Summary: Workplace learning and education must figure out how to apply the metaverse for their benefit. And well they should. Resistors to it will become relics of the past. Consider that if the metaverse eventually lives up to its promise, then the learning opportunities are limitless.
The Metaverse Is Here And It Is Now
Guess what’s just over the horizon? Yup, another technology to get learning practitioners falling over themselves trying to figure out how to use it for their purposes. What is this technology? Well, you’ve probably heard of Facebook recently changing its name to Meta. It’s more than a name change; it’s the future direction of technology, specifically Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology, called the metaverse.
Why does this matter? It matters tremendously if you’re interested in how everyone will live and use technology within the next few years or decades. If you’re not interested, it really doesn’t matter because it’s happening. But what is „the metaverse“? The term doesn’t really refer to one specific type of technology, but rather to a broad perspective in how we interact with current and future technology.
If you had to explain it to your mom, which is something I have to do, the metaverse is about fully integrating Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality within our daily tech applications. OK, so now your mom has a blank stare on her face. Explain it this way: the „virtual“ part is about immersing yourself in virtual worlds that continue to function even when you’re not there, into which the metaverse also incorporates digital elements from within your actual physical reality, the real world, using Augmented Reality technology. If that explanation didn’t work on your mom, tell her to watch The Matrix: that’s a futuristic, possible, reality of the metaverse.
That last movie reference makes the metaverse sound dystopic. Here’s how Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete, sees the eventuality of the metaverse: „We are quickly moving away from a two-dimensional screen world into a three-dimensional one.“
Think this is too futuristic and can only happen in the movies? Wrong! Have kids? Ask them about their interactions with video games. Do you use Zoom or MS Teams? While not fully immersed, your virtual meetings are in the infancy of the metaverse. Remember those Google glasses several years ago? Well, they will be making a comeback soon, but in a different context. Even non-tech companies, like IKEA, are working toward developing metaverse environments to sell their products and services. And I haven’t even touched the tip of the proverbial metaverse iceberg. Trust me, there is so much to come that these companies, along with many others, are developing iterations, products, and services where you will be fully immersed for your meetings, shopping, or a variety of physical human interactions we currently do without thought.
The Learning Opportunity
This time around, learning practitioners must pay attention to the metaverse and how they can leverage it for the benefit of their stakeholders and organizations. As Mitch Joel states, „The ability for people to not just get together in a virtual environment, but learn and share and actually see one another is a huge leap forward from what we’re seeing currently on Zoom calls or email exchanges or Slack groups or any other interactive technology.“
Progressiveness from those in workplace learning and even academia is admirable. It expresses how they seek innovative methods to bring about applicable and practical learning interactions. If their intent is sincere then they’re on the right track, or as Joel states, „When you look at things like work and learning, the metaverse feels very much closer to the near future, and what Wired founder and futurist Kevin Kelly calls the ‚inevitable‘.“
Rest assured, those in workplace learning and education will try to figure out how to apply the metaverse for their benefit. And well they should. Those who don’t will be relics. Consider that if the metaverse eventually lives up to its promise then learning opportunities are limitless. Consider something like assessing student aptitude in relation to educational elements, leading to career aspirations. Or possibly developing adaptable and safe work and situational environments for people to apply and practice newly acquired knowledge. The metaverse will afford you to skill up employees in the same way that we train airline pilots.
Concerns Moving Forward
Is the metaverse a sure thing? One can’t be sure but ask the global tech giants and the answer is a resounding yes! However, we’ve all seen promising technology get tossed aside. As Mitch Joel states, „The problem with making a business call on all of this, is timing. How soon? When will people adopt it? When will the technology be very pervasive and accessible to everyone? These are the same questions that Meta is asking as they (and others) build this future.“
Another relevant concern points specifically to why and how learning practitioners and academics will embrace it. Both may have issues with the metaverse but for different reasons. For academia, it’s more about adopting innovative concepts. It’s no secret that academia is often a few steps behind in technology adoption. Even during the pandemic, many educational institutions considered a Zoom meeting with students or teaching PowerPoint via a Zoom or Teams recording as eLearning.
As for workplace learning practitioners, adoption isn’t the issue, but rather the issue is proper implementation and application. No one can accuse practitioners of not wanting to use more technology. But if the historical context is any indication, they’ll pitch a „learning metaverse“ to decision-makers as a „cure-all“ to learning issues. Regretfully, as with past technology use, it’ll either be misapplied or not leveraged to its full potential. And when this happens, practitioners tend to lose interest and look to the next „cure-all.“ No one knows whether the metaverse will catch on with the public; the market will dictate this. For those involved with learning, the lack of acceptance will possibly result in a lack of rapid adoption and/or misapplication.
The metaverse will most probably come about and become a part of our lives, as did something called the internet. Whether it will be sooner rather than later is something we’ll discover in time. Even though there’s a possibility the metaverse may not succeed, it’s safe to say that another technology will soon follow holding a different promise. Learning implies change and progress. Disparaging new tech or even trying to avoid it is futile. If this is you then it’s time to rethink your position.
Thanks to Mitch Joel for providing his insight and expertise. Mitch is one resource you want to have available. Please visit his site Six Pixels of Separation and read his latest books Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete. Please share your thoughts and feedback with us. We would enjoy hearing about your efforts. And who knows, it may be the topic of our next eLearning Industry article. Also, please check out our LinkedIn Learning courses to learn more about developing your business credibility for your learning efforts. Please share your thoughts and remember to #alwaysbelearning!