More than 90% of executives say that their existing training methods need to be more effective and efficient, according to Accenture’s “Immersive Learning With XR” report.

In front-line industries (i.e., health care, manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality, among others), where turnover is high and daily operations can be dangerous and/or high-stakes, effective and efficient training is critical not only from a business perspective, but also from a health and safety one. Extended reality (XR) technologies, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), can help improve front-line training to better “engage workers more deeply in the learning process” and improve knowledge retention, the report explains.

The Problem: The Old Way Isn’t Working

Imagine if you just started in a new role at a large clothing retailer. It’s the busy season, with end-of-year sales drawing in more customers than usual. Your manager wants you out on the floor, assisting customers, but first wants to make sure that you’re prepared. You’re asked to sit in the employee break room and watch a lengthy training video featuring examples of successful customer interactions and are given a detailed map of the store. However, after completing the training, you’re left feeling lost as to where specific products are located and still don’t have any experience actually assisting customers. As a steady stream of people begin to enter the store, you’re left feeling unprepared and stressed about putting what you learned into action.

The above example showcases the problem at hand: Too often, front-line training fails because it’s not hands on and doesn’t let learners safely practice procedures, operations, tasks and other job responsibilities. As a result, companies end up wasting time and resources delivering programs that don’t improve performance.

An Immersive Solution

While there are some exceptions, “nine times out of ten, a lot of front-line jobs are very repetitive [and] operationally-oriented,” says Derek Belch, founder and chief executive officer of Strivr, a VR training solutions provider. XR technologies can help employees practice step-by-step tasks and processes “without any consequences if they mess up,” he says.

In front-line industries like health care, manufacturing and construction, where mistakes can be both costly and dangerous, learning in a safe-yet-realistic environment is a win-win.

Cedars-Sinai hospital, for example, used VR to train over 300 doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic on skills like how to assess symptoms of the virus and how to perform CPR while wearing personal protective gear (PPE). Practicing these skills in a simulated environment “feels like you are in the room with a patient,” Russell Metcalfe-Smith, director of the Women’s Guild Simulation Center for Advanced Clinical Studies at Cedars-Siani Medical Center, said in a CNN Business article.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is another organization that looked to immersive learning to train health care workers during the pandemic. With PPE in short supply, Humulo Engineering, an enterprise VR training solutions provider and information technology (IT) consulting services firm, developed a VR training program to train front-line medical professionals in Uganda to help fight the spread of COVID-19. No PPE, or even internet access, was needed for learners to access the training — just a headset.

From a safety standpoint, Scott MacAdams, CEO of Humulo Engineering, says that training simulations are a “no brainer.” Learners can train without putting themselves or others at risk, and learners can train off-site, making it a viable option for large, distributed workforces, he says.

Product training is another common use case for immersive learning technologies. For instance, Attensi, a gamified simulation training provider, partnered with BSH, a major appliance manufacturer, to deliver a gamified, scenario-based program to improve workers’ knowledge of a new high-tech line of washing machines, says Ellen Vrålstad, vice president of sales and business development director at Attensi. Because large appliances are a costly investment and customers typically have lots of questions about their features and benefits, BSH needed a training program that would get employees up-to-speed, quickly. The training game Attensi developed featured a mix of immersive scenarios focused on remembering product features, understanding buyers’ motivations and closing sales. Stores that implemented the program saw a 26% increase in sales and 93% improvement in product knowledge, Vrålstad says.

Just Start

Even though immersive learning technologies can help train front-line workers faster and more effectively than traditional training methods, many companies haven’t yet adopted XR because they think it’s hard to integrate into their existing learning management system, Belch says. “People are afraid.” However, this fear is holding them back from performance improvement and the reduced costs — and accidents — that come with it. His advice? Just get started.

To begin developing and delivering training programs using immersive learning technologies, consider the following best practices:

  • Personalize It: There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” training program, Vrålstad says. “Every detail in the simulation has to be correct. It has to be real.” Make sure your training simulations are as realistic as possible, from using the correct technical language to ensuring the simulated environment reflects the learners’ work environment as closely as possible. It can be helpful to partner with an experienced immersive learning provider to ensure that your simulations are realistic and well designed.
  • Make it quick and on demand: Front-line workers are busy and often don’t have time to step away from the job to learn. They also need training available on demand, in their moment of need. Make your immersive learning experiences accessible on mobile devices, and make them bite-sized, for maximum impact, Vrålstad suggests.
  • Have fun with it: Immersive learning is far from boring. Or, at least, it should be. Use gamified elements such as leaderboards to engage learners and motivate them to want to learn.

Benefits All Around

Immersive learning technologies have arrived and are taking the corporate training industry by storm. In addition to improving the effectiveness of front-line training, MacAdams says another less talked-about benefit of immersive learning programs is hiring and retention. In front-line industries, where turnover is high and recruitment remains a challenge, having a future-forward training program in place is an exciting job perk that can attract, and retain, workers.

The world of immersive learning technologies is moving fast, and forward-looking organizations must adopt them, strategically, to keep pace with evolving learner preferences. As Belch puts it, “You don’t want to be playing catch-up with the workforce…. If you don’t start now, you will be behind.”