Published in Spring 2023
News about the metaverse feels polarized: The aficionados and the skeptics tend to speak the loudest. But the center, where the critical (and curious) mass lives and wonders, is where the most interesting conversations arise.
If you’re dwelling in this gray area, you might have questions like: What’s in the metaverse for learning and development (L&D)? Will the metaverse outlive other technologies that have come and gone? Will we really spend a significant portion of our lives there — and how fulfilling will that be?
If we follow the progression of the internet from its read-only beginnings (Web 1.0) through its read, write and social iteration (Web 2.0), it’s clear that the rising immersive internet (Web 3.0, home of the metaverse) is the newest evolution. And just as we’ve answered the carpe diem call to engage our team members, clients and community on social media, the time has come to meet them in the metaverse.
The Recursive Advantage
Having trouble picturing where the metaverse is headed? You’re not alone.
When a technology is new, it’s impossible to imagine how it will evolve. What we can anticipate is that the value of the metaverse will increase as more people join.
As the network grows, metaverse technology will evolve through a recursive process, which “unearth[s] or create[s] new user behaviors” and innovations — just as social networks, streaming services and mobile apps evolved from our earliest web-surfing behaviors.
Recursiveness creates a powerful advantage for organizations — and their L&D partners. We don’t need to be passive spectators as the metaverse’s landscape, governance and purpose emerge. This is our moment to jump in and build the foundations of a metaverse that aligns with values that matter to us.
Life in the Metaverse
The metaverse has much in common with real life: It’s “a shared, computer-generated world where people socialize, work, and play,” writes David Chalmers in his book, “Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.” In that (often 3D) virtual space, we have a first-person “sensation of ‘being there,’” or a sense of presence, writes Jeremy Bailenson in his book, “Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do.”
We experience that sense of presence thanks to a consistent avatar through which we move, explore and interact in the metaverse. Our avatar might be realistic, stylized or completely fanciful. For example, a futuristic robot, a mythical creature or even a crustacean. Avatars offer benefits for inclusion as well, leveling the playing field for individuals living with different bodies and abilities. Technology strategist Mark van Rijmemam characterizes this opportunity as a “Cambrian explosion of identity.”
Organizations and brands also have consistent digital spaces, or digital twins, that duplicate or enhance their physical buildings. Major brands such as Gucci, Adidas, and Hyundai have created digital twins — as well as exciting experiences — in the metaverse. But organizations in a wide range of industries can benefit from the real-time state modeling digital twins offer. Digital twins allow us to prototype and test before implementing real-world changes to production facilities, factory layouts, cities and ecosystems.
Digital twins offer a safe, authentic environment to practice hands-on, high-stakes skills without harming people, property or relationships. Whether learners need to de-escalate an aggressive patient in a hospital setting or eliminate hazards in an industrial garage, they receive immediate, visceral feedback on their performance. And because a 3D environment and a sense of presence are more natural and intuitive than 2D screens, learners leave the experience with transferable skills — and retain them for the long term.
Learning in the Metaverse
Full-body interactions in a 3D environment are incredibly effective for learning performance-based tasks — from fighting fires to de-escalating a challenging customer. And thanks to spatial audio, movement tracking and voice analysis features in virtual reality (VR) headsets, metaverse learning experiences are incredibly adaptive and responsive to nuance. Situations unfold differently every time, demonstrating to learners how minute variations in their actions or tone of voice affect outcomes.
What’s most exciting about learning in the metaverse is that it allows you to increase access to learning, your industry and your organization. Inviting more people to meet you in your digital twin can help overcome the limitations of regions, mobility, access and physical ability.
The Next Evolution of Remote Work
If the first wave of remote work has opened a global talent pool for organizations, the metaverse will broaden the reach of recruitment and skilling by orders of magnitude. For example, L&D and human resources (HR) might team up to meet candidates in our organization’s digital twin. There, candidates can not only tour our organization and learn about our industry, but also collect role-relevant skills — perhaps even complete a digital internship — and showcase their abilities during the recruitment process. Thanks to continuity and interoperability, HR can review candidates’ progress, achievements and — once hired — professional development.
That’s just one example of how organizations might put their digital twins — and other metaverse assets — to work. Our people are already imagining many more use cases. Recent data show that 52% of employees are interested in performing some of their work in the metaverse over the next year.
With our constant focus on the future of work, L&D professionals are the perfect facilitators of the metaverse conversation. The following steps will help you gauge your organization’s needs and readiness:
- Conduct informal research: Ask your people how they see themselves working, gathering and learning in a metaverse environment.
- Ask your stakeholders about their views on the metaverse and whether, when and how your organization might leverage this rapidly evolving technology to:
- Solve business challenges.
- Meet clients where they are (or want to be).
- Make your processes more human and inclusive.
- Attract the next generation of employees and clients.
- Review your learning needs.
- Which — if any — learning experiences should be virtualized, and to what extent? (Bailenson’s four criteria make for a great guidepost).
- Could learners benefit from the embodiment and sense of presence the metaverse offers?
- Connect the dots: Moving a learning program to the metaverse requires a long-term investment. Maximize the return on investment of your metaverse learning strategy by building asset sharing into your plans.
- Review your learning needs.
Why L&D? The Carpe Diem Call
L&D folks are the ultimate middlepeople: We speak the language of leaders, stakeholders, subject matter experts (SMEs) and learners — and we help them hear each other’s concerns. This ability to translate whys, “what’s in it for me” (WIIFMs) and where we’re going makes us ideal hosts for the metaverse conversation. We have the power — and responsibility — to keep challenging our colleagues and leaders to create a metaverse presence.
To reap the benefits of the recursive effect — and the dividends of early adoption — organizations need to move into the metaverse quickly. That requires letting go of our long development runways for development and production — and layers of signoffs.
Michelle Klein, vice president of global business marketing at Meta, describes the “perfection fatigue” Gen Z users feel when presented with overworked, overly slick online content. To engage the next generation of learners, workers and creators, Klein encourages organizations to create a presence that is “more homey, less perfect, more real and more organic.”
It might feel uncomfortable putting a minimum viable product out there in the (virtual) world, but our audience wants to see our rougher drafts. They want to see — and connect with — the humans behind the organizations. If you’re not sure yet how that might look and feel, seek out metaverse experiences and explore what’s possible. You’ll find a wealth of adjacent inspiration from other individuals, organizations and fellow L&D professionals.