Does Virtual Reality Fit Into Your Training Plan?
Articles about learning trends all mention Virtual Reality (VR) as one of the top technologies to watch going forward. There are promises of being able to create immersive and engaging training like never before. So bright is the future that the Association for Talent Development (ATD) thinks you should jump on board RIGHT NOW!
Yet while Virtual Reality does hold a lot of promise in corporate learning (as well as the education industry) don’t rush off. You should examine how and really why you would implement VR. You should also look at what outcomes you desire.
What is Virtual Reality?
In simple terms virtual reality, usually just called VR, is the use of both hardware and software technology to create a simulated environment. Typically a VR setting would include a special mask, a computer or smartphone, audio, and video. It uses three-dimensional effects to create an immersive experience. In some cases it might even include other wearable gear that would allow the learner to interact fully in the VR environment. It might even include other special equipment and dedicated spaces.
Using VR for Critical Training
VR can be used in training to simulate environments where learning “on-the-job” would create personal or corporate safety concerns. In fact, the military has been using simulations and virtual reality environments for some time now. The aviation industry has used flight simulators, a form of VR, for pilot training for years. Even some NFL teams use VR for training players, particularly with quarterbacks on seeing the field and decision making under pressure.
Not So Critical Uses
In some cases however it’s more a sideshow than providing real value. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken has implemented virtual reality as a training tool. In the interaction, the learner must follow the 5-step process of making fried chicken the Colonel’s way before they can leave the room. While it has some value as a training tool, it is primarily intended to attract Millennials to work at KFC. It has been suggested that generation tends to shun “menial” work like in restaurants. The thought is that implementing things like VR would make the company look more technologically attractive.
The Many Benefits of Virtual Reality Learning
Part of what has driven the fury over using virtual reality for training is the POTENTIAL for many advantages. I emphasize potential because much of it can be realized, even if not just yet.
Think about work situations where mistakes can be dangerous and possibly even fatal. Confined space entry. Electrical power. Nuclear. Construction.
Through the use of VR it’s possible to create environments where learners can fail and not suffer permanent damage. They can learn from their mistakes and (hopefully) not make them out in the field.
In cases like confined space entry, if the simulation is good enough, it’s possible to discover that someone is not a good fit for the job. Claustrophobia is generally not a good match with confined space entry.
Let’s take nuclear power operations as an example. Building a full-size, fully functional simulated operations center for training could be very costly. Instead, equip a learner with a virtual reality environment utilizing software, a headset, and hand-held devices. The cost is much less than building an entire room and it’s portable.
The flip-side of this is that a fully-immersive VR environment requires investment in much higher grade equipment and possibly even a room.
Portability plays a big factor here, as well as being software driven.
As a result of being software driven you can create records two ways. First, it’s possible for the software to record everything that happens in the simulation. You then are able to review that with the learner to analyze mistakes and explore strategies to avoid them. In addition, using standards like xAPI, permanent records of specific events are possible.
Potential for Greater Behavior Change
Overall, our goal of any training is to effect permanent behavioral change. Back in 2011, Stanford University conducted a study using virtual reality. Both groups in the study read about saving paper. One group simply watched a video about deforestation. Another participated in a VR exercise cutting down a giant Sequoia. While each group sat at a table afterwards to complete paperwork, the study leader “accidentally” knocked over a glass of water. The VR group used less napkins to clean up the mess than the video group.
The Pitfalls of Virtual Reality
Despite all the promises, there are still a few things about virtual reality that need to be addressed. Some may eventually be overcome; others may be difficult if not impossible.
Virtual Reality is Not Good for Everything
Generally researchers have found it is not as effective with soft skills training. Management and leadership courses tend to not substantially fare better in the VR world. Part of the reason may be that the perceptions of consequences for certain actions and behaviors are not as compelling in virtual reality.
It May Detract from Other Effective Solutions
Let’s face it. If your company invests in high end equipment and software for virtual reality they are going to make sure it gets used. That may mean pushing a VR solution when it is not necessarily the best choice.
One of the directions that VR is moving in now for a real immersive experience is providing the ability to move around. A learner won’t be able to do that from their cubicle. You need a dedicated room or space for that. That generally means that space is not usable for anything else.
One of the things that can happen with intensive VR environments is that the brain can be overstimulated. Too much information at once, all of it being processed simultaneously, can lead to what’s called Cognitive Overload. To be fair, it can happen in non-VR environments as well but the potential is greater with VR.
Have you ever been on the Mission:Space ride at EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida? It simulates launch into space and the resulting weightlessness. For some it can (and does) make you nauseous – enough to where they include sick bags within easy reach of the seats. Immersive VR environments like that can trigger simulation sickness in some, similar to motion sickness. Not a good learning experience.
Virtual Reality does hold great promise for a great many things in learning and development. To maximize that promise for your organization, make sure you have a real good idea of what it can – and cannot – do for you. Make sure your investment provides a sufficient return on investment.
Keeping up with learning technology is always an uphill battle. Ask for help from JCA Solutions today. We can help you navigate those virtual waters!