The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged nearly every industry, disrupting events across the globe, highlighting supply chain weaknesses and hindering in-person training. However, there is a silver lining. Some of the most innovative solutions arise from great challenges, and virtual reality (VR) has quickly proven itself the rising star of 2020.

A 2019 PwC report predicted that VR and augmented reality (AR) will enhance over 23 million jobs worldwide — and that was before the pandemic sent record numbers of professionals home to work remotely. Now, VR solutions can help your organization address postponed travel, training that requires hands-on experience and the desire for engaging digital training solutions that aren’t just PowerPoint presentations uploaded to the company intranet.

1. Postponed Travel

Whether your organization was planning to send your employees to visit a lab, a construction site or a conference, it likely cancelled those trips this year. Virtual reality offers a way to send your employees to sites and collaborate with teammates across the country without leaving their desk (or hybrid home office/couch/dining table).

In the virtual reality Toyota Showroom, for example, a car dealer can share information about available vehicles without having customers in the showroom. Viewers can “sit” inside each vehicle, click to learn more about different features and more.

Many museums created virtual tours during the U.S. lockdown in early spring. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, for instance, offers live virtual tours of Monticello, as well as a self-guided 360-degree tour of the house.

For businesses dealing with capacity limits or mandated closures during the pandemic, using similar simulations can be a great way to continue engaging with learners.

2. Hands-on Training

When your employees need hands-on training with equipment or processes but can’t be there in person due to office closures, space limitations or other challenges, VR can replicate the experience. Vanderbilt University School of Nursing’s VR ultrasound training is a successful example. The school’s enrollment was growing, but medical equipment costs and instructor availability made it difficult to effectively train all students.

In response, the school used a VR course authoring application to replicate the clinical setting virtually. By replacing much of the didactic training with virtual experiences, the program enables students to interact with that content at a distance, orient themselves to anatomical features and view the ultrasound output in the full field of view, in real time.

Since rolling out the immersive learning module in the spring of 2019, each student reported having a more efficient training experience with the ultrasound probes. In addition, Vanderbilt University avoided needing to purchase additional ultrasound machines.

3. Learner Engagement

Many companies are switching to VR for onboarding and recruitment activities. If you can’t bring your employee into the office for onboarding, bring the office to them virtually with a 360-degree tour!

Technology company Lenovo has incorporated VR into its onboarding program, adapting all company video training content to VR and creating a 360-degree video that introduces new employees to Lenovo’s management team in living color. “After experiencing VR, I [felt] even more excited about working at Lenovo,” said a new account manager who experienced the first rollout of Lenovo’s VR onboarding.

For organizations looking to replicate the in-person training experience as much as possible, virtual reality offers more possibilities than traditional eLearning. Instructional designers already know that learners connect more strongly to content — and understand and remember things more deeply — when emotions are involved.

By immersing the learner in virtual reality, you can create those strongly emotive experiences that embed themselves in the learner’s memory. In a PwC study, learners who participated in virtual reality training felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more emotionally connected than employees who used eLearning.

As another example, instead of a text-heavy handout or printed guide, the American Heart Association created an interactive 360-degree learning experience to train volunteers on how to host Healthy for Life® Educational Experiences.

The experience features 360-degree photos, short videos and clickable hotspots. The training features real people, making the content more memorable and relatable to volunteers. It covers a lot of information, but because it’s chunked into short videos and different sections, it’s easily digestible.

Virtual reality equipment is more affordable every year, and with a global pandemic disrupting training, travel and events, we’re all looking for more ways to connect with each other regardless of physical distance. VR solutions can help your organization replace that canceled site visit; replicate business-critical, hands-on training; and deliver an engaging experience to remote employees. The possibilities are limitless.