It seems that every week, Silicon Valley touts a new innovation as the latest rage. Some of these innovations become long-term trends, others quickly fall out of favor and many land somewhere in between. Virtual reality (VR) seems to fall in this third category.
The general public is constantly reminded of how revolutionary VR is and will be. It does have a “coolness” factor for gaming and even movie watching, and it’s leading to some amazing immersive experiences. But for creating state-of-the art business simulations for corporate training, it will take time to really revolutionize training.
How much we can expect virtual reality to truly impact corporate training is a complex equation. Corporate training covers an overwhelmingly broad set of topics, from basic manual labor methods all the way through executive leadership development. With such a broad scope, is there a place for virtual reality? Absolutely! Will its use suddenly proliferate in corporate training? Absolutely not! VR adoption will be slow at best.
In its early application, VR’s impact on training will focus on safety and manual practice, where many jobs require skilled and practiced movement. This is especially the case where safety is of huge concern. An example of where VR might be important in corporate training is the relatively obscure field of underwater welding. Deep water welding is a common but dangerous job at energy companies. The benefits of being able to train deep water welders in a virtual environment before they actually embark thousands of feet underwater to weld something that is pumping hot oil from under the crust of the ocean are obvious.
For leadership development, VR could be utilized to create an office working environment where leaders have to practice the company’s leadership model. However, this use of VR would only waste money, time and resources while frustrating most executives and possibly causing backlash. Using VR to hone soft skills is just a poor fit for now.
Implementation adds to the complexity of the VR equation. VR programs are exceptionally complex and, as a result, exceptionally expensive. Kotaku.com, a gaming news site, estimates that a large-scale game costs $60 million to develop. Specifically, the site lists some games that cost between $8.5 million (Call of Duty) and $400 million (World of Warcraft) to create.
Would a VR training “game” be as complicated as these games to develop? Probably not, but it would still be very expensive – probably $5 million just to get started.
So, where does virtual reality stand in corporate training? It’s interesting for now but not yet ready for training prime time. Training managers should stay tuned and wait to see how VR solutions mature and then assess what is really needed. Virtual reality is exciting, but let’s sit on the sidelines and see where it really lands once all the marketing hype has moved its attention to some other new tech innovation.