I was introduced to a friend’s PlayStation 4 virtual-reality headset last weekend. Completely immersive and mesmerising, my heart pounded, my head spun and then my stomach churned — all in the span of 30 minutes.
After the experience (and an anti-nausea tablet), I started thinking of all the applications it could have in learning and development, and what it could mean to employee performance. I knew I’d gotten carried away however, when practically any corporate task I could summon in my head was ‘VR’d’ and used to ‘improve’ a learning experience (detecting spills for OH&S, really?). Pretty quickly, I realised I’d become intoxicated by the shiny-toy syndrome.
If you’re not aware of this phenomenon, the shiny-toy syndrome is typically characterised by wanting to own the latest toy (often irrespective of the practical or functional need) or getting hooked on the intense but very temporary high of the ownership, before moving onto something else.
To get a sense of how all-pervasive and dominant the syndrome can be, walk past a telecommunications store the night before a major smart phone release and behold the people queueing in any weather condition.
And, no one seems immune these days. It’s been surprising to have experienced an increasing number of conversations about higher-ended, premium learning solutions (like augmented and virtual reality) with companies that are:
- still developing in their maturity to learning
- already having to justify their (often small and shrinking) budgets
When inviting clients to share the source of their interest in high-end immersive technology for learning, no response has yet touched on effectiveness, fit-for-purpose or return-on-investment. Instead, the answers invariably amount to, “…because it looks cool,” “…it’s innovative,” “…our competitor is doing it,” or, “…because senior management asked why we’re not already doing it”. While not in all cases, it’s fair to say many clients have been afflicted with the shiny-toy syndrome.
Admittedly, these requests are nothing new. Many learning professionals spend a sizeable portion of their time managing and challenging (hopefully) stakeholders or clients’ self-diagnosis for a pre-determined learning solution, which regularly stems from the excitement of want, not need. While we too get excited about the possibilities of learning innovations, our research to utilise new technology in learning also lead us to critique its value and effectiveness.
And with an abundance of advancing, more immersive, ‘cooler’ technology options for learning solutions, there has never been a better time to exercise due-diligence in qualitative and quantitative analysis of a business’ need before proposing solutions.
This means more than just resisting the shiny toy syndrome or having an understanding of the myriad solutions available: it’s knowing where, when and how the technology excels – particularly in contrast to each other. Equally important too, is knowing how long the end product takes to develop, total costs and the measurable benefits of applying them to the requirement.
Taking into account all of these factors is critical for learning practitioners, particularly in instances where the solution proposal is predicted to fall short of the expectations involving shiny toys. Presenting the analysis, selection rationale and better outcomes will go a long way to help emphasise the dull lustre of the shiny toy.
And that’s not to say the shiny toy won’t be the answer, just make sure cooler heads prevail when cost, time, effort and outcome are all part of the equation driving the solution. Your stakeholders will thank you eventually.