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4 VR experience principles every course creator should know

In the previous piece, I’ve talked about getting started with VR design for your online courses. There are other important aspects of designing VR courses that I did not address then – the experience principles. These are a bit more than what we're used to when we talk about user experience because of VR's immersive capacity.

Since this is new and has immense possibilities, creators may be tempted to test its limits. While that may have some merit for scientific curiosity and expanding your creativity, VR design should be mindful of the human component. It’s not only about the system's limits but also those of the people who will be immersed in it. When VR is used as a learning medium, a lot of genuine empathy needs to go into creating courses.

1. Designing for physiological comfort

Yes, VR can be very engaging and exciting. Yet, comfortable is not an adjective that is often used to describe this experience, mainly because it’s complicated to make it so. I have tried several VR headsets myself, and they are on the heavy side.

As a content designer, you can’t influence that, but there are other things to consider for a pleasant experience. Since the first issue is the gear’s weight, you should keep the course modules short, engaging, and packed with the essential information.

Furthermore, since VR experiences can be a bit confusing, you should provide a fixed reference point (such as a horizon line, for example) that stays with the user as they move. If possible, the learner should be control movement (zooming in/out, speeding, jumping) to avoid motion sickness.

2. Considering ergonomics

Technology can impact our well-being. From the simple “text neck” syndrome (neck pain caused by the extended use of smartphones) to the more complex carpal tunnel syndrome, there’s a lot we all have to be mindful of.

Certain angles of vision are more difficult to process than others. Learners may end up with a neck strain if they need to look around often. Cameras and perspectives need to act and change in ways that are consistent with natural head movements.

The ultimate goal of VR is imitating the natural interaction in the physical world rather than get people to adapt to a constructed reality. As the technology evolves, there will surely be standards for it but for now, you can find more information about the VR ergonomics in this article.

3. Minding environmental comfort

Since VR mimics the real world, people have similar reactions to spaces that are too large or too small. For example, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, or vertigo can be triggered in a simulation. That’s why you must understand scale and perspective when designing your VR modules. If the space is too big, users may get lost. If it's too small, it'll be hard to focus and a nightmare for claustrophobia sufferers.

Non-spatial add-ons like audio and light can help create the appropriate environment. Sound helps indicate movement, while lighting shows the right directions, thus preventing the user from getting lost.

It’s important not to fall into the trap of making everything "wow". Focus instead on creating an immersive yet comfortable environment that will aid the learning process.

4. Sounding just right

I mentioned sound as a good tool for rendering a lifelike experience. Since our senses are connected, simulating one triggers another. To compensate for the lack of touch, it’s essential to use the other senses for a complete experience.

Holophonic (or 3D) sound offers the most realistic auditory experience. We are generally used to stereo – sound coming from our left and right – with 3D sound, the learner can tell if the sound is coming from above, in front of or behind them.

Of course, this is a very simplistic description to get a general idea about how this works. For more in-depth knowledge of creating and working with 3D sound in VR design, read this.

Closing thoughts

While VR is by no means in its infancy, it’s also a relatively new and developing field. We now know enough about it and how it works to realize that its immersive potential is not only beneficial for gaming but can also be a fantastic tool for online course creators. The key is to focus the VR design on the human component and learner needs rather than on stretching the limits of technology. It’s a question of having the tech accommodate people, not asking them to adapt to it.

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