Beyond video communication: virtual and VR tools for learning, meetings and events

As the new normal continues to take hold, businesses across the globe agree we’re entering a new age of communication – one with a permanently changed world of work and learning. It’s left organisations wondering how they deliver the same content at a distance. For universities that’s lectures and for businesses that’s meetings, training and events.

Digital is paving the way forward – keeping organisations connected both internally and externally. As people remain connected but distanced we don’t see this changing in the future. A blended approach to communications will combine face-to-face with digital tools like video conferencing and virtual worlds.

Indeed virtual and VR tools have become increasingly popular, but many businesses are not providing true, valuable virtual experiences. When used beneficially, virtual or VR tools enable users to effectively describe a concept, demonstrate a product and more. That’s why it’s important for us to help our clients choose the right tools for their project.

So how can VR and virtual tools aid with learning, meetings and events?

Beyond video communications

Most organisations have some form of video calling in place, Zoom and Microsoft teams amongst the most popular. But while these tools are great for staying in touch with colleagues, students and clients, they don’t provide the level of interactivity that is often needed. Virtual and VR tools can bridge the gap.

Our team taking part in a Microsoft Teams meeting.

Virtual and VR: what’s the difference?

VR (or Virtual Reality) refers to the complete immersion of the user in a 3D digital environment using a head-mounted display where users interact with the 3D digital world. The user is placed ‘inside’ the experience instead of viewing it on a screen.

Virtual Reality user wearing a VR headset
Virtual Reality user wearing a VR headset in one of our installations.

‘Virtual’ is often mistaken for VR but the word virtual, in this context, simply refers to content being delivered by digital means – typically viewed using a device screen. At Bloc virtual tools involve 3D interactivity, where users interact with a model in 3D space using their device.

One of our virtual product explainers.

For other companies ‘virtual’ can mean anything from a 2D website to one that integrates a small amount of interactivity or simple popup text. This does not have the same impact as a truly virtual environment.

Choosing virtual or VR

Virtual and VR tools differ in both the level and form of interaction. When using a virtual tool the interaction is made by a computer mouse or touch screen and the discussion is held alongside. It’s not possible to hold the 3D object in your hands to investigate, rotate and dissect.

With VR the opposite is true – whether each participant has a VR setup or only one of the group, human interaction is possible. It involves listening, not reading and human interaction rather than digital. Which one is the best fit for a project depends on the need.

VR experiences can be multi-layered. While one participant does need VR setup for a VR event, lesson or meeting, others do not need this functionality. If they do, the users will be able to interact and investigate too, but if they simply have a screen they can discuss the interactions made by others.

Interactive learning

With COVID-19 changing the way we work educational institutions have been forced to go digital to teach, collaborate and continue imparting knowledge. Some even believe they’ll never revert to 100% campus work again. We are actively working with academic institutions to allow mass course digitisation and help them respond to a new way of learning. Those that do not respond in such a way could begin to lose students and status.

While virtual learning tools could have different content that is course specific the overarching functionality is the same. Whether it’s a 3D depiction of a human cell, an engine motor or a product design, the student can interact with the 3D object, rotating to see every angle, clicking on popup information to find out more about particular parts, and use a popup chat box to discuss the content with their lecturer.

Instead with VR, a lecturer equipped with a VR headset can interact, rotate and investigate the 3D object and explain how it works or become immersed in a digital environment such as a laboratory or manufacturing set-up, giving academics a platform to conduct remote discussions or aid with the delivery of classroom-based curriculum. This is similar to VR training toolkits, which we have previously produced for pharmaceutical and aerospace industries.

Our remote VR training platform being used to understand processes.

Collaborative meetings

Replace the words lecturer and student with colleague or client in the example above and you have a virtual or VR meeting.

Virtual meetings would involve a digital environment where meeting members can all interact with the same 3D object – rotating it, spinning it, pulling it apart – and being able to view each other’s interaction alongside a discussion.

We’re also in the process of creating a VR meeting room which functions in a similar way – avatars of meeting members appearing at a seat at the table surrounding the 3D object, passing it around if more than one member has a VR setup too.

Virtual or VR meetings are especially useful when discussing a product – how it works, how it looks – or reviewing designs. But without the need for in-depth interactions like this, VR tools are unnecessary. There’s not much point to sitting in a VR boardroom with the ability to write on a whiteboard being the highest level of interaction, like many examples we’ve seen…

Our VR meeting room.

Stimulating interest with events

The loss of an exhibitions’ ability to interact with potential customers face-to-face and drive sales is a big hit for many industries. For these, video conferencing will never be a replacement.

On Microsoft teams or Zoom, customers need to have prior communication to connect with your business. Instead with virtual or VR exhibitions these customers choose to enter a virtual website or VR portal to hear more about your company. Virtual and VR events are about stimulating interest.

Exploring the virtual event, visitors would be met with products your business is demonstrating in an interactive 3D capacity. They could view a 3D machine model in 360 degrees, click on popup information to find out more about specific parts, listen to audio and have the ability to chat with a sales representative to discuss in more depth.

Similarly with a VR event, visitors would be met with a VR-equipped sales representative who explains and interacts with the product in a 3D digital environment. They can take it apart, rotate and demonstrate functionality as potential customers view and discuss their interactions on screen.

The right tool for the right job

While virtual and VR events, meetings and more are great for interactivity, there needs to be a defined reason and appropriate choice of delivery. Whether it’s to demonstrate a product at events, review a product design in a meeting or explain a concept in a learning environment, the benefit of these tools is the extra 3D interactive ability to collaborative viewing. If that is not necessary for your project then other avenues need to be explored.

However, we believe – now and in the future – that a blended approach to communications will combine face-to-face with digital tools like video conferencing and the virtual worlds discussed. By no means will virtual and VR tools replace the likes of Zoom and Microsoft teams, but they will complement them, forming more complete communications.

To discuss any virtual or VR requirement for your organisation get in touch with us by emailing enquiries@bloc-digital.com.