Coping with the COVID-19 Era Via Interactive AR Training Webinars
By David H. Martin
This column is a companion piece to An Industry Training Veteran’s View: The Evolution of Training, which appeared in the March issue of WC&P. David Scurlock, who had been scheduled to speak at the canceled 2020 WQA Convention, is the Director of Training and Business Development for Canature WaterGroup. He can be reached at (920) 896-2295 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When David Scurlock talked with me about leveraging technology for training at the beginning of this year, little did we know that for most of the year interactive training was to become the rule, not an option, in the era of COVID-19. Zoom meetings, virtual conferences, remote learning and hybrid learning are all terms and concepts that have become very commonplace.
Scurlock reports that, beginning in January, he was conducting up to 12 interactive webinars per week, reaching hundreds of people. These web-based training sessions involved Canature customers and potential customers, as well as members of the company’s internal sales, customer service and engineering teams. He feels that experience helped demonstrate the collaborative power and business impact that virtual webinars can have. According to Scurlock, one technology that is proving to be especially impactful for technical training is augmented reality.
WC&P: What exactly is AR or augmented reality?
Scurlock: Using video, audio and dynamic 3D graphics, to create highly interactive training modules. Some people get virtual reality and augmented reality confused with each other. With virtual reality you put on a headset and play games. Or, for another example, where firefighters or emergency responders need to be immersed in the situation or environment. That’s virtual reality. Augmented reality, on the other hand, can be demonstrated on a paint manufacturer’s website, where different wall colors can be projected on room settings for the purpose of facilitating paint color decisions. That’s augmented reality.
WC&P: Are there other common uses of AR that we might be familiar with?
Scurlock: Many people may have heard of Pokémon GO, the game that uses your mobile device and superimposes virtual characters in the actual surrounding that you are in. Or you may have shopped online for furniture and had the ability to superimpose the item you were considering in the onscreen room or environment. The auto industry is already using augmented reality to show all the aspects of a vehicle, including the engine, in great detail. Car dealers can easily show how the vehicle looks with a black interior, a leather-look interior or a fabric interior. Real estate professionals are using video-capture technology to provide virtual tours of homes and apartments, another example of augmented reality technology applied to every-day life. Most people don’t know that the smart phone they have in their pocket has augmented reality technology built in. So, in the coming months and years, more people will be scanning information into their phones or other devices for any number of augmented reality applications!
WC&P: How can AR be used in the water treatment business sector?
Scurlock: By providing technical training on installing, troubleshooting and repairing product. Imagine a GoPro camera in the hands of your water equipment technician. Through the eye of the camera and with a headset, the trainee can experience the subject matter and entire training process, looking down into the valve, seeing how the valve works, how the board goes in and goes out, in a realistic virtual presentation. The technical trainer is using his hands to demonstrate the action, while the trainee is watching through the eye of the camera.
In other words, that’s how today’s technicians learn: through demonstration, instead of paging through printed manuals. Each demonstration, as seen through the eye of the camera, proceeds in a step-by-step progression (“Step one: remove the valve cover, etc.”) At the same time the tech-installer has access, through scanned PDFs, to the same supporting information found in printed manuals.
WC&P: Is it easy to use?
Scurlock: Yes, that is one of the advantages of AR. You can simply scan a QR code or access a web site with any mobile device and you have the information right at your fingertips. In the training world this is referred to as getting information or training ‘just in time’ versus trying to learn everything ‘just in case.’
WC&P: Is it expensive?
Scurlock: As with any training it requires an investment. Like most technologies, investments in AR can be scaled, based on the company’s goals and budget. There are several approaches that could be used, from in-house production, to third-party companies who specialize in creating AR content. Knowing your budget and goals upfront will help you identify which content creation options are best suited to your situation. Remember that your budget can be partially or substantially offset by the savings from reducing or eliminating classroom meetings or training sessions.
WC&P: Here are the benefits to a business in using this type of training.
- Once created it can be used for new-hire training, cross-training and refresher training.
- It supports the fact that technical training requires visual support and the ability to practice.
- It can be cost effective, as training modules can be revised and updated.
- You can capture training from subject matter experts (SMEs) and reinforce best practices.
- You can reduce costly errors and mistakes in the customer’s environment.
- In the COVID-19 era, it is a safe way to provide training.
WC&P: Can digital AR training be efficiently combined with traditional classroom training?
Looking beyond the current COVID-19 crisis, Scurlock foresees an era when AR training will be combined with classroom training, as needed. This combined training approach is called hybrid training. In this scenario, the trainee would first experience any given AR module with step-by-step content. This virtual session would be followed by in-person instruction on the same content, as the trainer looks over the shoulder of the tech-trainee working with actual components and tools. The trainer is the hands-on coach, there to reinforce the AR pre-training. Scurlock believes hybrid training will speed up and facilitate the learning process considerably over traditional training alone.
WC&P: Is AR adaptable to an individual’s learning pace?
AR training is highly customizable to each trainee’s learning pace, says Scurlock. With AR, the technology is adaptable to the learner, not the learner trying to keep up with the instructor. Thus AR training, he believes, is more efficient than classroom training alone and even traditional PowerPoint webinars. With AR training, content can be focused by subject, in short bites of less than 30 minutes. What technicians want (and that AR delivers) is a practical sequence of ‘show me, let me do it, then correct me.’
Augmented Reality technology debuted in the electronic games industry. Now it is showing its potential as an important training and marketing tool by companies including Canature WaterGroup, looking for more efficient and creative ways to involve customers, sales, customer service and engineering teams in interactive technical training webinars. The COVID-19 era has quickened the pace of acceptance of AR by the water treatment and other training-intensive industries. The long-term, positive effects will be felt for years to come.
About the author
David Martin, President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, has more than 30 years experience in the water quality industry working with dealers, distributors and manufacturers. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or email@example.com.