Q&A: University MOOCs start to provide VR training
Training and Development

Q&A: University MOOCs start to provide VR training

Worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market are forecast to increase by 100% or more over each of the next four years, according to the latest update to IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide. “Augmented and virtual reality are gaining traction in commercial settings and we expect this trend will continue to accelerate,” said Tom Mainelli, program vice president, Devices and AR/VR at IDC.


With virtual reality topping the list of fastest-growing freelance skills for Q2 2017, according to freelancing website Upwork, the new VR specialisation from the University of London is definitely timely. Available since 25th September, the specialisation can be booked through subscription company Coursera, consists of five courses and is aimed at beginners. For the initial course, Introduction to Virtual Reality, no prior knowledge is required, though you will need to have basic programming knowledge for the later courses.

We spoke with Dr Sylvia Pan and Dr Marco Gillies from Goldsmiths, University of London and creators of the Coursera Virtual Reality Specialisation, to find out more. A lightly edited Q&A can be found below.


Why is this virtual reality MOOC needed?

Virtual reality has been in the spotlight recently as many people from different areas, from creative artists to psychologists, engineers etc., all want to be able to benefit from this new tool in their work. However, it is not a new invention. The modern concept of VR was first proposed in 1969 and researchers have been working in this area ever since, which means that there are a lot lessons to be learnt.

Now is the right time to enter the VR industry as we are just as the beginning of the rise of the technology and its future is yet to be defined. We know that VR is going to fundamentally change the way we interact with the world and with each other – and the new MOOC is the best opportunity to be part of this!


Why did you decide online learning was the best approach?

We wanted to share our expertise as widely as possible and no other mechanism allows us to reach a global audience. Online learning is extremely inclusive by being affordable and easily accessible to people across borders and at different stages of their lives. We didn’t want financial difficulties to become a reason to stop anyone from learning what they want and Coursera shares the same view, which made us a perfect match.


What does the course cover?

It is a specialisation, which means a collection of shorter MOOCs. We have five courses:

  • Introduction to Virtual Reality gives an overview of the technology and the psychological experience of VR – the sense of presence – because in virtual reality you need to understand both. This first course is really for anyone with an interest in VR; no prior experience in computing is required and learners won’t need any hardware.
  • 3D Models for Virtual Reality gets learners started with creating VR experiences. They will learn the basics of 3D graphics and how to apply them in VR. This is the first course where you need VR hardware.
  • Interaction Design in Virtual Reality looks at how we can make VR interaction mimic the way we interact with the real world. We have to use different devices and techniques than the traditional controllers because VR is very different from standard games and apps.
  • Building Interactive 3D Characters and Social VR looks at a hot upcoming topic: social interaction in VR. The course teaches learners how to create characters with realistic body language and how to use them to create social experiences.
  • Making Your First Virtual Reality Game is the last course that brings everything together and guides learners through the process of creating a complete VR experience.


When do you think VR will really go mainstream? What will it take for this to happen?

VR has seen a lot of buzz last year and many people were expecting it to go mainstream instantly, but that is not realistic. It is a similar situation as we have seen with smartphones – the first iPhone in 2007 sold well, but it took many years for smartphones to go from an expensive niche to a mainstream product. VR hardware is expensive and there is not much content out there, which needs to be addressed it becomes mainstream. For example, our course is trying to educate new VR creators to ensure we will have more content, but this will be a gradual process over the next years.


Which industry sectors will be boosted/see most potential?

Games and advertising are the sectors that currently see a lot of growth, but in the long term it is more likely that VR will become its own medium rather than being a branch of games and films.

There are many other industries where we will see an impact. Engineering and architecture already use VR to design and test new products entirely virtually. At the moment, it is used for large projects, such as oil rigs, but it will become more universal. It is also going to change education and professional training by allowing us to directly experience any chosen situation.


Is there anything people are failing to understand when it comes to the rise of virtual reality and/or augmented reality?

I think that at the moment people are seeing VR and AR through the lens of other media, like games or film, which makes it hard to see that they are completely new media with very different rules. For example, the simple fact that there is no frame around the screen breaks almost every rule we know about making film.

Fundamentally, VR is about creating presence, something that has no real equivalent in any other media. To really know how to do VR, you need to know how to create presence and that will not come from knowing filmmaking or game design. That is why we focus on it so much in the course.

Another thing is that is easy to get wrong is to think of VR in terms of visuals and the screens in front of your eyes. What makes a head mounted display a VR tool is not necessarily that it puts a screen in front of your eyes, although that is important, but that it has a head tracker. When you turn your head, you will expect not only to see something else but also the way you hear sounds around you should change, just as it would in real life.

Finally, how we interact with VR/AR digitally means that we are moving from 2D interfaces, such as keyboard, mouse, and game controllers, to 3D interaction. However, it is wrong to think 3D interaction as an unfamiliar territory where we have to define new rules – in fact we interact with the real world in 3D every day. We need to think about how we do things in real life, with our body and our hands, and how to replicate the same in VR/AR.


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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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