Extended Reality (XR): The Future of Workplace Learning


Maria Melfa: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us today for Bring Out The Talent. My name is Maria Melfa, and I am the President and CEO of TTA.

Jocelyn Allen: And I’m Jocelyn Allen. I’m a Talent Recruitment Manager here at TTA, and we’re so glad you’re back here with us. And we’re also glad that someone else is back with us, too. We have a special co-host today.

John Laverdure: Hello, there. This is John Laverdure, Director of Learning Solutions. Good to be back.

Maria Melfa: We’re always happy to have you, John. Let’s get started. We’re very excited to introduce our guest today. So, we have a really fun episode in store for you today with our special guest and TTA friend, Brian Boyle. Brian is a training designer, technologist, and founder of the award-winning company Cross Trainer. Cross Trainer turns learning content into learning solutions. They lead clients through an evolving technological landscape, building innovative, fun, and memorable experiences. From e-learning to XR gamification to LMS implementation. All of their solutions maintain a business minded design approach. For over 20 years, Brian has shared his future focus, graphic vision and learning design perspective to create innovative and engaging training across multiple industries, including pharmaceutical, manufacturing, retail and many more. In recent years, Brian has focused on designing mixed reality products that deep and learning experiences. In 2019, Brian’s TEDx Talk, VR therapy, unlocking the potential of VR paved the way for a line of patient facing Cross Trainer health care applications. As a proud partner of Cross Trainer and a big fan of Brian’s remarkable work, TTA knows firsthand the value that mixed learning reality can provide to our clients. When Brian isn’t revolutionizing mixed reality learning experiences, he enjoys time with his wife and his two young daughters. Welcome, Brian.

Brian Boyle: Thank you all for having me. Very excited to be here.

Jocelyn Allen: We are so excited to have you with us, Brian. I mean, as Maria mentioned, we have a wonderful partnership and relationship with Cross Trainer. And so, we’re excited to dive in a little bit more to what you guys do and the solutions that you provide.

Brian Boyle: That sounds great. Yeah, I’m excited to share our experience and talk a little bit about the exciting world of mixed reality.

Maria Melfa: So for those that do not know, that might be listening today, can you explain what a AR and VR is?

Brian Boyle: Yes, I’m glad you asked that question. There is some confusion about it still. Virtual reality is a completely virtual environment. You don’t see the outside world. You’re viewing a completely virtual 360 environment, whereas augmented reality is augmenting your physical environment with virtual content. So, with augmented reality, you’re placing virtual content, viewing virtual content in your actual physical environment, whereas virtual reality, you’re completely immersed in a simulated virtual environment.

Jocelyn Allen: How did you start Cross Trainer?

Brian Boyle: I started my career right out of college. I went to I grew up in upstate New York, near Rochester, and I went to a great school out there, State University of Geneseo (SUNY School), and I started my career right out of college as a production artist. That was back in the day when we used a lot of Cork Express. I worked through my way through larger corporate design departments, and I was never the guy that necessarily tried to win a design award or build my portfolio. I was all about producing and getting stuff done. And one of our clients said that I was a business-minded designer, and that was a huge compliment to me. I considered that a huge compliment, and that’s something that really stuck with me and to this day defines the way we work at Cross Trainer, and the type of talent that I seek out to build our team. And I had a particular client that was a training agency and my style that business minded design approach, you know, really fit well with the training industry. Because let’s admit it, we’re not the marketing department, we don’t have the budgets to work with or the timelines. Training is all about professional, clean, corporate, efficient design, templates, processes, functionality, and that’s where I really excelled. So fast forward to 2005, I decided that I had what it took to start what it takes to start my own agency, and that was the Boyle design. We grew. Year after year hired a team, but it wasn’t until 2013 that I launched Cross Trainer and committed to a vision of training, design, and development only. And that’s when things really started to click.

John Laverdure: That’s awesome. That’s quite a journey. So how has committing to training, design and development helped your business grow?

