The introduction of virtual reality (VR) technology has changed the way employers train and improve the skills of their employees. The resulting experience is called immersive learning, as trainees are virtually immersed in a safe, instructive environment that allows them to practice their skills without causing harm to company property or themselves.
At my company, we work with training companies all over the world to develop training scenarios in virtual reality in order to enhance employee productivity and learning retention. Most recently, we rolled out a series of 360 video training modules with a car manufacturer to train its frontline workers on safety protocols and procedures.
Although there are various reasons leaders in the business community are adopting immersive training to educate their employees, let’s explore the three primary factors that have contributed to the rise of VR safety training in the workplace, as well as challenges associated with the technology.
- Increased Knowledge Retention
The immersive nature of VR makes it ideal for focused, hyper-realistic safety training. Employers can utilize programs that replicate their unique working environment, allowing trainees to become familiar and comfortable with space without physically exploring it.
- Safe Learning
It is often said that the only way to learn a lesson is first to make a mistake. While this platitude holds in many situations, it can be quite dangerous when applied to workplace safety. Incorrectly operating a substantial piece of machinery, for example, can be extremely dangerous.
Safety training programs are designed to educate employees on the do’s and don’t of workplace safety, allowing them to make mistakes without suffering long-term consequences.
- Effectivity And Scale
Employers have a wide range of training techniques from which to choose. Each method has pros and cons, and all fall between the extremes of effectivity and scale.
For example, videos and online training courses are typically not as effective as instructor-led learning. Many employees may become bored while completing this type of training, and a lack of focus often results in lower knowledge retention. However, videos and online materials are easy and cost-effective to disseminate and share, making it a popular choice for businesses that employ many people.
Hiring a trainer to provide personal one-on-one training for your employees is effective, but it is more expensive and challenging to complete in a large-scale environment. This type of training is a fit for smaller companies with only a few employees.
Immersive learning strikes a natural balance between these two extremes, as VR safety training is both scalable and effective.
Challenges And Lessons Learned
While immersive training can be an effective tool, it should be warned that not all use cases will be best taught using this technology. For complex systems and processes where interaction with hands is required, using controllers as a replacement will often not work effectively.
We have also run into challenges when implementing training assessments with back-end learning management systems (LMS) and security systems. Enterprise groups should keep this in mind when looking to adopt the technology and ensure that its a good fit with their operational management.
Lastly, there is a small percentage of the population who may experience nausea when using virtual reality for training.
Let’s take a look at some use cases of safety training with virtual reality.
Verizon is currently utilizing immersive learning technology to educate and prepare its employees safely. Armed robberies and thefts can produce a lot of stress and anxiety, and Verizon recognizes that training for such a scenario can be just as emotionally and mentally demanding of employees.
BMW is always seeking to innovate, and this expands to its employee training techniques as well. Its immersive training allows employees to explore a virtual BMW factory and identify possible safety hazards along the way. These hazards include missing tools, incorrect signage and faulty lighting.
United Rentals sales representatives are responsible for surveying construction sites, which are naturally uncertain environments that necessitate proper safety gear and training. Immersive learning allows these sales representatives to navigate the potential dangers of construction sites without putting themselves in physical danger.
As with automobile manufacturing, food production can be a highly industrialized job that requires a comprehensive understanding of safety protocols. Machines that separate the components of meat or produce can become faulty if improperly maintained or operated. A VR environment allows employees to identify workplace hazards in a safe environment, making it easier to spot real-life infractions in the future.
Overall, directors and C-level executives looking to adopt these technologies should have a clear path to usage. There should be an immediate ROI that is measurable. In kind, there should be a use case that makes sense for companywide adoption.
Whether it’s being used to eliminate risk, increase retention, connect teams or standardize and optimize workflows, VR technology needs to be mapped out wisely before being implemented.
We will see future adoption as more and more groups look to use immersive technologies in meaningful ways to improve learning outcomes. It will be interesting to see which groups develop the most useful case studies that will transform the way we train employees in the future.