The shiny-toy syndrome and how to save time and money

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:

  1. still developing in their maturity to learning
  2. 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.

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  1. Damien on February 22, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    An interesting article! Personally, I think that this possibly underplays why L&D professionals should at least consider the efficacy of VR and AR when it comes to learning.

    Firstly, we need to have a growth mindset and constantly consider the benefits of new technology. Are there improvements in the learner experience and performance outcomes new tech can help us deliver? When I consider this question in relation to VR/AR, though it’s a ‘shiny new toy’ my honest answer is I think this it can have a positive impact on both. But even if it doesn’t, I would prefer to test this rather than dismiss it out of hand.

    Looking at current applications, I can see this as driving real value, particularly AR in terms of performance support. Telcos are doing very clever things with AR, allowing an SME in one country to coach someone else in another country in real time. Employee A wearing Microsoft Hololens is coached by an SME who can see what they see and demonstrate to them what to do via Augmented Reality. I think this will become the norm in some fields.

    Using VR to train pilots is quite old hat now, and companies are using it to train truck drivers increasingly. Walmart are using it to train frontline staff.

    I personally think its a mistake to dismiss VR/AR as a shiny new toy. I think L&D people should be testing and learning. Great conversation to be having though. And the points about cost, time and effort are spot on. One thing I see missing today is the focus on scaleable and cost-effective deployment in large organisations. In my experience, most vendors are not addressing this at all today, and they need to. I don’t think its very hard or costly to develop VR content today, but to deploying it at scale is still a challenge.

    Very interested in what others have looked at or done in this space.

    • pta on March 7, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      Hi Damien,

      We love it when people take the time to post a dialogue on learning and share their ideas!

      Learning and performance teams absolutely need to push through new technological frontiers, prototype, test, refine and evaluate its use and value — it’s how organisations have progressed from rote-driven classroom sessions to an array of approaches, including virtual learning, online modules, 360 and interactive video, gamification, micro-learning, social learning, content curation, as well as AR and VR. We really are becoming spoiled for choice.

      In our blog, AR and VR have been used only as an example — given they’re the relatively new and exciting kids on the block. We’re huge proponents of the technology here at pta, excited in it being able to herald in a new age of potential in learning. Whatever the technology or toy, our key message is still steadfast with clients: don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, good analysis should always see the toy being played to its strengths, and not solely implemented because it’s wanted and desired.

      On the scalability front, we’re speaking to a number of providers in this space Damien, and we’re openly committed to sharing whatever we learn as a result.

      Thanks for responding : )

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