Brian Boyle: Yeah. So, for those first 15 years of my career, I had a very consistent workflow from that one training agency. And when I really started to focus strictly on getting more clients like that one training client, I realized that a lot of agencies have the same types of needs. It seems kind of obvious in hindsight now that I’m saying it out loud. I guess I knew that we could take our model and apply it to similar clients. I just didn’t realize how well it would work. And the reason why we work so well with training agencies is in our model, which is you’ve got great content and we’ve got great solutions. In a nutshell, that means we don’t write. I can write, of course, I actually pretty solid, solid writer, but I choose not to, and we don’t have any writers on staffs. My wife, Heather, has a median instructional design, but that’s just so she can develop new business and speak the client’s language. We leave that subject matter expertise and writing to the agency. That way, we’re not stepping on any toes and we’re not in competition, and it’s a great symbiotic relationship. We can instantly plug and play with a training agency and dramatically increase their bandwidth and capabilities. In most cases, we work behind the curtain. Our solutions are white labeled. No, that’s not to say we don’t work direct. We do. Our clients have their own. If we if we work with a direct client, they have their own internal training department with content development. So, the key really is if you’ve got great content, we’ve got your solution.

Maria Melfa: So what is a typical project look like for you? Not that there are typical projects, but what does that look like for Cross Trainer?

Brian Boyle: [\Yeah, well, we start since we don’t get involved in the content development. We really start our work when the content’s approved, but we are involved much earlier on in the process. Typically, during the RFP phase. We help to design the technical solution and help the agency win the business. So, we have a lot of training design and dev solutions under one roof, multiple different e-learning solutions, gaming products, mixed reality solutions. So based on the RFP requirements, we can help the client determine the right technical solution. More and more we’re seeing those RFPs requesting, “out of the box ideas” or just directly requesting a mixed reality component.

Jocelyn Allen: How long have you been in the mixed reality business and how did it get started? Like what created that little bit of a of a pivot for you to go into that area?

Brian Boyle: I’ve been a big fan of AR and VR almost for a decade. I’ve been dabbling. I knew the first time that I saw augmented reality in particular that it just made perfect sense for training. And it was it was going to change. It was going to change everything that we do like everything to, not just in L&D. That’s a conversation. For another day, I’m going to stick to training today, but it’s going to change everything we do, and we got really serious about mixed reality. In 2017, we partnered up with a group, a team of XR gaming developers, and we launched a series of training products, a series of products that were geared toward training. These were meant to enhance proven training techniques with AR or VR, whether that’s an objection handler or a device training or a case study. We put a mixed reality spin on that to make it more engaging.

Jocelyn Allen: So that was almost five years ago at this point. I can’t believe I’m even saying that because 2017 still sounds like yesterday to me. But what’s the difference between then and now as far as the shift is concerned?

Brian Boyle: Those early years, considering 2017 as early years of anything, it sounds, seems kind of weird. I agree. But it did feel like that was the early years of mixed reality and it felt like the Wild West. I liken it to a more recent comparable event. It reminded me of the introduction of the iPad in 2011. The iPad came out, and it really flipped the training industry on its head. Everything had to be rebuilt from a technology perspective and what we do. No flash, touchscreen, responsive design. Everyone wanted an app and there was a lot of confusion in those early years, and a lot of bad decisions were made. And after a few years, once the dust settled, the industry finally caught up to the tech. The iPad became an amazing tool for training deployment. So mixed reality kind of felt like that. In the early years we were the “belle of the ball” at every trade show that we attended. The busiest booth. Everyone wanted to try, you know, the headset or augmented reality. There were so many great meetings traveling all over so many proposals, demos, mockups, and there were many early adopters, but not nearly as much as we expected. Many times, something got in the way. Whether that was equipment, or the IT department, or the cost. The barriers were just too much. Something would get would stall the project. And so, we’ve now entered that phase of the industry catching up to the tech five years later. And now we’re seeing more and more opportunities close. Clients are happy. The learners were ready for it. The price is right. They want more. And it’s an exciting it’s a really exciting time.

Maria Melfa: So what do you think happened in the tech industry that caused the shift?

