Businesses are having to adapt quickly by adopting new technologies in this time of great economic upheaval. In the realm of employee training, immersive learning experiences like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are changing the way workers learn and develop skills that are necessary to succeed.
Both VR and AR first made waves in video games, with Facebook acquiring gaming-focused VR company Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion and Pokemon GO becoming a breakout hit mobile AR game in 2016.
Today, immersive tech is no longer confined to gaming. The install base for AR in mobile devices and smart glasses could go over 2.5 billion by 2023, with total revenue reaching $70 billion to $75 billion. VR is expected to have an install base of over 30 million and $10 billion to $15 billion in revenue within the same period. Enterprise-level use is on the rise.
Benefits of AR and VR in Corporate Training
What will drive the greater adoption of immersive learning on the enterprise level are the advantages that are both unique to and more easily attained using these technologies, including:
Workers can learn in safer environments
VR can simulate real-life, high-risk work situations. For jobs where safety is a major concern, VR allows trainees to learn what to do during a crisis without putting anyone’s life or health in danger.
Through VR training, a rookie pilot can be better prepared for emergency landings, or new factory workers can calmly respond to accidents. With VR environments being consequence-free their appeal extends from inherently dangerous jobs to improving efficiency and safety training in more white-collar office jobs as well. Employees in training can make mistakes without resulting in a loss of productivity or revenue for the company they work for.
More effective learning
Experiential learning is the most effective method of learning, with retention rates of 75% to 90%. VR can recreate the exact work setup employees are expected to be in when they actually have to perform certain tasks in real life. In such an accurate virtual representation, trainees can practice how to do their jobs. In fact, retention levels can be as high as 80% even a year after a VR training session compared to the 20% retention just after a week of traditional training.
More businesses are starting to embrace remote work as part of their daily operations. COVID-19 has greatly accelerated the shift toward telecommuting. Employees are learning to complete collaborative tasks and projects with their colleagues while being physically apart. VR headsets have become much more reasonably priced for training budgets. Employees can use these devices remotely in conjunction with training materials being easily accessible online.
Training budgets are limited, so it’s important to maximise what resources are available for employee learning and development. Traditional training sessions typically burn through materials and equipment, and travel is often part of the process. Immersive learning solutions can potentially reduce or even cut out some costs altogether. Whilst they represent an expensive initial outlay, VR headsets can be used for a host of different programs, which can then be accessed for training purposes for as many times as necessary. It is also much easier and less costly to take advantage of VR software simulating work environments than to actually take part in real-life simulations. VR headsets aren’t exactly cheap, however, their cost has become considerably more affordable in recent years.
VR software can be used to collect data automatically and on a more granular level compared to traditional learning methods. With VR training, you can visually record how trainees complete a course and how long they take. Their natural reactions to specific simulated situations can also be additional data points for understanding what works and what doesn’t for training sessions.
The Challenges of AR/VR Usage
Adopting any sort of relatively new technology in the workplace isn’t always easy, and immersive tech has its own set of challenges. Thankfully, the constant improvements in hardware and falling costs are beginning to mitigate many technical and financial challenges of adopting AR/VR technology.
Despite the advantages, there are still significant challenges to using AR/VR in a learning environment. These include:
Health side effects
Although VR does an incredibly good job simulating a physical environment, it is still not a complete 1-to-1 representation of reality. “Moving” inside a virtual world feels different from real life. This can lead to dizziness and even nausea in some people during prolonged VR sessions.
There are ways these effects can be reduced or eliminated and VR application developers are constantly making improvements to improve the user’s experience so everyone can enjoy their immersive training.
Bulky hardware and glitches
According to Perkins Coie’s 2020 Augmented and Virtual Reality Survey Report, user experience is the biggest obstacle to the mass adoption of AR and VR. This refers to the devices themselves being bulky, requiring a lot of setups, and experiencing technical glitches.
Most VR headsets still use wires, and they need a decent amount of space for the user to move freely in. Completely wireless headsets sacrifice quality for portability. There is also still more work to be done in making a virtual learning environment and simulations more accurate and less prone to breaking.
There’s no denying the price tag of VR headsets. The most popular devices cost hundreds of dollars per unit. Microsoft’s flagship AR device HoloLens 2 costs $3,500. Building an AR/VR training programme also requires integration with a learning management system, adding to the total expense.
Invasion of privacy concerns
Like most modern devices, AR/VR products can also connect to the internet. Unlike the more robust security measures in instant messaging apps, many AR/VR systems are still in the process of implementing data encryption. They are also still vulnerable to DDOS attacks.
At work, employees have to trust their employers to ensure the data being collected by their AR/VR system is secure. Employees cannot simply choose to remove their own info stored on the devices and the servers the devices connect to. As this is also a challenge in delivering online learning, it isn’t anything to sway one away from AR/VR specifically, but it is worth mentioning.
Examples of AR and VR Used in Training
AR/VR for training isn’t just an imagined scenario for the future of employee development. It’s being implemented today across industries, including:
Dangerous, high-risk environments
BP train their oil refinery and offshore rig workers using shared VR tech. In a virtual production plant, entire shift teams can practice startup and emergency shutdown procedures as well as drilling exercises. The Royal Navy’s defence tech partner Qinetiq teamed up with Immerse for onshore VR submarine training. Instead of having to run limited simulations onboard real submarines, trainees could learn together in a virtual submarine control room.
UPS has been using the HTC Vive to train its drivers on safety when making deliveries. The programme teaches drivers how to look for road hazards in their routines.
Industries with heavy compliance standards, such as healthcare, energy, and aerospace are becoming more welcoming of immersive training. This is hardly surprising given the consequence-free nature of training employees in a virtual simulation. Workers can learn from their mistakes without risking lives or costing resources and revenue. Boeing, for instance, has incorporated AR into their technicians’ work. Hands-free, interactive 3D diagrams help them install electrical wiring in the aircraft fuselage more easily. This practice resulted in a 40% increase in productivity.
Walmart is at the forefront of using VR training in the US. The retail giant has implemented its VR programme throughout 4,700 stores to boost the training of over 1 million employees. They utilise more than 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets to teach workers about customer service and compliance. Retention rates have increased for employee training since Walmart added VR to their toolset. Employees find learning through a virtual simulation more engaging, and it shows in their test scores which have increased by 10 to 15%.
The New Reality of Training
As these immersive technologies (and we haven’t mentioned ‘mixed reality’ here, which falls somewhere between AR and VR) improve and the barriers to entry get lower, we will see more industries enhance their training programmes with AR and VR. Their benefits of safety, learning effectiveness, and long-term cost reduction will become more apparent.
Today’s workforce is already familiar with and more willing to engage in tech, and as they become future business leaders, they will push for better processes to integrate AR and VR in employee development.