Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why 3-D? Interactivity can't be had in 2-D -- and neither can its improved learning and collaboration

In my day-to-day conversations with customers, analysts, partners, and peers, a common theme that comes up is, Why 3-D? Why are 3-D virtual environments better than 2-D environments for collaborating, meeting, teaming, and learning? What can 3-D offer that 2-D just cannot match? I find similar answers arising out of these conversations to explain the business advantages of 3-D virtual worlds.

One of the primary ones is that 3-D enables interactivity that can lead to benefits such as higher retention rates, improved learning, increased collaboration, more productive brainstorming, and more efficient conflict resolution.

2-D Web conferences are mostly one way, or "half-duplex." Someone has the token, and they can talk and control the content. When someone else wants to interact, they get the token and then they talk or manipulate the document.

While ProtoSphere has this mode of operation too -- in our app-share, for example -- general communications are interactive, or "full-duplex," and ad hoc, like gathering at the water cooler. Think of how much people learn in those water cooler conversations (though the office gossip might not always be so useful).

Same idea holds true for learning. One-way learning consists of the instructor talking and leading learners through the material in the way she/he feels most appropriate. And we can do that in ProtoSphere too. However, the 3-D space lets users go through the material and learn in different ways (i.e., via exploration), depending on their learning style.

This also contributes to the higher retention rates that we are seeing, such as those experienced by one global pharmaceutical company when it used ProtoSphere to build a 3-D social network to significantly improve its onboarding process for new MBA candidates.

Interactivity also leads to the "social leveling" we see ProtoSphere users talking about. An example of this is when another pharmaceutical firm created the industry's first virtual poster session in ProtoSphere. Junior scientists approached senior ones, business people interacted with scientists, and employees of one generation engaged with newbies.

All of this can eliminate silos and break down cultural barriers that often impede collaboration and productivity. At the same time, users are able to get a glimpse of the person’s background with a right-click on their avatar to see their social profile.

The benefits of interactivity are also felt when it comes to brainstorming and conflict resolution. University of North Carolina researchers identified in a recent study two challenges when groups try to collaborate using video conferencing: Video conferencing is not the best environment for brainstorming, nor conflict resolution.

Why? Because, as the researchers found, people can't interact easily, bounce ideas off one another, negotiate, and bargain. Video conferencing tends to fall under the token-passing phenomenon we see with 2-D Web meetings. 3-D environments, on the other hand, lend themselves to the collaboration necessary to brainstorm and solve problems efficiently and effectively.

There are many other reasons we hear amidst our circles as to why 3-D environments have the advantage over 2-D environments. We'll continue to share them with you on the blog. And as always, feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

1 comment:

Karl Kapp said...

Another valuable aspect of 3D environments as opposed to 2D environment is the "sense of self" that a person gets when they have an avatar. In 2D environments, there are disembodied voices and a list of names.

In a 3D environment it really feels as if you are "there" interacting with another person. You keep the same social distance, you follow each other around and you interact much more naturally than through a 2D connection bounded only by slides and voice.

Since we spend our lives in a 3D environment, it is hard to underestimate the importance of 3D experiences to enhance collaboration, the feeling of belonging and the sense of "being there" that 3D environments afford.

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