Brian Boyle: One of the big things, the big hardware and software companies have really embraced mixed reality, and they’ve added features and accessibility to make deployment much easier. The biggest one that I can think the biggest one is the shift from app-based AR and VR to web-based AR and VR deployment. You know, it’s not particularly easy to get a native app deployed through a large corporation. You definitely need to get IT involved. They may be resistant, rightfully so. They’ve got their hands full usually. There’s also significant cost and time requirement for app development and integration challenges because you can’t put an app on an LMS. Now, all of our AR and VR solutions can now be deployed web-based in a swarm file deployed from an LMS. That basically wipes out every hurdle that I just covered that we were dealing with in those early years. The IT department doesn’t get involved, as you know, when you deliver a swarm file for their existing LMS or XP. There’s no integration hurdles we’re deploying using their existing user management and their existing tracking and reporting and security. You know, we can make changes right up until the launch. There’s no app approval or deployment process. The cost is, in most cases, 50 percent of what it was when we were deploying a custom app for the same AR/VR experience. It’s a win-win all around. It’s a lot easier to say “yes” because now clients are getting the engagement without the barriers.

John Laverdure: So that’s awesome to hear that the technology evolved and has lowered the barriers for corporate America to start really implementing these solutions. Tell us a little bit about some of these XR solutions that you’re seeing actually be adopted by these training departments.

Brian Boyle: Our simplest and most affordable mixed reality solution is called “MOATAR.” I love these acronyms. It’s we spell it “MOATAR” (MOATAR). It stands for Mechanism of Action Through Augmented Reality, as we call it “MOATAR”. You’ll find that I use a lot of these because it’s easier to just call it by a simple name. This is a web-based widget that can be dropped into an e-learning module. So, think of it as just another form of act of interactivity for your e-learning. So, for example, if you have a device training module, typically you might have 2D images of that device. Or maybe those images have hot spots that display the features and traditional e-learning. Maybe you have a video, but with MOATAR, we can add a 3D model of that device to explore in your browser. And then, if desired, you can go ahead and launch that device in AR mode. You can place it in your physical space, walk around it as though it’s really there. It’s fun. It’s proven to improve retention and understanding. And now it’s affordable to. These AR experiences can start under $5000, so obviously they can increase in price with complexity and custom 3D animation. But the floor on these experiences is much, much lower than it was when apps were involved.

John Laverdure: Yeah, it sounds like the engagement per dollar has really grown in value over the years. And that’s awesome. So, is there any VR examples of that?

Brian Boyle: Yeah, absolutely. Another one of our most popular XR solutions is the VR simulation. For this, we can travel, and we scan a location in 360 degrees, or we can create an acquire, create, or acquire a simulated environment, and create a training simulation. This could be a safety training. It could be SOP’s, customer experience, sales training with objection handling. These trainings happen live all the time, and it requires a lot of effort by staff from the client. You know, a lot of downtime put these trainings on. So, if we can bottle up that training in VR, and deploy at any time consistently with measurement, that’s a win for the client in a lot of ways. We recently did one of these for a large construction company, and we went on site, captured their job sites on location and built a VR training. And they recently told us that this was by far their most viewed, non-required training program ever. It was really well received. We’ll be doing more similar work for them on different topics. We were able to put it right on their existing LXP as a form file, so it was really it was easy for them and it was a big success.

Jocelyn Allen: That’s very cool. I can imagine what the headsets look like with the hard hats. Was there any was there any pushback there at all? And because they seem like obviously very different spaces. We love the idea of integrating the two. But what did that look like for the employees that you were working with?

Brian Boyle: Yeah, I’m glad you asked that question. So, this particular web-VR solution can be deployed on regular desktop browsers or tablets. So, if you have a headset, that’s great. But if not, you get a really great three hundred and sixty degree experience on your device of choice. This also makes it a lot more accessible because not everyone, you know, they’re probably not going to buy VR headsets for the entire company. So, giving people more options that they don’t want to wear a headset, or if they don’t have a headset, it’s really going to improve your reach. And that’s why it got such a great response and got so many views. You know, and this also really helps with deployment as well because it allows us to deliver as a swarm file and drop it on their regular LMS.

