Binaural, or 3D audio, is a method of recording sounds using two microphones spaced as if they were the same distance apart as your ears. By recording and then playing back in the same binaural (two-ear) context, the sound becomes truly immersive— providing the user with a sense of presence which truly simulates the alternate reality. There are several examples of this technology, available and in crowd-sourcing. The Omni Pro Binaural Microphone made by 3Dio is one, and an example of the output can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgbriYWXKPs.

The importance of fully-immersive audio in an immersive learning experience is understated, presumably because stereo is considered adequate. But when representational fidelity is valued for maximum cognitive impact, should we really accept ‘good enough’? As we continue to understand the importance of presence to cognitive development, instructional designers must seek to create an environment that is believable enough to create a realistic physiological response. “…our brain is not a rash decision maker, and it is not easy to fool. It has developed the ability to localize sound through millions of years of evolution. To know by listening where a predator might be lurking or where prey can be caught is obviously crucial for survival. When sound cues are missing or contradicting, the brain becomes confused until it ultimately gives up the attempt to locate sound, and the scene collapses into our head.” (“3D audio…”, 2016, para 8)

When combined with a product like the OSSIC X, a set of headphones which actually calibrates to the user’s head and ear geometry, I would estimate the immersive experience to be doubled. To achieve the full experience, however, you need noise-cancelling earbuds/headphones. The problem with this solution is you lose the ability to interact with others in the room (i.e. instructor, co-trainee). For now, this solution either requires 3D audio in speakers (expensive and not realistic in portable training systems), or individual-level training. For this to be possible in team training or with simultaneous coaching, the product would need to be developed to integrate other live participants simultaneously in the audio experience.

Grab some headphones or earbuds and try it for yourself. What do you think? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA

References and other relevant links:
Omni Pro Binaural Microphone

Mauro, D. A., Mekuria, R., and Sanna, M. (2013) Binaural spatialization for 3D immersive audio communication in a virtual world. Proceedings of the 8th Audio Mostly Conference. Article 8. doi>10.1145/2544114.2544115

3D audio on headphones: How does it work? (2016). http://www.waves.com. Retrieved from http://www.waves.com/3d-audio-on-headphones-how-does-it-work

Image credit: https://www.viatechnik.com/resources/50-virtual-reality-technologies-in-architecture-engineering-and-construction/

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