There was a time when technologies like AI and AR were just buzzwords. Exciting but not practical, expensive to implement and limited in use.
Today, VR and AR have become commonplace, with over 68.7 million people in the U.S. using AR, and 42.9 million using VR at least once per month. The numbers are expected to rise by 17% to 21% in 2020 alone.
These technologies are changing the way we do business.
Once the preserve of video games and tech exhibitions, VR and AR have made inroads across all sectors of industry, with a special role in education and training.
VR and AR are being used to impart skills to all kinds of professionals ranging from doctors to engineers, soldiers to executives. But how? And why? Let’s find out.
A Brief Intro to Virtual Reality
Virtual reality, or VR, is a computer graphics-based simulation experienced in the first person by using special wearables that encapsulate all of your vision and replace reality with the graphics of the simulation. This visual simulation mimics the real-life perspective, giving the user a feeling of being put in another world altogether.
Usually, these wearables are paired with controllers that allow the person to interact with the generated objects by using their hands, providing for a far more immersive experience than is possible with a screen.
The visual input is also paired with sound systems that follow the position and movements of the user to make the experience as real as possible.
HTC Vive, Playstation VR and Oculus are the most well known VR systems used mostly for gaming, but there’s plenty more being developed.
This is not to be confused with augmented reality, which blends generated images with the real environment, allowing for interaction with virtual objects within well-known surroundings. There’s plenty of games using this system, Pokemon Go being the most popular one. In employee training, AR is awesome for drills and mock-ups with tools like Vuforia.
How can Virtual Reality be used in Employee Training?
Up until now, there really was no good substitute for hands-on experience. Reading about a situation in a book, or listening about it on seminars and training, and actually being in it are two very different things.
In teaching disaster management we often rely on drills where we attempt to simulate the scenario itself. But there are many situations that are not possible to duplicate in a training room.
Depending on the profession in question, the scenarios can vary; a sales executive learning to deal with the Black Friday rush, a surgeon getting a handle on his nerves in an emergency case, a construction worker properly carrying out safety procedures in the handling of dangerous machines, and many more.
VR systems are a promising substitute for such training scenarios.
Advantages of VR in Training
By simulating the exact conditions of the situation the employees need to face, they can help in training without putting the trainees in actual situations.
But a VR headset is just the beginning—companies such as Virtuix and KATVR are already refining their omnidirectional VR treadmills that enable users to actually walk around in VR simulations.
Obviously, some industries would get more mileage out of this than others—such as oil refineries, manufacturing, air control, healthcare; basically those fields which see high-pressure situations that need to be handled with steel nerves and inhuman skill.
The headsets aren’t bulky anymore either. We already have lightweight eyewear able to display images with life-like clarity. These can work with augmented reality too, melding real-life vision with generated graphics, giving a more believable simulation.
The most obvious, and important advantage is preparedness and the ability to learn via trial and error, something that’s not possible in high-risk scenarios.
Consider you are training a group on the measures to be followed in case of a fire. Telling them to imagine the fire does not evoke the flight-or-fight response inherent in these situations.
But using VR to simulate a believable crisis puts more pressure and hence gives you a credible gauge of how each individual might react in the real deal.
While the upfront costs might be a bit higher, in the long run, it will reduce onboarding and training costs, travel expenses, and most of all, it helps keep employees safe when training for high-risk situations.
How to use VR to Improve Employee Training
Most people think technologies like VR or AI can be purchased like any other software and deployed in your organization without a second thought. But that is not true.
The key to getting the most out of VR training is to tailor a program that best suits the unique needs of your company.
Once you have a good VR system in place, you need to redesign your training program to best incorporate these new techniques. While earlier you might have relied on lectures and demonstrations, now you can use virtual reality to simulate the demonstrations instead.
If your employees require soft skills, you can help them acquire them in VR settings. Remember the first time you were presenting in front of a large crowd? It’s impossible to prepare for it and you can only get better with time and more appearances.
With immersive VR training, now you can help your employees with such situations by placing them in front of virtual crowds to get used to the feeling of being in the spotlight and on stage.
VR can be used to simulate problematic scenarios at work, such as harassment and bias that might be present in a diverse workforce. VR helps overcome biases and improve communication and collaboration.
Active participation reinforces learning and seeing things pan out before one’s eyes, even if virtually, is a good way to acclimate trainees to any situation.
In addition, training this way hardwires the brain to become accustomed to expected actions and reactions, making the real-life situation familiar even when experiencing it for the first time.
Virtual reality is a game-changer in education and training. No other method of teaching or instruction can provide the level of hands-on experience without going out on the field.
This is especially useful for simulating hazardous conditions, as it allows professionals to be trained without risking injury.
While the initial setup required for quality VR can be a little time consuming and expensive, integrating VR in your employee training cycle can yield impressive dividends down the line. You can prepare your employees for a wide range of scenarios, ensuring that the situation can never take them by surprise. While sometimes it may not make much of a difference, in most professions, virtual reality training gives an undeniable edge to your employees.
Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate techie who enjoys writing about novel tech and software solutions that can propel businesses forward. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie devours the news on the latest gadgets and binge-watches his favorite TV shows. Follow him on @bmorepeters