Jocelyn Allen: I can think of so many applications that could have a use for something like that. What other examples can you share with us that might be relatable for our audience?

Brian Boyle: Yes, we have a lot of different XR solutions, and they’re all based on kind of like a spin on an existing type of train. So, we have one called AROH, which stands for Augmented Reality Objection Handler AR. I’m sorry, AROH, pronounced “arrow”. And it can be deployed in AR or VR, and we basically green-screen actors, and place them in virtual environments, and we create objection handling activities, and that is getting a lot of interest right now, especially with people working, you know, remote work, people not doing those face-to-face objection handling activities, that role playing that’s typically done at a live, live training event. This gives you a safe place to fail. It’s just a really good fit for a lot of clients, and we can do it efficiently by using green-screening and make it really interactive. That’s one of my favorites right now. We have another product called it’s pronounced “compare”. It’s spelled COMP-AR, so it’s pronounced “compare”, and it’s an augmented reality comparison tool. So, imagine that you have a device catalog or a product catalog. This allows you to, kind of like you would compare products on a website. You can choose from a selection of products from a whole library of products, and compare them and look at their specifications side-by-side in a table format, similar to how you would compare shop on a website. But then you also have this opportunity to then launch an AR mode and see the products in your, in your room, in your space, on the table, in front of you and explore them in 3D in augmented reality.

Brian Boyle: So it’s kind of taking that concept of that comparison shopping to the next level. It could be used in retail, for sure, but it’s also great for training for as a as a sales training tool, particularly. And oh, we just launched this is pretty cool. We just launched a new game of VR game, and it’s an escape room. So, this is easy for us to deploy. We can populate it with the clients questions quickly. It’s called Space-XR, and you’re basically, it’s kind of freaky. You’re on, you end up waking up in this spaceship, and you have to escape before the solar flare hits. So, you have to kind of work your way around the space station in an escape room type of format, and answer questions, and get off of the space station. And so, it’s all pre-built. It’s a game, it’s product, it’s all pre-built, but we just can populate it with the clients’ questions, assessment questions, and make a game out of it. And then we can deploy that game, and let the learners compete for time and score and post a leaderboard. So that’s a great way to gamify with VR. We intend to do more of those types of games this summer. This is our first one using this model.

Maria Melfa: Do you think that has applications towards certain audiences?

Brian Boyle: It could be. It’s a little bit of a stretch for some audiences, but what we’re finding more and more is that it’s not so much about making the game, the subject matter of the game match, necessarily the subject matter of the client. They just want an escape. They want to do something fun. As long as the content is relevant, it might not matter so much that we’re talking about. Maybe the questions are geared towards, you know, a construction company or towards, you know, a health care company. Yet they’re on a spaceship. You know, it’s more about just this kind of escape from the norm and playing a game and competing and having fun. And it seems to it seems to be clicking.

Maria Melfa: Brian, do you think that it depends on the age of the audience? Could there be some people from an older generation that might not like going through this type of process or training program?

Brian Boyle: We haven’t encountered that, really. It does seem to be well-received. We make it the key with AR and VR is to make it very user friendly. There shouldn’t be a learning curve. It should be as intuitive as launching any learning program. And there shouldn’t be a lot of hurdles to jump through to get it to load, or to figure out how to use a headset or anything like that. As long as if you if you make it easy to access and make it intuitive, there really shouldn’t be a shouldn’t be an issue with that. You know, everyone, anyone who can launch any learning program should be able to launch a Web VR-based e-learning program. And on the AR front, it’s actually so intuitive where they are and so easy without having to download an app first. You basically just scan a QR code, and it launches or click on a link, and it launches, and then it tells you to scan your room or potentially point it up at a print object. Print at target. And it appears. It’s very, very intuitive. So, we haven’t really had any difficulty with adoption, or any feedback that says it’s too hard.

Maria Melfa: So my 16-year-old daughter really wanted a VR set, so we got her one last year for Christmas, and that’s her favorite thing to do. And my 86-year-old father has a lot of fun playing with her, so I could see what you’re saying. You know, it really doesn’t limit, you know, to certain generations, but he has a lot of fun doing that. Yes, my daughter actually is thinking that she would love to get into this area, maybe as a career, because she just she finds it fascinating. So, Brian, you just mentioned so many different choices. How do you help clients determine the best fit for their needs?

