The Psychology of Mixed Realities. #WorkingOutLoud [Part 2]

Yesterday i shared the first part of a new piece of work, looking at the psychology of mixed realities: how do virtual and augmented learning spaces differ from those that we are used to, both from a design perspective, and that of a learner experience. This work is part of a wider project around ‘Learning Architecture’, which is intended to provide a contemporary vision of how Organisations can adapt and update their entire view of learning to be fit for the Social Age. Here are the six elements that i introduced yesterday.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

I shared writing around ‘Consequence’, ‘Neurology’, and ‘Context’, in that piece, and today, i will build out the ideas around ‘Perception’, ‘Geospatial’ aspects, and ‘Manipulation’.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

PERCEPTION in virtual reality is immediate, the pathway from incoming sensation, interpreted to perception (our ‘sense making’) happening as fast as it does in the real world. That immediacy differentiates the experience from any form of ‘imagination’ or roleplay. There is no leap of faith to take. The experience is taken as ‘real’, as evidenced by the clear fear people display when approaching virtual cliff edges, or when something swoops towards them: we are fooled, at least up to a certain point. The immediacy of our response is significant, because we are more likely to react in the instinctive, normalised ways that we know from real life, but the whole sequence is inherently manipulated, or manipulable: we can change aspects of the ‘virtual’, to stretch credibility, or extend both sensation and understanding. Virtual environments are entirely configurable: we can make aspects visible, add contextual overlays, even change the laws of physics and consequence.

Two interesting aspects are trust and authenticity: if the environment closely reflects what we know from real life, then trust may transfer, and authenticity be transposed, but these mixed realities are not ‘real’, we can vary consequence, and some consequence simply does not apply (for example, if something falls on you, it does not do damage), so in some ways, the experience, lacking consequence, may look real, but be treated as inauthentic. So the ways that people behave in immersive environments may not be true to how they will react in ‘real’ ones, limiting potentially the value for assessment, unless the consequence is made explicit.

One really fascinating aspect of mixed realities is the social collaborative one: in shared social immersive experiences, we mirror the conditions in which strong social ties are built, building the potential to develop virtually facilitated broader webs of strong social ties, something that is directly relevant in induction, and explorations of organisational effectiveness.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

GEOSPATIAL aspects are fascinating in mixed realities: central to the benefits we have are that virtual environments are exploratory, and in the Learning Methodology, ‘exploration’ is a key learning stage. There is not doubt that this exploratory ability will be central to the benefit we feel from mixed realities, at least if the experience design is solid. Our ability to physically engage with objects, even to receive tactile or haptic feedback (in the most advanced work being done on virtual touch), will further reinforce the authenticity and value.

There will clearly be both risks and opportunities around accessibility: we can liberate ourselves from physical constraint, but equally people may be limited in their ability to benefit from geospatial aspects of engagement by their own capability, so at the very least, we need to be mindful of this.

Finally, geospatial engagement provides great opportunity to be playful, playful with physical constraints and physics rules, but also with the ways we engage. We can create playful co-creative and exploratory spaces, especially using puzzle based approaches, and, even better, collaborative puzzle solving spaces.

The Psychology of Mixed Realities

The last aspect to explore is MANIPULATION itself: the ability to build, to move, to interact with the environment, this is what makes these spaces so potentially exciting. Making is, itself, a powerful engager. People can experience pride through creation, and these spaces are superb for supporting rapid sketching and prototyping: some of the newest pre-visualisation tools are high speed to competency, low tech for the end user, close to intuitive. We can unlock creativity if the tools don’t have steep learning curves.

Our ability to vary rules around manipulation (vary virtual weight for example) broaden the scope of our ability to experiment. Mechanisms of experimentation and failure, both the ability to participate in and, crucially, the experience of both these things, can greatly enrich a learning environment.

This has been a brief pass through aspects of the psychology of mixed realities: i wanted to include it within the Learning Architecture work because, already, we see many organisations following predictable paths to failure. If we apply existing pedagogical approaches to new spaces, we will limit or damage our potential. This is a time to explore, but to explore not simply new technologies, but new storytelling and experiential models.


About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
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