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Tech must enhance physical experiences, not look to replace them

In his regular column for PreschoolNews.net, Gary Pope, ceo of Kids Industries explores how the applications for immersive technology are endless but they also need to enhance preschoolers’ physical experiences.

Learning experiences, retail experiences, digital experiences, customer experiences, user experiences, educational experiences, entertainment experiences… in 1998 Joseph Pine first said, in his book of the same name, that we live in the Experience Economy.

We maybe didn’t then, but we certainly do now. More than ever, we value the experiences we remember over the goods we possess. Creating connections, exploring emotions and enabling us to understand new ideas, concepts and information, experiences are invaluable.

So what then do we make of all the talk about the ‘metaverse’ experience and how it is going to affect the seamless integration of our physical and digital lives? First off, I think we need to remember that it’s just the internet with some extra bells and whistles. And secondly, even though today’s children are digital natives, this does not and should not mean we strap a VR headset to our toddlers and send them off into the metaverse unaccompanied.

The quite wonderful Sir Ken Robinson said that: “Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.” So, for preschoolers, at least in the developed world, a VR Headset isn’t technology – it’s just a tool to access content. And really, it is the quality of that content that is actually important, not the technology: when the two work together, that’s when the magic really happens.

Take a trip to Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience in London and you’re literally transported to the world that HG Wells created through an environment, actors, sound and media. You go much much deeper than that antiquated form of entertainment that we used to call a film could ever take you. Here, technology is used to enhance and augment a physical experience. The result is not only wonderfully entertaining, but it is also incredibly memorable. No, you can’t take the little ones (it’s suitable for those aged 10+), but I don’t doubt the creation of experiences at this level is already in the making for preschoolers. So, how will all this experience malarky impact them?

We make memories and understand the world by interpreting real world information – or data – almost instantaneously and then factoring that against what we already know to come up with a new understanding of the world around us and our place in it. In the first two years of life, children are engaged in what Jean Piaget called the sensory motor stage of development. Taking information – or data – from each of the five senses and scaffolding an understanding of the world around us, essentially by sticking things up their noses and making a right old mess as they get to grips with feeding themselves. This is how our species has started life since forever. And from here we’ve always learned by doing – by experiencing ourselves and by learning from the experiences of others.

And it is stories that we are really talking about. The sonic boom of audio for preschoolers is an excellent example of how technology is taking the most ancient experience of storytelling and bringing it up to the 21st century. The magic that exists between the teller and the listener is something that can never be bottled nor replaced – but, with a little thought it could be enhanced and that magic amplified 100-fold as technology further unlocks the imagination.

The applications for immersive technology are absolutely endless – especially for the two foundational pillars of a child’s life – education and entertainment. One such example of innovation, created by the Falcons Creative Group (an Orlando, Florida based experience design business), is The GameSuite™ Playsystem. 100% appropriate for all ages, it fuses wonderful storytelling in an immersive environment that is enhanced by advanced technology. And the best bit is that it’s inclusive. Intuitive gameplay and connected props means there are no lengthy instructions to review and no bulky devices to wear, just magic! In the olden days you might go bowling, ice skating or perhaps play a few rounds of crazy golf – but now you really can go on a pirate adventure, a flight to the moon or have an adventure with Knights in shining armour. And you can avoid the embarrassment of missing the pins entirely.

The possibilities for families and for young children are endless to both educate and entertain through physical, immersive experiences are awe inspiring, but we must never forget that the littlest, most important people in the world learn by doing; touching, smelling, seeing, hearing and tasting. And no matter where technology takes it will only ever be useful when it enhances the physical and never if it replaces it.

Gary Pope is ceo of Kids Industries and Children’s Ambassador for Products of Change.

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