However, VR hardware is now in the reach of the retail market. You just have to cast your mind back to the first cellphones or the price of the first HD TV and see how quickly the price drops and the next level of sophistication and refinement comes along. Along with this, the skills base to develop VR ready content is growing rapidly, opening up a huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from a deep engagement with VR. Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, Sony Playstation VR and Google Cardboard are already out in the market.
With Google’s investment in Daydream (which includes a headset and development platform to bring more rich VR experiences to compatible Android phones), it could signal even more rapid content development and a wealth of VR learning apps.
What this means for organisations is that a technology that may once have been perceived as only within reach or relevant for organisations with huge learning technology budgets is now becoming an affordable and exciting way to engage people in rich learning experiences.
However, like all learning solutions, it is only as good as the clarity of purpose, the context and relevance that is built into it. In Wired Magazine April 2016, the editors panel made an interesting observation:
“For VR experiences to be worth putting the headset on, it’s got to be something that makes the most of you being somewhere”
So a quick video and how to guide is a more sensible suggestion to learn how to create a pivot table! Virtual reality e-learning, like any training technology, must be driven by the need and its relevance to the learning outcome, the learners’ preference and the organisational context.
So the analysis stage of any VR project is key – understanding the business imperative, performance challenges and learning outcomes are critical in avoiding VR being perceived as a fad, rather than a solid solution to developing skills.
Applications for learning and organisational performance
VR offers the ability to develop more contextual and interactive scenarios, enabling learners to interact with the environment and objects within it, not just respond to text or voice prompts (or flat on-screen interactions). It is arguably a more natural way to conduct a scenario – it becomes the difference between flat 2d drag and drop interactions or hotspots to handling objects and perform tasks the way it really happens in situ.
By building a VR training environment to explore a learning need, we can observe how learners really work with the objects and materials. So not only are we creating a more representative experience, it provides the opportunity to see how people really do things.
Take the example of exploring a manufacturing facility – do our predictions for how people will perform in the environment actually reflect what they do when they walk through the door? Will they take routes through the environment or operate equipment in a way we didn’t expect? What does that tell us and what as an organisation could be learned from that?
With VR you can break the rules and learn from it. This means you can measure performance through observing how people really work, which offers huge opportunities for more effective performance measurement.
Transforming live experiences
One question we are often asked is: can VR have any application in leadership or behavioral skills based training? As well as interacting with the environment, VR provides the opportunity to interact with others in a relevant context. It has the possibility to get as close as currently possible to seeing the world through someone else’s eyes!
Another huge opportunity is in reducing the isolation of online learning. VR enables us to work together; to learn from the ways others tackle the same challenge and to bring people from around the world in to one environment. We are current exploring virtual campuses for leading education providers, as well as virtual customer service environments to help provide real context to group interactions.
For synchronous activities – from product demonstrations and launches, it provides the opportunity for people to experience the product and ask questions of a live trainer/SME. Product developers, designers and marketing use VR to ask staff or consumers to interact with products and make observations that will inform product design and promotions. To support global collaboration, why not create a virtual ‘hackathon’ space? Your VR environment can include informal discussion spaces, creative spaces and more.
Further applications for VR in soft skills training are gathering pace. Watch this space, because as companies such as Microsoft Labs continue to refine their holoportation technology, you’ll no longer need to choose an avatar, cameras will capture your image and transport you to shared spaces.
It’s not quite time travel, but as hardware and software performance improves, the experience is really compelling and very smooth, helping learners really throw themselves into the environment.
So to get started with VR training, we would recommend starting with the board’s strategic objectives – what are the critical shifts as a business we need to make to see real performance change? If the need is important enough, then it warrants the investment in creating learning experiences that capture attention at a deep sensory level. VR, by its nature retains attention longer than other learning mediums and if we are looking for a real step change, creating spaces for exploration, experimentation, failure and collaboration could be just what you need.
This model focuses on 3 Cognitive dimensions – with thought, experience and senses reframed as Risk, Practice and Sensory to bring it into the learning and performance context.
Risk is fairly self-explanatory and it demonstrates why applications such as learning to fly a commercial plane are common cases for VR. In contrast, not adjusting your chair carries some long term risk to the user, but doesn’t warrant a simulation using VR (and anyway, give it a few years and the Internet of Things will have that covered – Your chair will be able to adjust itself!)
Practice again is fairly clear – take for example learning to use excel. Now although with some practice, the functions become second nature, it is not an activity that requires lots of performance rehearsal. Any gaps in knowledge can be easily filled with some basic performance support materials and frankly, you don’t need to simulate Microsoft Excel, you can just use it! However, for a skill such as conflict resolution, the ability to practice and test your response in different outcomes can be very effective indeed. The more realistic and sophisticated the scenarios can get, the truer it becomes. VR enables this.
Sensory relates to a factor highlighted earlier – the importance of sensory feedback from the environment. This can be in the form of haptic feedback (user feedback based on touch, as used in devices such as the Apple Watch). New VR devices such as the HTC Vive includes haptic controllers with the headset. This can help with deeper levels of engagement or provide feedback on physical activities, using varying levels of pressure and touch feedback in reaction to an interaction with an object or the environment. Sensory can also be interpreted emotional engagement.
Scenarios such as diversity training, as currently being trialled with the NFL and Stanford University, use the immersion that you experience in VR to help learners experience a perspective different to their own. Seeing the world through another’s eyes can be a deeply powerful emotional experience and because the visual, auditory and kinesthetic stimuli of a VR environment is so immersive, it gets you very close indeed to truly seeing through someone else’s eyes.
To help demonstrate the model in action, we have worked through some realistic examples:
One of the most common methods deployed in presentation skills training is role play – however for those who are already not comfortable presenting or lacking in confidence, a role play can be a very unpleasant experience. That’s not to underplay the importance of practice, in fact it’s vital. So, if you contrast that with watching examples of good presentations, it may be easy to identify what works and what doesn’t but translating that into your own practice is a whole other matter.
Observation of others giving presentations doesn’t mean that a learner will move from ‘they do that’ to ‘I can do that’, whilst the crushing embarrassment of a role play in front of peers may also not be the most conducive environment for personal growth. A virtual environment can provide an ideal environment for practice, feedback and observation, all housed in a safe but realistic setting.
With effective learning design, you can simulate different scenarios, adopt the perspective of different audience members, observe others and receive feedback. This could be done via a pre-programmed asynchronous VR scenario but could also be used as a synchronous activity to provide live feedback to the learner as their practice progresses. There are already some great examples of apps and scenarios being built tackling the subject, including Public Speaking For Google Cardboard.
You can train a procedure for dealing with an accident in a warehouse, a security breach or weather issue, but is that how people really behave when the incident actually happens and they are responsible for resolving it? As we have explored using our model, risks can be high and depending on the situation for which you are training, practice and retest can be important. Sensory can also be very important, when you have situations that may involve effective operation of equipment to resolve the issue or where you are dealing with heightened emotions.
New premises (such as major office relocation, new retail fit out or production line)
VR isn’t the solution for all the performance needs in your organisation, no one particular approach ever is. However, it is becoming an attainable and practical solution that can now be put into the mix when the need warrants it.
You can download the original 2016 version of this report as a PDF.
For help in conducting business analysis to identify whether VR will benefit your organisation and achieve the performance change you are looking for, our team can conduct analysis and solutions mapping in partnership with you to help identify the right solution for your needs.