Welcome to eXplore – BLP’s new vlog series where we explore what’s possible in workplace learning.

In this episode, Steve Boller interviews Nick Shelton, BLP’s Learning Interaction Design Manager. In the interview, Nick discusses the differences between 360-video and virtual reality and explains how 360-video can add the most value from a learning standpoint. He also shares his plans for his breakout session at eXLearn 2019, BLP’s second annual workplace learning conference.

Watch the full interview here or read the excerpts below.

1. Tell the viewers about yourself. Who are you and what do you do at BLP?

I’m Nick Shelton and I’m the manager of learning interaction design. I came to BLP with a lot of background in software development and didn’t necessarily think that I would be in the training world. But the software development background has really given me an ability to leverage the existing tools in our industry to push them farther. So I know with the background that I have that essentially anything on the Internet these days is possible.

I also serve as a technical partner for our clients. Sometimes they don’t know what’s possible within their own infrastructures. I work with them to help determine what’s possible how far and we can push things while staying within reason. I also manage a team of instructional writers and technologists who help take sound instructional design from our instructional designers and turn it into some really good training for our clients.

2. Your session at eXLearn is about 360-degree video. What got you interested in 360-video?

Before I got into web development, I went to school and studied New Media like 3D, flash, websites, video, everything. So back then, in order to create a 360 immersive experience, you’d set up a camera at DSL or take a bunch of photos from several of different directions. I used to do this professionally when I worked for Indy Monthly. We would go photograph a location and then you would use a photo editing tool to stitch these pieces together and then use flash with programming to create like a 360 experience. So obviously, there was a lot of work that went into that.

Fast forward several years later and a BLP coworker was starting a podcast. We decided to combine video with the podcast audio, but we also wanted to try something different. We were playing around with VR and 360-degree video internally. It’s something that I was interested in. So we shot the first episode of my colleague’s podcast using a 360-degree camera. Then I watched the video back and my heart sank because the quality was just nowhere near as good as it needed to be. I played with every setting, lighting condition, and compression format. I bought different cameras and finally found one that was good enough. I’ve always loved video and then my mind was blown at the idea that you can shoot a video that records the entire world around you. So that’s kind of where it started.

3. How is 360-video different from VR?

Essentially, there are various levels of immersion. VR is a completely simulated environment that you are placed into. This is typically done with a headset that takes you out of the world that you’re currently a part of and puts you in a completely fabricated environment.

With VR, you get a little bit of freedom because your head is the camera or can be the camera. So in VR space, I can move my head and I am actually moving my head in the space. For example, if there is a tree in front of my face, I can move to the side and peek around the tree. With 360 video, the camera is the camera. If you’re wearing a headset, you’re in the middle of a sphere of video that wraps itself around you. Your head is wherever the camera was originally positioned. So you can look around and see everything but you can’t move side to side. So I wouldn’t be able to see the other side of that tree. My ability to move my position in the air space is limited. But the ability to surround yourself in an immersive environment is still possible with 360 video. 

4. How do you think 360-video can add the most value from a learning standpoint?

I think there are a few main values for learning. This includes placing someone in a world where it would be difficult for them to be placed otherwise. For example, it would be difficult to have a doctor who’s in the United States witness surgery performed differently in another country. So you could place that person in the operating room and as the physician is performing the surgery, they could be speaking out loud as if they were instructing a class. So you can take a person from anywhere in the world and put them essentially anywhere you can place one of these small 360 degree cameras.

In addition to being able to transport someone, let’s say you have a CEO who wants to tour a new factory. You could set up a 360-degree camera and give them a facilitated tour and they don’t have to fly in to see it. Or imagine this factory uses heavy or expensive equipment. Getting inside the head of some of the best people who operate this equipment could be incredibly powerful because the alternative is building a very expensive VR environment.

5. What tips would you give to a learning professional looking to get started with 360-video and/or VR?

Do some research on the Internet determine your budget and equality level. You can go to YouTube and see examples of quality versus cost and there are a lot of breakdowns. This is a good starting place but there are a lot of things that don’t get called out so you kind of have to learn through trial and error. How do you best record audio? How do you ensure you don’t have people in your shot that you don’t want in your shot? How does this technology even work? You can dig pretty deep and still not uncover all of the pain points.

This is why I highly recommend attending my eXLearn session. I’ve already done the research and break it down into digestible pieces. So if you can come to the session I’ll dive into the research, make some camera recommendations, etc.

Excellence in Workplace Learning Starts Here

Join us in Indianapolis September 4-5th for BLP's second annual eXLearn conference.