Virtual reality (VR) is quickly entering the world of training, as VR has shown tremendous potential to revolutionize the way companies provide employees with the knowledge and skills to succeed (and stay safe). Based on previous research (for a more detailed analysis of the previous research you can read the full report here) there are a few proven ways in which VR can improve employees’ ability to learn. At the highest level, these improvements include that VR is more memorable than video content, is a safe alternative to real world training, is easily repeatable and scalable, and provides isolation from distractions. With an understanding of where VR is best suited to help people learn, VR training development requires only a few actionable steps that companies can take to capitalize on this opportunity for innovation and improved learning.
Step 1: Examine your curriculum
Companies should first take a step back to evaluate their entire training curriculum. This may seem tedious, but others have found this step to be one of the most valuable. According to Keith Daly of Farmers Group, taking the opportunity to “discover gaps in your curriculum that you might not have otherwise found … can give you the opportunity to improve your training, adding value to the employee experience and strengthening customer service.”
Step 2: Identify opportunities for testing
After examining their curriculum, companies should identify the portions that could potentially benefit from VR based on what previous research shows are the advantages of using VR.
Increased retention of training content
As shown in research by Benjamin Schöne, subjects who trained with VR video performed twice as well on memory retrieval tests in the subsequent 48 hours as did subjects who trained with 2-D video. Given this research, VR should be explored as a viable option for any training that involves memorization, especially of spatial or visual information.
Isolation from distraction
Are there any portions of the training curriculum that are critical but not necessarily engaging? For example, fire safety training is something most employees (or students) will generally ignore, or pay very little attention to, even though engagement with this training has the potential to save lives. Oftentimes in evacuations, everyone goes to the most visible or familiar emergency exit path, ignoring other exit routes because they did not pay attention to fire safety training material. Transferring training procedures that rely on focused engagement and freedom from distractions, such as fire safety training, to a VR platform can be both a practical and an ethical choice.
Repeatable and controlled exposure to stressful situations
This attribute of VR is applicable to many different types of training. It has already been proven effective in training people to get more comfortable with public speaking by letting the user practice in front of varying crowd sizes. This feature of VR training can also be used in any way that requires the employee to become habituated to potentially stressful situations. For example, VR could be used to improve CEO performance when giving keynote presentations by reducing the stress response to public speaking through repetition. Customer representatives could practice being confronted by angry customers, while learning to remain calm.
There are a number of ways in which VR could be applied to make use of this important attribute, providing the ability to practice and train in a way that was previously only possible through repeated experience or specialized and expensive in-person training.
All companies should explore any and all potential technologies that could help increase the safety of their employees. If a company engages in any activities that expose its employees to health risks, it is worth immediately conducting tests to determine if VR can help reduce those risks.
A simple, yet useful training application for any company that operates factories might be one that familiarizes employees with the facility floor. The company could add onto this training by having employees identify potential health hazards or by training them on the proper emergency and evacuation procedures even before they set foot in the facility.
Step 3: Start testing with linear and interactive 360 video
Some VR use cases will achieve outstanding results, whereas others may not have the same outcomes, given the current limitations and attributes of the technology. And, while previous research may point us in the right direction, only testing and iterating the various uses of VR will lead us to the best results.
Given the state of VR and available tools, the use of 360-degree videos may be the best way to start using VR technology for training. Research from Benjamin Schöne concluded that “For HMDs to become a relevant tool for instructors, [the instructors] must have the ability to produce and edit their own content. This is starting to happen with content based on 360-degree video footage, and currently the most promising use of HMDs in education may not be educational VR simulations, but the HMD as a viewer of 360-degree video content, which can form the basis of subsequent educational activities such as classroom discussions, written analysis, group work, or assessments.” These production and editing tools exist today and the creation of 360 video experiences is becoming increasingly accessible
Also, 360-degree video is much more cost-effective and scalable than going full out to create computer graphics or live-rendered content for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. It also performs well on mobile VR platforms such as GearVR and the Oculus GO. In addition, 360-degree video today is simply more realistic. Knowing the importance of simulation fidelity, there’s good reason to believe that it will lead to better training outcomes.
Additionally, previous research has found that a limiting factor in the effectiveness of VR training is that people can be easily overwhelmed by fully interactive (six degrees of freedom) and room-scale VR experiences. In contrast, 360 video and interactive 360 provide much more accessible experiences, while still giving users the opportunity for simple interactions.
Using 360-degree video, the tools and software available today should make it easy to get started on testing different use cases.
Step 4: Measure results
Since results will likely vary depending on each specific use case, measuring effectiveness is critical. Determining which results to measure and how to measure them will therefore be important parts of the planning process. The most straightforward solution is to work with a partner or software that provides in-depth analytics on any of the training content being tested.
Overall, it is not so much a question of whether to use VR for training, as it is a question of when and how. Without doubt, most companies of any significant size will have opportunities to use VR training development to improve their employee’s ability to remember, train more frequently, and stay safe and engaged.
Want to learn more about virtual reality, and more from the author? Alejandro Dinsmore will be presenting the session The Neuroscience of VR Training, and Why It Works at The eLearning Guild’s Realities360 Conference. The conference is June 26 – 28 in San Jose, California, and features dozens of sessions exploring the use of augmented reality, virtual reality, and simulations in eLearning, as well as keynotes by Jaron Lanier and Rika Nakazawa.
For additional perspective from Learning Solutions and The eLearning Guild on virtual reality, you may want to review these resources: