Immersive experts: Q and A with Olivia Lory-Kay

Ahead of our Remixing Reality session Senior Consultant Olivia Lory Kay shares her story and explores the exciting future of immersive for learning.


Hi Olivia! Can you tell us a bit about your background in immersive?

My background in immersive is within theatre. I left New Zealand and moved to Germany, working between Berlin and Karlsruhe at the Centre for Art and Media (ZKM). The ZKM was home of a lot of early proprietorial technology exploration, across arts and the sciences. A lot of the pioneers of what became VR converged around the institute.

So, that was my first experience of immersive – big audio-visual installations with interactions coded into them but taking place in rooms (and in one instance across robots) rather than through head mounted displays.

I then left that world and got involved in more standard film practices, working in documentaries for TV, short form drama and then marketing and communications filmmaking. The communications agency I worked for bought one of Palmer Luckey’s first Oculus prototypes before it was acquired by Facebook and I thought ‘Oh, ho, this all looks very familiar.’ (The ZKM had a museum filled with early versions of VR.)

I could see that the worlds I’d been involved in during their early experimental phases were going to go mainstream, and that screen-based film media were going to evolve quickly.

I then took up a position at immersive studio INITION (where Mike also worked) working between strategy and business development. It felt like coming home, except things weren’t taped together and the code was a lot less glitchy!

I’ve wanted to keep working between visual communications and emerging technologies and XR (extended reality) is the perfect playground.

What was your first, best or most memorable encounter with immersive content?

I have a rather eclectic selection: video installations by pioneers like Bill Viola, Tacita Dean and Steve McQueen – at an Imax seeing Avatar, and more recently at INITION with the Philharmonia’s The Virtual Orchestra.

On projects I’ve worked on personally: taking an immersive experience inspired by Philip Treacy’s Spatium to South by Southwest’s VR cinema in 2017 and seeing people’s reaction.

In terms of VR content making a difference, it must be Cornerstone Partnership’s ‘Being Me’ – a VR experience designed to help people understand the impact of trauma on children.

Why did you decide to take what you’d learned in your career into the field of L&D?

My experience working with Cornerstone Partnership and prior to that, with Rotary International and Unicef on VR content to raise awareness about some of the really very difficult problems we face as a global society.

Through those projects I saw how organisations could work in a nimble way, get quickly ahead of the technology curve, and bring stories to the world in a way that really makes an impact. We are so saturated with content – immersive enables an emotional connection when you can be ‘in the moment’ and experience something for yourself.

The impact of that can stay with you and actually change what you might think or do. For learning and development currently, that is a huge advantage.

How does immersive change the way we produce digital learning content?

The way we think about and produce content, be that in learning or communications, clusters around practices from either the web (screen-based interactions), TV and other time-based media, or print (the written word).

Immersive has a totally different DNA, fusing theatrical conventions with film and then racing ahead to a world where connectivity is ambient.

Think practically about one point: how do you move a story on when there is no ‘edit’? One solution is that audio becomes your cue. It is a very different way of thinking about production, but much closer in reality to our natural modes of communication – I hear a sound, I turn…

There’s a huge opportunity to bring some of this thinking to L&D – to step outside the conventions of ‘digital vs face-to-face’ and look for blends that work in worlds where content is seamlessly abundant.

Integrating biometric data will be another huge step in creating realistic and resonant narratives – my heart beats faster, the story moves on, or adapts depending on my mood…

There are all sorts of questions about ethical design when we have such an enhanced ability to influence the learner. We are working with some pioneers in this space and that future looks very exciting.

What do you think the future holds for immersive learning content, one, five or ten years from now?

It might sound boring, but I think 5G is going to be the game changer for immersive. Once the infrastructure catches up with what content creators have been dream-designing for, then that merging of physical and digital worlds can become a reality (excuse the pun!) In five-years that will be mainstream.

Ten years from now I think the term ‘immersive’ will be as redundant as the word ‘digital’ will become (see Mike’s point about a post-digital world). We won’t differentiate immersive content or experiences from any other experience because the way we interact and access information will be immersive by default.

‘Learning’ is something that is also likely to be baked into the fabric of day-to-day work life, rather than something that we ‘do’ as something separate to how we live our lives.

If you think Google replaced the idea of going to ‘do research’ (outside of professional researchers or academia) – I think learning could well go the same way.

As systems move to become more and more real-time, adaptive feedback is going to be more important to enhance performance than current models of reflective practice. Writing and designing for emotional intelligence to develop the soft skills necessary for success in the new economic cycle will be key, and we are currently getting ahead on that.

How access to the technologies and their benefits become more democratic and inclusive is a whole other question. I hope the inequalities we see now in terms of access and representation will be addressed. That’s up to all of us working in the field to try and advance.

Those questions and horizons notwithstanding, it’s important to remember humans are storytelling animals and there will always be space for powerful, inspiring narratives told well. These are new tools to help us do just that.

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