eLearn Australia - custom elearning solutions


Robots, rooms, reductions: The brave new world of telepresence for online learning

Tuesday 21st January, 2020

One of the challenges for remote workers is feeling connected to their managers and/or colleagues who may be located thousands of kilometres away.

Telepresence provides a solution to this problem.

What is telepresence?

Telepresence is the use of technology to make a person feel they are present in a remote location.

It is most commonly practiced today as a form of high-end videoconferencing that uses technology to increase a participant’s sensory experience so that they “feel” they are present in a meeting.

A regular videoconference meeting generally involves you staring at a screen where the other meeting participants appear as talking heads.

With telepresence technology (through glasses or wrap-around screens):

  • The remote meeting room fills your visual field.
  • Other participants appear life size.
  • As you turn your head your perspective changes.
  • Microphones and speakers are positioned around you and the room so that you perceive your colleagues voices as coming from their image beside, behind or in front of you.
Person wearing virtual reality goggles

It’s a supercharged surround-sound and -visual experience.

Telepresence’s possibilities are growing exponentially with advances in augmented and virtual reality, as well as robotic technologies. With the addition of other sensor devices – such as gloves and robotics – you not only see and hear your remote environment but can also feel and manipulate objects.

How is telepresence being applied in education and training?

In education, telepresence robots allows children who can’t physically attend school to feel more engaged in learning and connected to their schoolmates.

In training, telepresence helps dispersed teams connect and learn when there are travel time and budget limitations.

It’s also been adopted in healthcare as telemedicine, assists remote technicians with maintenance and is revolutionising and democratising science in its application in field in oceanographic research.

Learner using screens and controllers to facilitate learning

How can telepresence benefit online learning?

Telepresence opens a world of possibilities for online learning.

Imagine being able to touch and practice on high-end medical equipment or engage in real-time workplace learning scenarios?

Students would be able to learn, interact and connect with each other from remote locations.

How can telepresence help address climate change and reduce our carbon emissions?

But it’s the impact that telepresence has on business’ carbon emissions and climate change which really marks it out as a game changer.

Telepresence was identified by Project Drawdown as one of the 100 viable solutions to climate change.

According to the Project, if 140 million business trips are replaced by telepresence by 2050 then carbon emissions will be reduced by 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Plus the added benefits of “cost savings from avoided travel, less gruelling schedules for employees, more productive remote meetings, the ability to make decisions more quickly, and enhanced interpersonal connection across geographies.” (1)

Telepresence may not only help us learn and connect in the future but might just help save the planet.

Book cover: Robert E Heinlein: Waldo

Where did telepresence come from?

The concept of telepresence was inspired by 1942 science-fiction short story by Robert Heinlein where a genius inventor is able to control machines from the earth’s orbit through gloves, harness and viewer that allow him to see and manipulate objects in a remote location.


1 Project Drawdown: Transport: Telepresence