The Context: Industry 4.0
We are living in a very special time. We live in the age of self driving cars, where computers read X-Rays better than humans, and where AI is taking care of customer-service inquiries. These are symptoms - symptoms of the convergence of exponential trends in technological advancements.
Many different areas and fields are being disrupted by technology & displaying exponential dynamics. What’s more remarkable is that this is not happening one field at a time - but in several fields simultaneously. Media, medicine, industry, enterprise, art, culture & others are being lifted from their traditional late-20th century paradigm into a new one. The structure of the world, as we came to understand it in the second half of the last century - is now over.
Industry 4.0 (or the fourth industrial revolution) is the name currently being given to the current wave of technological advancements - including automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning or immersive technology, among quite a few others.
This new era brings great improvements in productivity and economic growth. However, this comes with its own disruptive dynamics; many activities that are currently performed by humans in the workplace will become obsolete in the face of these technologies.
Ours is not a time of stability, but of change. The scale of the shifts caused by the fourth industrial revolution will match or even exceed the ones caused by the first. Let’s identify a pattern by looking at history:
- When the steam engine and mass production entered the scene in the 19th century, we saw the emergence of phenomena like the rural exodus, massive changes in urbanism and systems of society & governance. The contemporary classroom is still based on a 19th century matrix - the so called “Factory Model”.
- When the so-called “second industrial revolution” manifested in the early 20th century, the internal combustion engine propelled countries start massively expanding what today is one of the most impactful ways that humans affect the terrestrial landmass - roads & highway systems. Tolls, gas stations, auto maintenance shops, oil drilling and the now well-known geopolitical implications of owning & selling oil for nations - these are all network effects of the invention of the internal combustion engine.
- Finally, we are probably old enough to remember how the third industrial revolution - and the advent of digital technologies, the internet or smartphones - changed and continues to change our lives.
The key takeaway here is that the fourth industrial revolution will stack up upon the previous three. The rural exodus, the highway system or our increasingly global world are all network effects of technology; tremendously powerful indirect consequences. As such, what will be the network effects of Industry 4.0? What will it mean for our systems of governance, our society? What will happen to the concept of “work”? How about education?
To deal with these shifts, we must first acknowledge that we are dealing with unknown unknowns. We aren’t even prepared to understand what’s coming, much less to understand its network effects. Therefore the best attitude is not to be reactive, but to be proactive. Since we are not equipped to understand or navigate these transition, let’s proactively equip ourselves.
The Technology: Role of Immersive Tech & Education
The concepts of “job retraining” and of “workforce skills development” need to be reinterpreted. The ability to provide lifelong opportunities for job retraining & to enable individuals to learn marketable new skills are going to be fundamental in the coming decades.
In today’s ever-accelerating world of work, we’re moving away from the traditional three stage learning lifecycle that was dominant in the last century. However, this linear sequence between education, work and retirement is outdated, since it no longer reflects the dynamic needs of today’s world of work.
Today, we are entering a model of continuous learning, where people are required to constantly readapt their work and careers. People will jump flexibly between periods of education, employment, exploration and transition in a multistage learning lifecycle. Furthermore, these periods will be flexible, non-linear, simultaneous & constant. In fact, according to PWC, 42% of CEO’s say they are implementing continuous learning initiatives.
In a world where adaptability is the new currency, people need to train, learn and adapt. And this is where immersive education will play a fundamental role. In a nutshell, we need to learn how to learn. You see, learning is also evolving and being disrupted...
The Insights: What we Learned about Learning
This image displays the evolution of learning technologies. From low tech formats like lectures, we see that “Learning”, as a sector, has benefited from advances in technology - especially in the corporate sector.
In the 80’s and 90’s Computers and the Internet began to democratize access to information. In the early 2000’s, E Learning allowed us to spread learning in a flexible way. Gamification strategies have been recently employed to accelerate how humans learn, understanding that challenges and serious games improve performance and engagement in learning. And more recently, as of 2015, mobile and social modalities have tried to leverage our always-connected status to further advance the effectiveness of education. If we look at the right of this timeline, we can see that the next frontier for learning is immersive technology.
