The other day I had a great conversation with Danny Stefanic. Danny is an educational entrepreneur. His current company is LearnBrite which has virtual characters, adaptive learning and all other types of really interesting learning elements including some great work with avatars and text-to-speech.
Kapp: You’ve been around in the technology industry for some time, can you provide a little of your background?
Stefanic: I recall a passion for 3D immersive environments as far back as 1985 playing Mercenary Escape from Targ on the nostalgic Commodore 64 where “the player must explore a world rendered in realtime 3D graphics, completing a number of non-linear tasks in order to achieve a single main objective”.
Whilst studying computer science and software engineering at university, my specialisations were those which would best equip me to create 3D environments. It may have been reading Howard Rheingold’s ‘Virtual Reality’ book in 1992, it may have been the potential of what could be done with a timetable provided by Moore’s law, but in the early nineties I decided that my life’s work would be devoted to virtual reality.
It was 1994 when I formed the Virtual Reality Association, I knew VR was coming and I knew it would not happen overnight. For over twenty years I have been working with every technical development and contributed my own developments to the creation of avatars and worlds. Since then, I’ve built, exited, bought and transformed businesses in the 3D and 360 immersive markets.
Kapp: Tell us a little about LearnBrite.
Stefanic: LearnBrite is created from a belief that by combining the best and latest technologies with proven eLearning techniques, we can provide the most effective learning experience and outcome. To achieve the best learning outcomes possible we are aiming for increased levels of engagement, involvement and motivation, facilitating ”self-paced” learning and memorable learning experiences.
LearnBrite are first in the World to meet the need for immersive browser-based 3D eLearning systems, compatible with learning management systems, such as Moodle and xAPI, or in a standalone environment that can be easily integrated deployed and updated without the need for software installation, plugins or IT security issues.
We have created Kira our HTML5 Avatar to explain the eight latest eLearning tools to benefit learners, clients and authors; when you have 5 minutes, enjoy.
You can experiment with your own avatar messages at BringTo Life (beta site).[Editor’s Note: Check this out, it’s fun!]
Kapp: What is the future of learning in 3D both on screen and through augmented or virtual reality.
Stefanic: This has for so long been my favorite subject; since my schooldays I instinctively knew that the development of the computer could enhance the experience. Teachers won’t be replaced by computers, they will become guides to them, those who understand that are doing it now.
An interesting sci fi book called ‘Ready Player One’ is said to be among the factors influencing the major I.T. players to follow the VR trend, including FaceBook with their 2 billion dollar bet on the Oculus Rift. For more context on the ‘Virtual Reality Race’ check our LinkedIn , FaceBook and Twitter pages which are buzzing with activity and opinion.
The future of all learning is about ‘fun and engagement with strong testing and evaluation’.
Enhanced perception through digital means can increase the level of engagement and thus effectiveness in a process of story, game and lesson. People forge an emotional connection to characters and decisions in a storyline, so are more likely to remember them. Game procedure in non-game contexts engages users in solving problems and increasing their contributions. And of course, people learn from their mistakes. In a 3D virtual world, ill-structured problems can be solved under the principles of constructivism whereby humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and ideas.
Learning methods have been proven and improved by the revolution in neuroscience, with MRI measuring activity in the brain during different levels of engagement. Psychological techniques used in problem-based learning inspires and motivates users to engage and take action. This is all available now. The future learning experience is all of the above plus immersive scenarios with engaging lifelike virtual actors in replicated 3D environments of games and instructional strategies.
Kapp: What is ‘groundbreaking’ about your recently announced VR student training and assessment program.
Stefanic: The LearnBrite Platform is where our many features come together. An example of this, is the recently announced project in which we created a full interactive eLearning demo in HTML5, using avatars, environments, text to speech, branching dialogues, decision trees, tracking and assessment.
It provides, in combination with subject matter expertise provided by universities, tailor-made virtual reality training programs that enable students and professionals to gain practical experience across multiple disciplines. Our collaboration with educators and students from Curtin University and other institutions of higher education has yielded this particular version of the platform’s training program.
The tailor-made version of the LearnBrite platform is a simulator that places the students and caregivers of elderly patients in unexpected, realistic situations, where just as in real life, students learn how to react quickly, properly, make prompt but correct assessments, ultimately learning how to manage risks and save lives.
With LearnBrite‘s technology the teacher can go even deeper in the student’s assessment. They can assess the students character, personality and levels of empathy. This facilitates better placement and guidance of the student with positions and jobs that suit them. The platform’s training and assessment capabilities eliminate the ‘one size-fits all’ traditional online courses where students click the ‘Next’ button to view slides of information followed by a quiz. By doing this it saves universities and companies tens of thousands of dollars, every year in on-the-spot training, achieving better results.
Kapp: What are you working on in terms of “text to speech” innovations?
Stefanic: This is actually an interesting area, we are focussed on tools that can allow rapid and easy authoring of content for immersive experiences, giving avatars a voice is fantastic, but we’ve found the technology has excellent application in existing elearning authoring also.
We have created a great solution that uses zero bandwidth to deliver consistent high quality text to speech voices across browsers and devices. It is called ‘Responsive Voice’ (beta site). It’s an essential addition to the eLearning toolkit, all text and questions can be spoken and if you are using Articulate Storyline, or Adobe Captivate and other authoring tools you can instantly add spoken voice. Check this example of a sample Articulate StoryLine course. This means that you can add the value of voice to your course, program or presentation saving time and cost of voice overs and audio file editing or professionally narrated audio files.
Kapp: Any advice for graduate students going into the field?
Stefanic: I’d say the most worthwhile advice is to have empathy for your learners and to think broadly about their possible profiles. Don’t expect users to have the same mindset or experience as yourself. Be as curious about the human aspects as the technology and never stop developing your character and skills.