Brian Boyle: So if you go to our website, we have a great AR/VR decision tree that helps with the process at a high level, and we typically start there. It’s a pretty good tool. I don’t really use the decision tree myself. But if you were looking to start there, if you didn’t as a starting point, that’s a great place to start. If you’re not really sure where you want to go with the decision. It’ll kind of lead you down the right path, depending on what it is you’re trying to do. Is it a product training? Is it leadership training? Is it a simulation? And kind of based on your responses, it’ll lead you to what is the right path, so that you don’t go down the wrong path. And that’s a good start, but it also definitely helps to have relevant samples and ballpark pricing available. AR and VR are both so visual that it can actually be kind of easy for a client to make the connection once they see something similar. So, the demos become very important, just showing some things and bouncing ideas in a brainstorming session. And realistically, even though the cost has come down, it can still obviously get pricey, so budgets definitely can help to guide the decision-making process, as well.

John Laverdure: So, Brian, we’ve heard a lot lately about Facebook launching Meta, and or rebranding, I should say, to Meta and launching the Metaverse. What do you feel is going to be the impact of that for AR/VR in the workplace?

Brian Boyle:  Oh yeah, we’re really excited by this. You know, with Oculus, Facebook is already our go to headset that we that we recommend to any client. This is only going to lead to more development, more interest, and a real, you know, exposure to a different a different audience for AR and VR. It remains to be seen how that will pan out in training as Facebook as more of a social platform.

John Laverdure: So Brian, what do you see next for mixed reality in the coming years?

Brian Boyle: What I can say confidently is that it’s not a question of “if you’ll use mixed reality in your training mix”, it’s when. You know it might be six months out, it might be 10 years out, but it’s here to stay. And if you’re a large corporation, you’re going to be using mixed reality at some point. And you know, the really exciting thing to me is the AR glasses. Brace yourself because those are coming. You know, Microsoft HoloLens has been out for years, but I’ve never really considered that a feasible mainstream device. So, Apple is saying 2022 for theirs. Facebook, Meta working on something, too. Google probably, as well. Whichever company does it, once that iPhone equivalent of AR glasses comes out, it’s going to be a game-changer. There will be hurdles to privacy, et cetera. But as a training tool, what I see, you know, and what a lot of people see this concept of collaborating together virtually in AR, live-streaming holograms of you and I sitting across the table from each other to replace the Zoom meeting. Sitting across the table from each other, talking to live holograms of each other, live streaming people, collaborating virtually. Technologies like this do exist today in small, privileged circles with a steep learning curve. But once they go mainstream, it’s, you know, it’s going to be quite a ride.

Jocelyn Allen: It’s all over that. After that. It sounds very exciting. What? What’s next for Cross Trainer in this mix?

Brian Boyle: Hopefully growth. Continued R&D, and growth. You know, we’re thankful to be at the forefront of the movement. I’m thankful for my brilliant team at Cross Trainer, and their willingness to humor me and my crazy ideas. To be considered an expert in mixed reality is humbling, but I hope that my contribution is to be able to bring that same business-minded, efficiency driven approach to mixed reality that I brought to design and development of e-learning for my entire career. I want to make it easy for more clients in the training industry to say “yes” to this great tech. You know, we might not win a design award. It’s not our goal to blow your mind with graphics and blow your budget too. It’s more about practical applications that improve learning outcomes. If that’s what Cross Trainer is known for, then then we’ve succeeded.

Maria Melfa: Excellent! Well, this has been a true pleasure. It’s certainly a fascinating subject, and I am excited to look forward to the future of AR and VR. So, thank you so much, Brian, for joining us today.

Brian Boyle: Thank you all. I really appreciate the opportunity, and this has really been a lot of fun.

Jocelyn Allen: Always a pleasure, Brian. Thank you.

John Laverdure: Thank you, Brian. Thank you for your partnership and for participating on this. Really appreciate it.

Brian Boyle: Thank you.

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