and performance support, I could also see a situation where, prior to deciding whether to climb a transmitter mast, an engineer sends up a UAV and discusses – with a colleague, coach, mentor or helpdesk expert – what can be seen before adopting the most appropriate course of action.”

However, he argues that, regardless of the source and capture method, L&D professionals must always be mindful of how they use imagery in learning materials.  He explains, “Get it wrong and the learning experience is hampered. Of course, the more accurate and realistic our visual effects, the better – though we must be careful not to over-engineer these, as learners want their learning delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Moreover, novelty factors soon wear off.  Many organisations – even now – are still grappling with e-learning. Still more are procrastinating about developing their first mobile learning solutions. So, unless it’s being used in a live training situation, rather than just as a new method of capturing imagery, I’m not sure that many learners will even acknowledge the nature of the employed technology.

“My jury is out on the disruptive nature of UAVs.  Some 15 years on, I’m still waiting to see virtual worlds take off as a training vehicle!”

Vaughan agrees, “Usually, a technology has to have been around for a while before someone thinks up a really useful way of using it. When this produces good results, the word gets around.

“The equivalent in learning to ‘all that glitters is not gold’ is that all that’s new and buzzy never lasts long before everyone slides back to what they know and are comfortable using. This is an example where the technology is forced into the application, rather than the other way around.

“Of all the many learning programs I’ve seen, there are a few that stand out as being, at the time, effective, innovative, fun to do, and memorable for all the right reasons. None of these used ‘new technology.’ They were just well written and well designed, and had high-production values.

“It’s not the technology that makes good learning: it’s the way it’s used that counts.”

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One comment on “Droning on – A New Approach to Learning”:

  1. Jeanette Marcelle wrote:

    Great read