In the survey my organisation ran earlier this year, over half of those companies responding said that virtual reality was the next learning technology they wanted to explore. The research also pointed to L&D teams needing to up-skill their own knowledge about VR, to examine how they might overcome some of the challenges and to find the right place for it within their learning interventions.
One of characteristics of VR is that sessions should be short – say up to 5 minutes at any one time – and this provides L&D professionals with an ideal opportunity to introduce VR into the mix sooner, as part of a blended offering. It’s very understandable that a large-scale, high-end VR project is not something that you undertake lightly, but starting with something short and simple – and with a large audience appeal – makes perfect sense and is a great way to get started.
Virtual reality 101
When should you consider using a piece of VR in your learning blend?
I always refer to the concept of “presence” when looking at what would make a good use of VR for learning. I define “presence” as when you want the learner:
- To become someone else
- To be transported somewhere else
- To interact with something that’s not actually there
This goes to the heart of “immersion”, where the learner momentarily forgets who or where they are and receives a new learning experience that would otherwise not be feasible or even possible.
Why should you use VR? What makes this so different and a valuable addition to our learning kit bag?
As I’ve recorded before, early studies are already showing that a VR learning experience:
- Increases learner engagement to maximum levels
- Increases the level of knowledge gain
- Increases learning retention significantly
- Accelerates speed to competence
- Improves the accuracy of task performance
When looking at introducing VR into a blended programme, combining “presence” with any one of these other benefits should point you to a valuable use.
Here are some of my ideas.
The ultimate “learning hook”
Organisations I’m talking to often say they want to create some buzz around the training they offer. VR has the ability to do this and therefore is well suited to providing the critical “learning hook” to get learners focused on the topic and learning ahead. As the data is starting to show, VR has the potential to create very effective and long-lasting, memorable learning moments.
- For customer services training, let the learner experience what it’s like to be a customer entering their store for the first time, hearing and seeing their first impressions.
- Maybe you’re introducing training to support a new store concept. If so, have the learners walk through a typical new store layout, so that what follows makes more sense.
- For diversity training, put the learners in someone else’s shoes. Let them see and hear what it’s like to come face-to-face with bias and discrimination.
- In healthcare, consider a short piece that puts the learner in the shoes or body of a patient living with a specific condition or disability.
- For appraisal or coaching training, transport them into a meeting room where a one-to-one meeting is taking place and let them observe what’s going on – the good, the bad and sheer ugly.
- With induction training, let the new starters explore those parts of the business where they might never get to go, but which make up a core part of your business operations.
- For safety training, let the learner explore a virtual environment and ask them to spot the hazards. In real life stuff happens left, right and centre, so missing things with possibly serious consequences can be a great “hook”.
- Even consider what you could do with the driest of PowerPoint content to create a short punchy 3D representation of the content. I’ve seen good examples of this in the areas of data security and environmental awareness.
Not all of these suggestions need be too complex either. Using 360-video should enable you to deliver most of these in a simple, straightforward manner.
Practice makes perfect and we will always try our best to provide in-class training practice sessions that are as real as possible. But there is always something slightly artificial about role-playing or trying something out in a classroom setting, or as part of a piece of online training.
Creating short practice sessions in VR might be an attractive alternative, especially when realism is key to successful practice. Remember that “presence” is a core driver for using VR. You should think about breaking more complex tasks into smaller sub-tasks and creating separate VR experiences to support some or all of those smaller chunks, rather than trying to create one all-encompassing piece.
Bringing VR into the classroom also has a positive impact on engagement levels. Early studies show that engagement rockets during the VR portions and generates a buzz that can only contribute to a higher degree of overall participation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even the most sceptical of audiences responds well to a VR learning experience.
The ultimate certification of competence
At the other end of the learning cycle, VR can add another layer to compliance training that should elevate it from a tick-box exercise to something that does permit the individual and organisation to be more confident about their ability to demonstrate the necessary levels of competence.
Most compliance training ends with the test, but increasingly there is recognition that this isn’t enough, particularly in high stakes scenarios.
Organisations are interested in having learners take part in a short VR experience that allows them to put their skills to the test, such as:
- Identifying hazards in a simulated live 360 environment, where situations arise in real time and amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
- Following the correct procedure on discovering a fire.
- Safely working at heights, underground or in other challenging environments.
- Seeing how learners react to a number of unexpected situations.
Not only does using VR in this way help to demonstrate that a learner is able to apply what might have just been a theoretical introduction to the topic, it may also tackle any complacency that might exist. Sometimes we need the jolt of getting something catastrophically wrong for the learning to sink in.
VR for knowledge acquisition
The one area I’ve skirted around is using VR to deliver “knowledge acquisition”. I’ve suggested converting dry PowerPoint content into a 3D presentation experience and clearly some of other suggested “learning hook” ideas could deliver some knowledge, but overall – for your first experiment into using VR for learning – I would recommend using it for the specific purposes mentioned in this post, which play to its strengths as a learning channel.