The lecture or classroom model, as massified in the 19th century, is fast becoming obsolete to face the challenges of our hyper-technological era. E-Learning and serious games are steps in the direction of improving learning, but they fail massively when it comes to generating user engagement. So why does immersive tech make sense as a Learning Technology? There are a variety of reasons:
- Return on Impossible: VR can mirror potentially dangerous or hard-to-replicate scenarios. Examples range from the flight simulator, where you can learn to fly an airplane without any harm to yourself or others, or by training how to deal with customers if you are a walmart employee during black friday.
- Ends Distance: not only between student and teacher, but also between content and praxis. Instead of learning something to apply it elsewhere, you can essentially learn as you apply it, in a direct, hands-on manner.
- Facilitates Operations: VR training reduces operational costs, especially when compared to other methods for delivering the same quality of training, which imply travel costs, training location logistics or downtime costs. What’s more, it allows for a cheap way to generate scalability, bringing the same high quality training to many more people, at a fraction of the price of previous systems.
- Increases Engagement: the immersive format can be designed to ensure that spatialized information generates better understanding and retention. You remember more and you’re more engaged.
- Iterability: Training in VR, you will also learn from your mistakes in an improved way - because it allows for a safe and cost efficient way to repeat the training. Fast, free and easy iterations accelerate the learning cycle. They also help to create more and more feedback loops between the learner and their own performance: you train, you see how you performed, you train again and you see your performance again - giving you an increased level of consciousness of the subject matter and of how well you dominate it.
- Analyse & Measure: Immersive technology enables the use of data and analytics to measure performance - from behavioral data, eye tracking, heat maps or gesture tracking. With these, the user can dissect their performance with a high degree of accuracy, and therefore create a more accurate awareness of their learning.
Beyond these value propositions, we’ve also discovered that immersive training can be divided, broadly speaking, in three modalities. They are “Skills-Based” (aiming to build psychomotor skills and muscle memory), “Knowledge-Based” (which aims to increase theoretical knowledge retention) and “Behavior-Based” (which aims to polish and improve behavioral, interpersonal soft-skills). Each of these modalities demands a different approach and body of knowledge, and is qualitatively different from each other.
The Vision: Why we do what we do
As I said in the beginning of this article, we are in the midst of a great shift. VR is but one of many vectors causing this very disruption. The world of work, industry and economy, like so much else will be affected by Industry 4.0.
However, it will go beyond that; the very way that humans relate to their identity, their role, life, family and existential meaning - these are already changing and will continue to do so. Today, technology has advanced past business to the point that they’re struggling to keep up and cope with the implications. Technology is forcing us to ask questions that the business world is unprepared to answer. That’s why adaptation, though not always easy or obvious, will be key.
Change has to be more than superficial. Gimmicks will not do. Change must be strategic, based on future proofing one’s design approach and linking it to emerging technologies in a way that brings value & true solutions to the table.
Design is at the crux of this matter: one cannot design for VR in the same way one designed for film, games or theater. This is a technology that exists networked with other technologies - from AI to IoT to 5G. It comes in a time of tremendous shifts for our societies. As such, it demands new creative systems - new creative disciplines, if you will. Ontological Design is the idea that instead of designing objects in themselves (VR Experiences, Animations, Spaces, Digital Products, etc) we should instead aim to design people’s subjective experience of those objects ( its subjective, behavioral, psychological effects, for example). It postulates that we can design taking into account the more subtle dimensions of existence, like psychology, sociability, depth communication, identity and creativity. It implies that we create ecosystems with multiple vectors and platforms, synchronizing their network effects towards the success of our objectives.
As such, Ontological Design offers us the capability to design humans for adaptability. It allows us to shift our focus towards fast-tracking how humans learn and relate to an ever-changing world. It will allow us to design solutions that design ourselves in return.
The enterprise of the future will be integrated; operations and sales will be intimately linked to worker learning and development, company culture and its design.
This is how we will properly transition businesses into a 21st century paradigm - by providing holistically designed ecosystems across platforms and technologies. By understanding how design itself is also evolving, towards the design of systems of existence - towards ontological creativity. By weaving these considerations into business strategy and mission. By doing so we can begin to think about new challenges, bigger responsibilities and more ambitious goals. This is how we can aspire to solve the issues of our age, from ecological collapse to sustainable energy to 4th generation warfare, etc. The shifting structure of our world demands no less.
The name of the game in Industry 4.0 is thus: don’t bother finding ways to use new technologies to answer old questions. Instead, discover the new questions that they enable us to ask. That’s how we move forward.