Monday, July 11, 2016

What #PokemonGo means for immersive learning

I, like many of you, spent my weekend hunting for Pokemon while tracking my progress on Nintendo's new Pokemon Go game.

To say it was a revelation was an understatement. And the bigger question: will it lead to a revolution?

For many years now, I've talked about how technology can be used to create immersive experiences, how giving people the sense that they are performing real tasks and receiving real-time feedback is the key to that immersive feeling. I've talked about avatars and virtual worlds and alternate reality games and augmented reality and, recently, virtual reality. I've talked about how biometric data can be used to impact your experience within an environment, and I've talked about how all of these things are converging. I've also talked about the shortage of big design thinking in better leveraging the technology that is currently available to bring together storyline and experiences. Design has been lagging behind technology where immersive learning is concerned. I would tell people to keep their eyes open, because there would be a point where someone figured it out and it would go mainstream.

I'm pretty sure most people thought I was talking about a few years in the future. Turns out, I was talking about this last weekend.

Finally, FINALLY, there is an example of an augmented reality game with characters, avatars, interactive game play with feedback and leveling. And the whole world is, or wants to be, playing.

Our kiddo was working alongside a Meowth
This weekend I spent with my family, walking all over my home town Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. We were finding landmarks we didn't know existed which had been designated as Pokestops. We were exploring new neighborhoods and talking to strangers. We were walking, walking, walking. We were smiling and laughing. We were bemoaning our ridiculous battery life and speculating on our data usage. We were running into friends and chatting. We were teaching each other nuances and strategies in the game. We were laughing when we saw a large group of people wandering around a parking lot, looking for a Koffing we knew was there. I was sending messages to a friend halfway around the world in Milan, Italy, who was experiencing the same server issues we were.

Suddenly, everyone is playing and experiencing immersive learning.

For those of you who haven't played yet, imagine you are a Pokemon trainer (if you don't know what Pokemon are, google it). The world is filled with Pokemon, and you can find them via a phone app, then catch them using Pokeballs that you throw at the Pokemon on your phone screen. You can get more supplies at Pokestops, and train with the Pokemon you've caught at Gyms. All of these locations are populated from data collected over the last several years from another game, Ingress, which is (of course) a product of Google.

I could talk about the social learning implications (this game has no social features, but is an amazingly social game). I could talk about the health benefits, both mental and physical. I could talk about how the game is driving behavior change (my kids keep opting to walk instead of asking for rides...crazy...).

But instead, I want to talk about what Pokemon Go means for the future of learning. Because we finally have a flagship immersive game to build from. Where we go from here, and how we push technology to support our design, is really up to us.

First, let's talk about technology needs.

  • WE NEED BETTER BATTERIES. If we are leveraging our phones for experiences like this, we can't have our batteries last an hour. 
  • Also, WE NEED UNLIMITED DATA. It's well past the point that this should be the case, and the first major company who goes there will get my money, and hopefully yours too, so that the whole market will follow. 
  • We will need data to be able to interact in the world, unless, of course, we have UNIVERSAL WIFI. That would be ok, too.
  • And finally, the device-specific access is a drag. Most of the people we saw playing were adults, not because kids wouldn't want to, but because kids don't have smartphones that they can use to play. MAKE ALL DEVICES CAPABLE OF PLAYING IMMERSIVE GAMES. Photo apps, GPSs, data accessible (with unlimited data, as previously mentioned). Let as many people play as we possibly can. 

What about design?

Honestly, the possibilities are endless for future applications, but let's start with what we could do with Pokemon Go.
Santa Barbara Park Ranger
chatting about the Pokemon in the park

  • Tie Pokemon Go to biometrics. What if you could get certain Pokemon by keeping your heart rate in the ideal range for exercise for 20 minutes? What if you were rewarded for number of steps (not just distance covered, which is how you hatch eggs)? What if you were rewarded for consecutive days of hitting exercise targets? There have to be some easy partnerships to be made with fitness trackers. 
  • Add some social features. My kids already want to trade Pokemon. I'd love to see a way to do that through proximity, rather than some online marketplace. While I've been having great conversations with people I meet while playing, it would be great to have a game mechanism to prompt more interaction. Also, how about adding a way to friend other players you meet? It was great meeting folks all over town, but now there's no way to stay connected. There are already social groups forming outside of the game, why not enable it within the game?
  • Leverage Pokemon Go for medical treatment. If there were enough Pokemon in a hospital or rehabilitation center, patients could collect Pokemon as part of their recovery. Therapists could track distance walked or number of Pokemon caught to help encourage patients to get out in the world and walk. 
  • Pokemon Go as the new marketing angle, both customer and internal-facing. We already saw this with Foursquare, but is there something more to be done here? I would definitely frequent a place that set up a Lure to attract more Pokemon...beyond attracting more customers, could this type of activity work for new hire training? My family was chatting yesterday about what type of Pokemon we might find at our zoo; what if the zoo could strategically place Pokemon?
What are some issues that need to be addressed?
  • Accessibility barriers. Already, my color-blind husband can't see the difference between the blue and purple Pokestops and has to ask me. Can options be included for blind players? Hearing impaired players? Players with physical disabilities? Let's get everyone playing.
  • Technology barriers. Let's not make immersive learning only accessible to the privileged. While desire for immersive experiences might drive buyer behavior toward technologies that can support it, if only high end smart phones can play the experiences and only people who can afford more data can play, we are cutting out major segments of the population based likely on age and socioeconomic status from participating and benefiting. Immersive learning should be available to everyone. 
  • Societal barriers. There has been nervousness already around women playing alone at night, players who are ethnic minorities worrying about accessing Pokemon in particular neighborhoods, and general unease about what a gaming experience that everyone can play everywhere might uncover about our own biases, prejudices, and fears. These are things that already exist, that game play is exposing with heightened visibility. Ironically, it has also been prompting people from all walks of life to start interacting and supporting each other. Maybe there's something to us all just playing a game together that may lessen this barrier. 

But let's end with some larger implications for learning, particularly organizational learning.

  • New hire training: tour facilities with augmented reality or virtual reality. Meet key folks in the organization. See behind the scenes production, or visit HQ virtually. 
  • Skill refinement: once the basics have been taught, present ongoing practice scenarios. Could be internal, customer-facing, or software/equipment training. 
  • Product training: provide the ability to interact with multiple customers and see how the product benefits them differently.
  • Application in context: how do you navigate a real-life complex environment effectively? Think busy retail, insurance adjusters, combat/disaster zones, crime scenes, etc.
  • Don't mind the rattata in my kitchen
  • Just in time geographically relevant support. Have a question in context? What if an app let you access training and tips relevant to where you are?  
And that's just to name a few.

So, to sum up, we need better consumer tech for immersive experiences, we can build on Pokemon Go for even more immersive design examples and applications, we need to be mindful of biases limiting access, and there's a lot of potential for organizations to leverage immersive learning to solve meaningful learning problems. Let's do this, folks!

(Related: Does anyone even use Foursquare anymore? I bet the kids don't even know what that app is...)


  1. Haven't started playing Pokemon Go? Download Pokemon Go (Suitable for Android or iOS)

  2. i love pokemon aloot the cartoon and the game are same so amazing .

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