Seeing soldiers in simulated war zones, firefighters putting out virtual five-alarm fires, or surgeons performing emergency procedures on digital patients. These virtual reality training applications provide a Ready Player One-worthy thrill. But what about SaaS companies, auto part assembly facilities, or large insurance corporations?
Almost any type of business works to improve employees’ (aka students, trainees) ability to retain and apply new information and skills. But the potential for long term educational transformation through this tech is undeniable.
One in every three SMBs in the U.S. will be piloting VR employee training programs by 2021, according to Capterra research, and, as a result, they expect their new hires to reach full productivity 50% faster.
It’s hard for companies with VR training–and other XR–capabilities to communicate their general, tangible business results. But within the challenge, lies the opportunity. Immersive, experiential learning offers real deal benefits, across all industries.
1. Engagement Building
The inherent delight of fully-immersive experiences can capture the attention of even the most disinterested employee. Namely, because the VR training experience is never a one-way street. Those in training are never in passive positions, where they merely absorb and repeat instructions.
VR training encourages input, by turning the learner, or “student”, into an active user who has to physically and mentally engage to participate. Volkswagen Group has now integrated over 30 VR simulations in its new initiative to train 10,000 employees worldwide. Although some of the training is geared toward assembly and mechanical skills, a good portion is dedicated to customer service and new employee on-boarding. It’s important to note that, while immersed in a virtual world, distraction is nearly impossible. It’s pretty easy to start multi-tasking while trying to “get through” those traditional compliance training modules. A lengthy PowerPoint presentation almost begs for something to pass the time. VR training users are focused participants who can’t ignore the task at hand.
2. Content Retention
When training content activates and appeals to tactile, visual, and auditory learners, information retention promotes next-level confidence. VR experiences flow through every sensory channel simultaneously, forming more solid memories for future recall and application. At BP, they institute VR drilling operation training. David Lobdell, a BP competence assessment manager observes, “[Drilling teams are] building the muscle memory to handle these emergencies so that they can say, ‘I know how to do this. I did this in the simulator. I made this mistake in the simulator; I’m not going to do it again out here in operations’.” Retention begets efficiency. Capterra found that employees retained twice as much from VR trainings as they did from traditional video training. When new KFC employees learned their chicken frying techniques in VR, they acquired the skill in half the time it used to take.
You don’t create a great new website without exploring options and testing on a staging site. Similarly, VR training promotes testing and creative thinking because it offers a safe space. Your biggest thinkers and “idea guys” can go for it–challenging current processes and procedures with new thoughts and approaches. This is how something new can precipitate something better. Rearranging system components into new configurations, for example, with no risk of negative consequences. Regardless of how high-stakes or complex the business functions within an enterprise, fearless experimentation is essential for innovative problem-solving. The spirit of VR experimentation among social science researchers has led to a highly effective virtual training program, teaching employees to recognize and respond to workplace sexual harassment scenarios. This type of fluid, contextual training contributes to the agility and robust team unity crucial for today’s business wellness and success.
Photographic memories are no more common now than they were prior to digital solutions. In all cases, regardless of technological applications, learning depends on repetition, and this is another area where VR training excels. Trainees can repeat their simulated training sessions as many times as they need to, with more flexibility around when and where. VR designer, Kyle Daughtry, talks about his work with Exxon Mobil’s Digital Garage: “We want to create events over and over again, so that muscle memory is just instant. As soon as we get in the environment, we know what to do.” Rehearsal is especially valuable for situations that occur rarely, but require confident responses on the spot. For instance, if an engineer knows she has to reconfigure wiring on a new project, she can go back to a previous VR experience that was based on her work for a different company and refresh her knowledge. This reduces the time for the actual work to be done and also decreases the potential for error.
5. Real-Time Feedback & Incorporation
Training the trainer: VR training builds competencies for instructors, as well as students. Sharing a virtual environment fosters empathy, allowing the trainer to walk around and truly observe students as they experience the training scenarios. As an instructor, you can annotate mistakes and provide constructive feedback in real-time. This way, the student can make corrections while your instruction is still fresh in their minds. Additionally, the training session can also be recorded and played back later, in 3D and/or in audio, for student and/or an expert trainer review. Continuous, evolving feedback is especially valuable when people are being trained in soft skills such as public speaking or customer support. Automated tracking and analysis of trainees’ head or eye movements adds another layer of customized feedback.
6. Collaborative Training
The design process often involves input from multiple parties. If your design team members are in different locations, they generally have to take turns providing their input. When each individual has access to the shared VR environment, three-dimensional design can take place collaboratively. Also, more junior designers can interface more seamlessly with more senior mentors. Volkswagen is using virtual reality collaboration to evolve its automobile design. Working on this project, HTC VIVE’s General Manager Dan O’Brien comments “Executives are understanding they can save time and money. Their designers don’t all have to fly to Germany to meet in one room and talk about the design. They can go to a VR design room and talk collaboratively there.” VIVE has also launched a workforce collaboration tool called VIVE Sync where developers can create their own applications. Such shared virtual workspaces disseminate knowledge in a uniquely direct manner, creating a training dynamic that’s not available in any other format.
VR training is best suited to situations involving complex knowledge or specific/refined processes. Translation: Unless you have no useful information and operate without any defined process, your business, regardless of industry (or intensity) can drive better results with VR training. No one can deny that the sure-fire, best way to learn a new language is full immersion. Training isn’t in a vacuum, however. The business transformation argument always comes down to hitting KPIs: cost savings, decreasing human error, improved employee retention, higher rankings, etc. But as VR hardware costs and barriers to entry for application development continue to drop, the success metrics around immersive training methods will quickly indicate an order of magnitude return.