VR starts to prove its worth as a training tool

Virtual reality (VR) promised to be a world-changing technology, but so far it hasn’t really lived up to the hype

Sales of VR headsets are underwhelming and investment in the technology is in decline.  One of the main challenges with VR adoption is encouraging digital sceptics, often in commissioning roles, to embrace the technology and avoid seeing it as a gimmick.

VR seems to be most effective when it is used to solve a particular problem or address a specific issue.  A report into VR adoption by Capgemini Research Institute reveals the businesses getting the most benefit from the technology are those who test the applicability of VR and focus on uses that provide lasting value, with 50% of companies still struggling to identify a use case.

But despite a subdued outlook we shouldn’t ignore some interesting VR use cases that are now beginning to emerge, particularly in the field of training, which the technology is well suited to.

Learning in a risk-free environment

One of the key benefits of VR in training is providing a realistic environment where trainees learn to use sophisticated tools, as well as deal with unexpected scenarios, without real risk. One example is Tyson Foods, which uses VR to train employees to safely use complex machinery, allowing them to practise and learn at their own pace before they ever enter the company’s physical plant.

VR is great at letting users ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’. This is especially beneficial in training. The Moment’s VR HCP Interaction Lab is helping medical sales teams to better understand the interactions between Healthcare Professionals and patients and is providing a step change in training delivery whilst Stanford University researchers are working with the NFL using VR making employees ‘feel’ how colleagues experience racial and sexual discrimination.

At Global we use a VR experience to deliver studio training to our radio presenters and producers. As well as providing studio inductions, the tech presents trainees with a series of real-life challenges – such as system failures, breaking news events and unplanned silences – so they can learn to react positively and quickly to keep the station live and on air. By using VR to create an environment where users can make mistakes and try again without real-life repercussions, we’ve seen operator errors in live broadcast decrease by a third.

Immersive and engaging experiences

Another key benefit of VR as a training tool is its ability to deliver immersive, interactive experiences. VR-based training is more engaging than listening to a talk, reading a manual or watching a video demonstration. Trainees who can explore virtual environments with their own eyes and (digital) hands are less likely to get bored and have a better chance of retaining what they’ve learnt. Memory recall with immersive VR training can be up to 300% higher than with traditional training.

Because VR training engages multiple senses and makes the user feel they are present in a particular situation, it can evoke an emotional reaction. The Marshall School of Business uses a VR training program to help students explore unconscious bias by simulating a recruitment process and allowing them to experience the impact of bias for themselves. The immersive nature of the exercise means students are emotionally engaged in the experience, without the difficulties involved in discussing unconscious bias with a real person.

Practical and productive education

VR-based training is highly efficient as it removes the costs of traditional training such as venue hire, travel, consultant fees, or simply time spent away from work. Sessions can be delivered remotely by mentors or using software housed within a shared platform.

The technology is also a practical way to overcome other barriers associated with traditional training. Dr Shafi Ahmed, a surgeon at St Bartholomew’s hospital, uses VR to live stream surgical procedures with a 360 degree perspective. This allows him to personally train surgeons all around the world during real procedures without the challenges associated with physically having them in the operating theatre with him.

VR is increasingly being used to train military personnel in the use of equipment such as submarines, aircraft, and naval ships which aren’t readily available or accessible for on-the-job training. Finally, the visual and practical nature of VR training helps to overcome language barriers, and makes it suitable for individuals with different learning styles.

While VR might not be taking off in the way it was expected to, these use cases illustrate the technology has found a real purpose in training. By allowing trainees to learn and make mistakes in a realistic yet risk-free environment, by providing memorable, immersive experiences that evoke emotion, and by overcoming the practical barriers associated with traditional education, VR is beginning to prove its worth as a valuable training tool. Moreover, advancements in wireless headsets together with falling hardware costs should lead to wider adoption.

About the Author

 David Henderson is Chief Technology Officer at Global. Home to some of the UK’s best-loved radio stations such as Heart, Capital and Classic FM, to name a few, we keep 25.2 million listeners tuned in and entertained each week. And that’s just for starters; we’re one of the leading Outdoor advertising companies in the UK, having recently acquired Primesight and Outdoor plus. With over 35,000 sites covering 95% of the UK population, Global Outdoor packs a punch!