Virtual reality has demonstrated its ability to transform and drive results in the learning and training arena–and the world is starting to pay more attention. From traditional classroom environments to extreme training situations, VR reduces investment and increases enrichment across a range of industries. When it comes to absorbing, retaining, and applying new skills, VR delivers distinct advantages.
Classic teaching and training methods convey content to students according to the instructor’s preferred style of learning. These styles are classified as visual, auditory, tactical, and kinesthetic. But what if multiple styles of learning could be satisfied simultaneously? With VR learning, this is a new reality.
Although recent research raises questions about the utility of addressing certain learning styles, the fact remains that people have strong preferences for acquiring new skills and information. VR experiences access all the senses, a variety of preferences can be satisfied and delighted. It offers the ability to simultaneously reach students across at least three of the four classical learning styles. Among education specialists in particular, there is universal agreement on VR technology’s effectiveness and potential to breathe new life into traditional teaching methods.
New skills require practice. But what if the skill is heart surgery? And what if you need to be able to strategize a response to an enemy ambush on the fly? Simulations have been part of professional and military training as long as anyone can remember, but it’s never been easy or cheap to set them up for the sake of practice. VR training options offer controlled, easily generated environments that allow for the repetition students need to master a new skill or process.
When it comes to a classroom environment, students often have trouble engaging for long periods of time with limited stimulation. But when the classroom suddenly transforms into the Amazon or the oval office, enthusiasm is inevitable. A VR environment encourages information retention by offering students fresh, immersive learning opportunities. With customizable sessions, the responses of the teaching module can also evolve as the students improve and retain.
Medical students need to practice procedures without potentially harming a patient through inexperience, or even curiosity. Firefighters and military personnel need to learn how to respond in dangerous situations without risking their lives.
VR experiences can build extreme environments and situations, allowing users to test and learn without severe consequences. This not only eliminates risk, liability, and injury; it also allows users to more easily train and master procedures, so, when the time comes, they’re prepared for the real deal. Added bonus: With greater safety, comes fewer costs.
VR is tied to results. It’s possible to collect metrics from virtual education, showing the improvement in outcomes. Anything learned — whether facts or skills — can be tested, and an organization can easily compare current methods to a virtual learning course. VR modules also provide feedback during the training period, so instructors can iterate. Ryan James, CTO of Pear Medical, states: “They are lowering the barrier to entry for using VR. People don’t have to crack open their piggy bank to start changing the world.”
Savings also take the form of:
Equipment longevity. Heavy equipment doesn’t have to be brought to a special training location, or suffer wear and tear as numerous trainees learn how to operate it.
Logistics reduction. Firefighters don’t have to set buildings on fire to do the repetitious part of training. Instead, after virtual training, they can save the test fire environment for a “final exam” type of situation.
Time savings. If you want to learn French, living in France is the fastest way to do it. It’s almost difficult to not retain or remember information when you’re fully immersed. It just happens faster.
Continued learning and increased efficiency are staples for any company or institution worth its salt. Absorbing material quickly, optimizing application, and streamlining interaction/workflow directly influences the bottom line.
VR is already making headway in a range of industries.
VR in healthcare is currently one of the hottest tech topics. The potential for cost and liability savings is a major driver, but the opportunity to enhance medical training and education is even bigger with:
Virtual Reality Labs. The University of Washington is adding a VR lab to its Health Sciences Library. UW is one of eight university libraries that offer or are building a virtual reality lab.
Surgical Learning. Students work on 3D models that are second to none other than an actual patient. In the words of Andre Chow, a surgeon who founded the VR training tool called Touch Surgery, “The first time I learned to take an appendix out was literally by taking an appendix out.”
Patient-Specific Anatomy. Surgical simulation company, Immersive Touch, uses VR headsets with haptic (tactile) feedback, and they take the training one step further with patient-specific anatomy. This means the surgeon is able to simulate a high-risk procedure, specific to a particular patient circumstance.
ER Training. Ten hospitals in the Baltimore/DC area use virtual training modules for emergency room personnel. Previously, complex mannequins were used for simulations, costing as much as $250,000. The VR program incurs a cost of $700 for headsets plus associated software. These investments will be amortized as more training modules are produced.
VR offers vision into a world of “what could be”. For this reason, VR is poised for tremendous impact on a global scale in the rehabilitation industry. Gamers have enjoyed the use of avatars for years, but neurologists are now exploring therapeutic benefits of virtual bodies.
University of Southern California researchers suggest “if you give someone an avatar with long arms in the virtual world, they interact with the real world as if they had long arms.” Stroke victims, for example, who are unable to use their arms and legs are regaining those capacities after experiencing normal limb movement within the VR environment.
Heavy equipment OEMs are offering virtual reality simulations to train employees on highly-specialized equipment. In addition to enhanced learning, VR training offers savings on machine depreciation and wear and tear. Other benefits include:
Attracting a younger generation of operators. Ditch Witch, maker of large horizontal directional drills, uses a VR training simulator that lets novice drivers sit in a simulated cab and learn how to operate the equipment. Ditch Witch Director of Training, Greg Wolfe noted, “Contractors need to find available talent and utilizing VR capabilities in training and other areas provides a direct link to emerging talent.”
Efficiency. Michigan business association, Automation Alley, published a report demonstrating efficiencies of virtual learning. VR training reduced full course machine operator training time by eight months, yielding a 33% savings in training costs.
The corporate training industry is enormous and growing rapidly: The total U.S. spend on training amounted to over $90 billion in 2017, with each large company spending an average of $17 million. This investment reflects a $3 million increase over 2016 spending.
A new crop of VR courses provide interactive feedback on skills ranging from public speaking to networking to leadership communication. When someone needs to make a presentation at a high-stakes event, VR lets them practice in a virtual auditorium in front of an audience. They can even upload their own presentation slides into the VR experience, to get more comfortable working with their material.
Learning with virtual reality is an exciting option for K-12 classrooms, and more districts are making it a reality. Currently, VR field trip opportunities are a main focus for educators. Using headsets, students can explore the Great Barrier Reef, take a virtual walk on Mars–the options are limitless. Even otherwise cost-prohibitive domestic destinations to state capitols or museums can be options for cash-strapped school districts.
Subject-intensive modules are also gaining in interest. History teachers are discovering “time-travel” opportunities as more and more content is produced. One middle school history teacher, for example, took her class on a walk through a simulated World War I battlefield trench, complete with artifacts that would have existed there at the time.
Education isn’t the only industry with field trips. With VR’s ability to transport and transform, more businesses will be able to attend continued education events and participate in discussions in more immersive, personal ways–without having to brandish the corporate card. It may also serve to create a better platform for remote employees.
The benefits of implementing VR learning systems range from systematic and monetary to personal and aspirational–which is what makes it universally appealing and a topic of conversation. It’s important to note that the mission behind VR learning is not to devalue or terminate teaching and human interaction. It’s more about offering solutions and breaking down barriers inherent to traditional methods, while providing a more accessible, customizable learning experience.
To learn more about VR business benefits, check out VR Training: 6 Tangible Business Benefits.