Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lean on Virtual, Learn for Real

IIFL | Mumbai | June 22, 2015 09:08 IST
Learnbrite’s acquisition of Chat Mapper software is a landmark development in cross platform virtual reality. The pooled value prop is ripe with path-breaking possibilities no doubt but merits a more perceptive articulation than the staple ‘game-changer’ claims of marketing collaterals, observes IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar.


Phoenix-based LearnBrite offers immersive browser-based 3D eLearning systems that are compatible with proven learning management systems like Moodle and xAPI as also capable of running in standalone environments without the hassles of software installations, plug-ins or security protocols. The LearnBrite platform helps the user achieve actionable learning outcomes across multiple disciplines using avatars, environments, text to speech, branching dialogues, decision trees, tracking and assessment. One tailor-made version into healthcare virtual reality (VR) simulation – enriched with domain expertise from Curtin University – simulates the elusive day-to-day challenges faced by elderly patients to help students and caregivers make prompt and precise assessments of critical situations aimed at providing palliative support, mitigating risk and even saving lives. Teachers, on the other hand, can probe deeper into student assessments to make smart discoveries about individual traits like character, persona and empathy level. This end-to-end measurable value also ensures effective career counseling and student placements saving institutions and organizations phenomenal cost and effort from conducting conventional online tests and on-the-spot training programs of rampant approximations.

Brainchild of California-based Ben McIntosh, Chat Mapper, non-linear branching scenario software for Unity3D and other game engines, helps create flexible branching conversations mirroring real life scenarios through stories, games and lessons. Initially the preferred choice of game authors, playwrights and educators, Chat Mapper today serves a diverse clientele including e-learning vendors, emergency response agencies, healthcare providers, sales & customer service teams and military planning experts. With Chat Mapper now in its fold, LearnBrite looks all set to raise the e-learning bar within the realm of VR. Both entities are intimately aware of each other’s core competencies, having worked in tandem on the Curtin University project. Among other things, this union will help users author a host of LMS deployable courses, creating animated avatars, 3D environments and gamification entirely in the god sent standard of HTML5, without the clutches of plugins or games engines, and designed to work with Smartphones, tablets, desktops, with or without a VR headset christened "Responsive Design for VR".

True Cross Platform eLearning across devices

Before we move to more subjective reflections linked to the acquisition, here’s a brief on LearnBrite founder and CEO Danny Stefanic. A double major in computer science and software engineering, he was hooked on VR right from his formative years. Whether Howard Rheingold’s seminal book or the Silicon Valley’s compulsive muse, the Moore’s law, every inspiration inched him closer towards his calling in life. His brimful zeal for 3D immersive environments came from ‘Mercenary – Escape from Targ’ that required a player to confront a real-time challenge of carrying out umpteen non-linear tasks to serve the ultimate cause. Following creative stints in developing panoramic view technology for the web and creating 3D online stores, the intellectual obsession made way for pragmatic action. Having incepted the Virtual Reality Association way back in 1994, Stefanic formally entered the world of his choice in 2000 with ExitReality, a firm he founded to nurture the largely untapped 3D web market and which came out of beta only after eight years of rigorous R & D. Ever since, his entrepreneurial trials and triumphs within the 3D immersive business have come about in different capacities – creating avatars, text-to-speech conversions as also building, transforming, exiting and acquiring different entities.

LearnBrite’s virtual actors make training true-to-life

Stefanic’s forthright views on e-learning and gamification are more evangelist than entrepreneurial. He doesn’t see teachers replaced in the e-learning scenario, only expects their roles to undergo a sea change: as sufficiently detached guides assessing students role-playing in non-game contexts to solve problems and gain knowledge on the principles of constructivism: from an interactive, experiential learning as against the straight-jacketed instructional education of conventional classrooms. But he doesn’t discount the human dimension in endorsing the efficacy of replicated 3D environments. Empathy for learners and a holistic perspective about their mindsets or experiences, he believes, is fundamental to the virtual design. This needs one to be curious about human aspects and keen to develop character and competence in the process.

Non-linear dialogue and branching conversations

Given Stefanic’s sensitive involvement, one felt LearnBrite literature needs to be more comprehensive than what the press kit conveys. Even the white paper on the website is more a compilation of promotional stuff available elsewhere (rather everywhere), clearly short of articulating the LearnBrite value proposition which is much more than compliance with learning categories as defined by Karl Kapp (whose conversation with the LearnBrite CEO forms an integral part of the LearnBrite folklore). Professor Kapp is undoubtedly an authority on Learning but does that condone the need for quality in-house literature elucidating LearnBrite’s incisive views on the past, present, future of e-learning and VR centered on the community, more than media or marketplace, which LearnBrite seems keen to involve in diverse initiatives. We need more of heart-to-heart conversations on the wonderful things LearnBrite has done and is doing like team member Andreja’s earnest appeal in the ‘The 100 free MoodleBadges for Enterprise ( Maybe they could now involve Ben McIntosh, in the fit-for-purpose content development, who appears to be delightfully non-conformist going by his poorly updated but highly incisive blog.

Top class learning beyond classrooms

For a phenomenon that finds its roots in genius Douglas Engelbart’s envisioning of computers as digital display tools way back in the 50s, VR has had a somewhat chequered existence. It has indeed travelled with time but the clouds of hype and myth have, from time to time, posed questions on its credence, if not progression. Much like Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel ‘Ready Player One’, highly engaging science fiction but lacking in depth, given the tangent of superficial cultural references that needlessly dilutes the moot point. (Steven Spielberg’s film in the making can only conceal this fact, it can’t condone it.)

Beyond doubt, 3D virtual communities are here to stay. In the coming time, avatars, virtual classes and conferences would be more commonplace than they are today. But we need more activist-entrepreneur-architects like Tony Parisi, co-creator of the VRML and X3D ISO standards for networked 3D graphics, to put VR in perspective before we cheer its impending boom both in software and hardware…to place tangible community interests above perceived market diktats.

Parisi hits bull’s eye when he says, “One piece of collateral damage of the current wave of VR development is that many start-up shops who want to get into the VR game have to justify their existence with a business model, answering questions like “what’s the killer app?” from a pre-approved list of MBA filter questions – when all they really want to do is create great experiences, albeit perhaps for very small, niche audiences. But the resources required to learn pro tools, master the 3D skills, staff up, and market and sell through app stores is just too capital-intensive to support most of these endeavors. As a result, these teams either fall into the collapsed design space of zombie shooters and VR shopping, or they give up and go home.”

Thankfully, LearnBrite is not a start up, its founders have the right credentials and most important, it actively seeks community involvement, going by its plans to build more HTML5 training platforms in collaboration with enterprises, universities and e-Learning companies. Interested entities – whichever the tribe - drop a line to