3D: Selling the Next Big Thing

3D in Education – There’s no place for jaundiced observations in serious business planning. That’s why I took time at InfoComm, ISTE and other conferences in 2014 to interview the big 3D players – some of the largest vendors selling to the education market four years ago, when the hype was at a high point. 

Now, however, these firms were not featuring 3D in their booths. Frankly, many of these sales people and manufacturers felt burned and betrayed by the educational market. They expected an avalanche of 3D sales and got only a dusting of 3D snow; they anticipated a gold rush of activity and only extracted a few sparse nuggets. Their viewpoint, as expressed to me, was simple: if 3D doesn’t generate considerable volume in sales in the education market, they must move on to new and more attractive opportunities. These well-meaning manufacturers, integrators, and sales reps live for an avalanche mindset, delighting in the hopes of selling the next big thing.

Unfortunately, these dear friends and colleagues fell for the trap illustrated in the well-travelled Gartner Hype Cycle. They built their business sandcastles in the ebb tide of inflated expectations, only to lose their faith as the flood tides of disillusionment washed away their expectations. The next big thing never panned out, at least in the realm of 3D in education.

But this unwholesome attitude somehow stuck in my craw. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that these hard-working folks were not interested in the heavy lifting required to push an innovation out of the trough of disillusionment upwards into Gartner’s slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivity. Again, they hoped for the downwards gravity of an avalanche, hoping the “next big thing” in education would rush at them, money in hand. No, selling 3D in education requires some heavy lifting. It requires hard work. And the heavy lifting is finally underway. Not by the manufacturers, the integrators, or the resellers – but by educators and other allies, as well. Here is how those of us at the bottom of the food chain are pushing slowly forward towards the slope of enlightenment:

Teachers. All across the country, creative and award winning teachers are learning how to teach with the new 3D medium. Dozens of educators like Holly Hillman (MN), Nancye Black (FL), and Kristin Donley (CO) are producing real learning results at the grass-roots level, always sharing their successes at educational conferences.

The ISTE 3D Network. The International Society for Technology in Education has formed a new personal learning network (a special interest group) dedicated to all things 3D. Membership has sky-rocketed in the 3D Network to more than 1,800 members, predominantly educators. These folks are taking on the gritty and determined work of capturing mindshare for 3D among educators through presentations, open houses, webinars and social media.

3D Presentations. A few educators are conducting in-depth 3D workshops for educators, roundly training the next generation of 3D customers/teachers in education. These workshops are few in number, but well attended and highly impactful.

The Coming EdTechNext Report on 3D. COSN’s respected Emerging Technologies committee produces annual reports on promising emerging technologies. One of the reports due out in early 2015, tentatively entitled “New Dimensions in Learning: Designing, Visualizing, and Making in 3D” will provide another healthy shot of vitamins for the heavy lifting required to promote 3D mindshare.

Vision Health. It has been four years since the original publication of See Well, Learn Well, the American Optometric Association’s seminal work on 3D, highlighting the boon of 3D for education and vision health. But now virtually all visual health practitioners (e.g. optometrists, visual therapists) in the US have been trained through professional in-service (AOA, COVD) and university preparation programs in using 3D for diagnosis and treatment of visual disorders. This goes a long way to dispel the myth that 3D is bad for students.

Waiting for Generation Z. Trying to sell 3D to Generation X is like waiting for Godot. I find that, as far as 3D is concerned, older generations can take it or leave it. And for those Generation Xers in educational leadership positions, their timorousness can easily translate into defensive gate-keeping. (Their current idea of the next big thing demands only  tablets and open educational resources.)  Not so with Generation Y and Z. They enjoy 3D and yearn for more. Some of the heavy lifting required to move 3D in educational promise will come from these younger generations as they acquire more influence over the passing of time.

Where to Go from Here

Still, the 3D industry itself can help. Moving beyond the hype of the exhibit hall booth, the industry can perform some of its own heavy lifting. The 3D industry can speed up the momentum of 3D in education.  How you ask? It can be done by:

  • simplifying the technology;
  • establishing reasonable technical standards;
  • training school-facing distribution and support people;
  • implementing insightful and transportable case studies;
  • developing interesting use cases;
  • conducting both action research and more rigorous educational research;
  • providing recognition programs and publicity for successful educators;
  • providing recognition and momentum for effective educational s3D content creation by carving out an educational ‘category’ in industry awards;
  • providing platform stability and consistency;
  • committing to unceasing drip marketing and consistent messaging via social media;
  • de-emphasizing hyperbole; and
  • talking to educators.

Yet, sadly, much of the industry is following hard after 4K and UHD in search of the next big thing for the education market. Déjà vu all over again. – Len Scrogan