While virtual reality (VR) training isn’t new, it has skyrocketed into the mainstream in a post-covid online era.
With physical interactivity severely limited, hands-on training has become challenging. Yet, learning by doing is an invaluable technique that companies should incorporate into the workplace.
There’s a Chinese proverb that summarizes the importance of experiential learning perfectly: “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” In other words, work-based experience enhances learning retention.
VR training adds a level of interactivity to workplace learning. Depending on what type of VR training the workplace has access to, it can be a simple simulation or involve in-depth, hands-on activities.
But, not all VR training is made equal. With today’s advancements, can technology keep up with the practical needs of workplace training?
There is a wide variety of careers that have access to VR training. Before Covid, the practicality of the requirements for VR training limited it to wealthier companies.
While Oculus, a VR division under Facebook, might be a more popular name in VR gaming, they’ve also launched VR training. Oculus for Business hosts programs that engage participants with operating routines and customer interactions.
The Hilton uses Oculus for Business as a tool to immerse corporate team members with the complexities of working in a hotel. VR training helps new employees practice simulated scenarios with virtual guests.
With over 400,000 team members, Hilton’s VR training allows greater access to the same quality of training. It also reduces costs and increases the speed of training sessions.
Osso VR helps surgeons practice procedures individually and as part of a team. It can create a variety of simulations, from the mundane to the unexpected. With more chances to test themselves, training surgeons improve confidence in their skills.
VR training can’t replace the experience doctors need to operate on living people. But it can allow surgeons more in-depth rehearsal before they get to the operating theatre.
Police departments, like the NYPD, can use VR training drills to recreate hazardous situations. The training allows them to practice responses to circumstances that they couldn’t effectively recreate in reality.
VR training, or Virtual Reality-Based Training (VRBT), can simulate real-life situations. But can a simulation prepare trainees for unexpected outcomes? For the wrenches thrown in their plans?
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus researched learning retention back in 1885 when he coined the term “the forgetting curve.” His curve theory suggests that humans forget learned skills over time. However, the strength of the memory impacts how long we hold on to it and how effectively we can recall it.
Ebbinghaus’s theory found that memories are longer-lasting when the memory is a) more significant to us and b) repeated. You might have heard you should repeat someone’s name to remember it or any number of repetition rules associated with learning.
While VR could allow trainees to repeat a simulation, chances are you might not have time for repeat training. What VR training can do is make a lesson have more significant meaning by letting you experience it.
Researchers have found that VR training helps people remember information. Immersive environments allow participants to use both visual and spatial memory.
The brain learns better when it’s able to create a fuller mental map. Oral instruction limits the five senses we can use to process new information. With VR, participants engage more and can make a stronger memory.
The global pandemic expanded the need for training at a distance, but it also changed the types of workplaces that use VR training.
Serious Labs has designed VR training for equipment industries. The company used gaming software to simulate complex scenarios. While the company began developing in March 2005 (under the name 3D Interactive), it drew more attention after the emergence of Covid restrictions.
Several unexpected careers have recently gained opportunities to use VR training. Here are a few surprising new areas:
Another drastic change is the training available for soft skills. Hard skills were the initial target for VR training. It’s simple enough to show how to open a program like Excel or explain which buttons to press on equipment for specific results. It’s trickier to simulate teamwork or communication skills.
PwC found that their VR training for soft skills trained employees four times faster than traditional classroom training. Their results showed that VR learners were more confident applying their learned experiences. The learners were also more engaged with their training.
The obstacles that stand in the way of VR training aren’t its effectiveness or even the availability of training specialties. Instead, it’s practical problems like cost, space, hygiene.
VR systems can be expensive. Larger companies might consider it cost-effective to purchase a $1000+ VR headset plus a computer powerful enough to operate the system. But it might not be feasible for smaller businesses.
Costs are dropping, particularly for older headset models. But if you’re buying more than one to train a few or several employees at once, prices can climb. With the latest Oculus Quest 2 headsets you can get a fully standalone system for $399 USD — with the enterprise business edition coming in at $799, but you will need to budget as well for accessories & yearly licensing of $180 that kicks in after the 1st year.
How much space is required will depend on the simulation. If you’re simulating the operation of large machinery, you need more space. VR training needs a dedicated space free of obstructions. This isn’t to say that you need a LOT of space, as with standalone devices you will only need enough room to move your arms freely.
In a post-Covid era, everyone is more aware of the impact of hygiene. If the workplace schedules multiple employees for VR training, it’s likely more than few people will be sharing the same headset. In a post-covid world, there may need to be modern solutions that work to solve this problem, thankfully there is one called CleanBox. CleanBox is a UVC light device that allows you to put your headset inside and then using a unique technology to kill bacteria with simply UVC light.
Unfortunately, not everyone can handle VR. Virtual reality sickness, like motion sickness, can range in severity. Some participants can adjust quickly, while others might not tolerate longer training sessions. While most of this has been solved in the latest headsets from Oculus – there will still be a small segment of the population that VR can cause problems for.
VR training has proven to be more effective than traditional training methods. It also allows for a greater variety of simulations. Participants can practice difficult or dangerous situations. VR has the potential to exceed the limits of physical simulations.
If businesses and employees can overcome the practical problems, VR training can significantly impact workplace learning.