Metaverse: what opportunities for the training sector?
The metaverse comes straight from the world of video games. It refers to a fictional but immersive virtual world in which users can meet to exchange, collaborate and also learn. Although still in its early stages, the concept, made popular by Facebook, which became "Meta", is attracting attention from the professional training sector.
The Metaverse, what is it?
The word metaverse is a contraction of meta, meaning beyond, and universe. Although the subject is currently in the news, it is not new. As early as 1992, science fiction novelist Neal Stephenson first described an imaginary place called the metaverse in his book "The Virtual Samurai". Thirty years later, it is the giants like Meta, Microsoft and Epic Games that are making it their new hobby. The metaverse comes from two worlds: that of video games and that of virtual and augmented reality technologies. We could define it as a place that juxtaposes the real and the unreal, in which users can interact.
This virtual world is divided into several distinct spaces populated by user-controlled avatars. It can be accessed via online devices, such as VR headsets, or from a computer, without 3D glasses, via a simple URL link. The particularity of these spaces is that they have been created to be both as familiar and as playful as possible. Usually, there isn't a huge difference from what users experience in real life.
Metaverse: what are the benefits for the learning?
A place for virtual networking
The metaverse offers a number of advantages for training. Its main benefit: an (infinite) environment for socialisation in which several participants can move around and interact. This has hardly been possible with virtual reality up to now. It can therefore make sense for training activities that take place remotely, particularly when learners are at a geographic distance but wish to learn together in a common, albeit virtual, classroom. In this respect, the metaverse could shake up the virtual classroom market, especially as today's learners want to be active in front of their screens.
Experiential and gamification
The metaverse is a technology that is well suited to collaborative work between learners (for example, for design thinking or brainstorming workshops based on collective intelligence methods). This pedagogical approach is also interesting for training activities requiring the learner to put himself in the shoes of another protagonist (client, manager, employee, etc.). Since in the metaverse, the learners can move around, they can, for example, work on their sales and argumentation techniques if they are a salesperson, as if they were in a real shop. Like any learning approach based on the experience, the metaverse also helps to improve memory retention. All the more so if we add a layer of gamification, for example if we organise a virtual escape game to learn a working method.
There are still few practical applications.
Examples of training action in the metaverse are still relatively rare as it is still in its early days. The big players such as the GAFAMs are still developing their own metaverse with great difficulty.
Applications of the metaverse in initial education
For the time being, it is in the field of education that experiments are most widespread. In France, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), for example, created a metaverse that allows students and teachers in the JENII project to interact in an immersive classroom. In Asia, the University of Hong Kong has also embarked on the adventure. It offers students at its Guangzhou campus the same learning experience as Hong Kong students, using VR headsets. The same approach has been taken in the United States, where the "Metadiversities" project brings together a dozen universities wishing to offer courses in human anatomy, history or astronomy in a 100% virtual campus, similar to the one developed a few months ago by Neoma Business School in France. The benefit, for instance in the health field, is to allow students to practice technical gestures without taking any risks on a real patient.
Applications of the metaverse for corporate training
Given the opportunities offered by the metaverse, some companies are experimenting with this virtual world to train their employees. This is the case, for example, of the railway manufacturer Alstom. As part of the design of the "TGV of the future", the company is using the virtual reality of a metaverse to accelerate training in industrial design, particularly the research, design and prototyping phases. This experience enabled the teams to become more efficient and agile. The Accenture group is also accelerating its efforts in this area. In Australia and New Zealand, more than 2,000 new recruits have been onboarded via the company's "One Accenture Park" metaverse. The interest here is logistical: the company could not have welcomed so many new employees at once in its premises. These are all inspiring initiatives which could influence the world of professional training, which is "still poor in terms of applications".
A new posture for the trainer
By offering learners a new playground, the metaverse questions the trainer's posture. During the acculturation phase, which should last several years, the trainer will be expected to make the metaverse user-friendly. That is to say, he/she must make the learners feel safe enough to interact. Onboarding and then inclusion of learners will therefore be his first priorities. Once the technology has been replaced by usage, the trainer should then take on the role of facilitator and animator of the virtual training. Since one of the benefits of the metaverse is the networking opportunity, the trainer of the future will be responsible for organising learning in the various environments that are suitable for sensory anchoring. In these areas, the players can be represented by avatars that they have customised. The metaverse can thus facilitate the experience so that each learner is surprised, practices, communicates and is therefore an actor in his or her training.
In the metaverse, the trainer will also be expected to address another issue: the pedagogical design in the virtual world. He or she will have to take into consideration the possibility of moving around, interacting in 3D, taking objects in hand and using meaningful environments, while ensuring that the cognitive overload of participants is not an obstacle to learning.
Technical, technological and economic limitations
Before reaching this point, however, the metaverse will have to overcome some major hurdles, starting with the equipment. Virtual reality helmets, augmented reality lenses, haptic gloves, etc. certainly provide an immersive experience. However, as well as still being expensive, this equipment is not comfortable enough to be worn for several hours, particularly during training. For example, some users complain of headaches following an immersive experience in the metaverse. The other challenge is technological: the server power is not yet sufficient to ensure stability of the virtual platforms. As a result, users, who could be hundreds or thousands simultaneously in the metaverse, can only interact within the area they have chosen, thus limiting the number of possible interactions.
A learning modality like any other
In any case, even if it becomes more widespread in the next few years, the metaverse should remain just another teaching method. In this respect, it could not replace face-to-face, e-learning or virtual classes… It is unlikely that we will see the emergence of 100% metaverse training courses. However, some training modules could be integrated in a blended-learning approach.
For instance, a sales training course could be multimodal. It could include a face-to-face session to cover the basics, e-learning exercises to check what has been learnt and practical exercises via the metaverse. Learners could, for example, exercise their profession as they would in real life by interacting with customers. To move towards this multimodality, however, the added value of the metaverse must be questioned. We can assume that it will not be relevant to all training fields, particularly those focusing on regulations, legal issues or even processes.
This article has been written by Aurélie Tachot, writer, with the expertise of Fabienne Bouchut for Le Mag.