Is the metaverse really all it’s cracked up to be?

3 main uses involve communication, education and emotional intelligence, says expert

Is the metaverse really all it’s cracked up to be?

It takes vision to develop and launch a product that no one has a clear immediate use for. Mark Zuckerberg did it with Facebook in 2004, and with the tech giant now called Meta, he's seeking to repeat it with the metaverse; by being both the foundational technology to deliver it to while also trying to grab the naming rights.

Many have been quick to call this venture a failure because it hasn’t yet seen the traction you’d expect of a $36-billion investment. But Zuckerberg is not looking for a quick win – he’s pioneering a new digital landscape across social, commercial, educational and enterprise that’s set to pay dividends down the track.

How far down the track? Well, it depends on your definition of the metaverse. The 2022 Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies places the metaverse on the start of its journey up the hill, to the "Peak of Inflated Expectations", but this chart also has Web3 at the very top of the mountain and about to plummet into the "Trough of Disillusionment.”

Figuring out the potential

And that’s the metaverse’s current challenge: people are still figuring out its definition, its potential, what's hype and what's not. Some argue the metaverse is Web3 while others say its crypto and blockchain merged with the internet in 3D via virtual and augmented reality.

Just like Facebook in its early days, the metaverse needs time to grow from its founder’s vision to a space that people use. Considering that VR & AR are already mainstream — with organisations using these formats to save and make money from a training, sales and communications perspective – the metaverse certainly has a future, and from here, it will take a comparatively short time to find new commercial opportunities.

With this in mind, I expect it’ll take about three years to see popular adoption of the metaverse. That’s enough time for big organisations to bring their people on board and for the hardware to become accessible enough to be in common use.

One Australian company has boldly jumped into the metaverse, using virtual reality to onboard 2,000 employees in a little under a year, without a Zoom or Teams meeting in sight.

Communication advantages

The three main uses I see for the metaverse are in communication, education and developing emotional intelligence.

We already have evidence of how the metaverse will surpass videoconferencing and will become important for decentralised work. Many large-scale multinationals have management and executive teams spread across the world; the metaverse allows people to conduct high-level conversations quickly and efficiently with spatial sound that’s superior to videoconferencing.

Spatial sound gives the same auditory experience of being in the same room as someone, including directional cues and authenticity of voice.

As a communication tool, it’ll support shared knowledge and information, accessibility and design thinking, including brainstorming. For instance, consider the ability to host a 3D model in augmented reality that everyone can look at simultaneously. The fact that Microsoft and Accenture have partnered with Meta while detractors have scoffed indicates there’s more to the future of this space than Zuckerberg’s ego.

Training sector

The second key use will come from the education and training sector where frontline workers will use VR training to increase speed to proficiency and build fundamental core skills faster and more effectively than traditional 2D methods. There is widespread data-driven evidence to support the notion that VR-immersive learning generates knowledge retention.

VR is for when you want to learn fast in a controlled environment – put it on and get turbocharged knowledge. Forget the novelty of VR games for a moment – it’s not for relaxing.

What will help is that VR is a cheaper solution than in-person training once you scale. A study by PwC found the number of learners determines the cost value. At 375 learners, VR training achieved cost parity with classroom learning, 3,000 learners saw VR training 52% more cost-effective than classroom and at 1,950 learners, it achieved cost parity with e-learning.

That means when you’re a big brand aiming for consistency, VR will give you that consistency as well as fast upskilling and better training retention. Walmart in the US has trained one million workers through VR and now we’re working with our client, Woolworths, to follow suit here in Australia.

Emotional intelligence

The third way that it's changing our world is through developing an individual's emotional intelligence.  This couple with the ability to be adaptable, also known as an agility quotient (AQ), will be a major part of the way we work and socialise. VR allows people to develop this in a psychologically safe environment, for example, allowing them to play through scenarios that teach the nuances of interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds, or helping us identify and address unconscious bias, racism, sexism, homophobia, and microaggressions in the office.

It can also be used to enhance interpersonal skills such as sales. Team members can use VR to familiarise themselves with different customer behaviours and hone their pitch without the risk of jeopardising real customer relationships.

It’s natural for any new technology to have its detractors. To the shortsighted, Meta might look like Zuckerberg’s Second Life, but for those who understand its potential, it’s an important tool that is already creating value, and who's future impact will be significant and lasting.

Angus Stevens is CEO and co-founder of Start Beyond. Start Beyond was recognized as one of the Best Companies to Work for in Australia. Read the full article in 5-Star Employers special report.

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