When employees picture onboarding and company training, they likely imagine six-inch-thick binders full of information to memorize. They don’t consider virtual reality (VR), which offers a 3D representation of the physical world through a computer-generated experience. From cardboard to high-grade headsets and simulation theaters, many companies incorporate VR technology for a more engaging form of training.

VR technologies allow employees to deal with real-world situations beyond the perspective of theory on paper. This immersive approach helps them feel more engaged, ultimately accelerating the learning process. They retain more information while practicing their skills authentically and developmentally without pressure.

Training with the use of VR technology can benefit employees of all ages and backgrounds, but you may need to guide them through the process to get acclimated. While some workers may have experienced VR through video games, others may feel they have no point of reference. It’s also important to address multiple styles of learning and potential sensory overload.

Walk employees through the chosen technology ahead of time with user manuals and videos and by gradually lengthening the time of exposure to VR. Here are a few tips.

1. Upgrade Training Binders and Create User Manuals.

There’s no time like the present to update outdated training binders, which should address how the VR technologies work and how training will use them. If your VR use in training is more extensive, create a separate VR user manual.

Why not give your training materials a technological upgrade, too? Create an app that incorporates the VR user manual, along with quizzes, videos and other resources. Design a space where employees can track their progress by providing their thoughts and reactions. What if the employee took notes in the app? Add an area for feedback so you can continually improve the course.

2. Educate by Example.

Reading only works so well for so long, and you must address various styles and preferences of learning. Talk about the ins and outs of VR technology and educate by example. As you explain what a particular knob or button does, show the trainees what happens. This is an opportunity to insert humor by explaining what not to do and an outlet to share the human-to-human lessons that can’t be assimilated the same way through virtual experiences.

For example, walk employees through what it’s like to put a VR headset on for the first time. Let them see what you see on a projector or on computer. Allow employees to try on the headsets.

3. Engage the Senses.

Learning sticks when employees feel comfortable with their environment and progress. Engage their senses with careful introduction of the equipment you’ll be using for training. Through instructional and experiential videos and operational tours, employees can use their senses to engage with their environment.

Remember driver’s education? Before driving, you watched videos about hitting the road and the dangers you may encounter along the way. Film videos along the same vein, showing a senior employee engaging with the equipment as they go about their daily routine or handle a risky situation.

Before engaging employees with VR, tour real-world facilities and look at equipment they’ll use on the job. Technology can help adapt the situations to be as realistic as possible by, for example, using the same equipment used in the field for police and service training. Of course, some equipment may pose dangers only experienced employees can handle, but seeing senior employees and the equipment live will help employees adjust to and see the importance of training with VR technology.

4. Create Hands-On, Educational Mini-Challenges.

Make training fun by creating small challenges for employees to overcome. Using a headset is highly immersive, and it may cause disorientation if you aren’t used to the feeling. Start with brief exposure, and challenge employees to identify items in the setting. For example, give them five minutes to identify 10 items in the room, such as specific knobs, control panels or types of stock. These small periods of exposure with fun challenges will help acclimate employees to the VR tech quickly and enthusiastically. They’ll soon feel ready to move on to scenario-based training.

5. Prevent Sensory Overload During Scenario-Based Training.

One of the most attractive and immersive uses of VR training is scenario-based exercises. For example, some maritime training facilities use simulators that are like theaters with 360-degree curvilinear screens up to 40 feet high that display larger simulation graphics. The visual details replicate port areas, and ship models handle like real ships with realistic motions. Aboard-ship alarms go off as they would in real life, preparing employees to handle steering, navigational and engine failures. The hydrodynamic behavior of ships is accurate and precise.

Simulated experience can trigger emotional reactions and sensory overload, so it’s best for employees to learn how to use the technology before diving in. However, that emotional aspect helps make the learning process more meaningful and unique. When an employee experiences sensory overload, separate him or her from the scenario. If something has triggered a panic attack, give the employee space, water and an opportunity to talk. Encourage disclosure of personal health concerns and sensitivities, such as tinnitus, beforehand so you’re prepared to address and meet employee needs.

Slowly lengthening the amount of time spent in a scenario will make employees more comfortable with the setting and encourage natural reactions. Employees feel more on edge — and less focused on learning — when they have no idea how they’re supposed to react or what’s happening.

For many employees, training is the first time they’ll engage with virtual reality at that level. When you engage more than one sense and dive right into it, you risk sensory overload, so you must prepare employees. Teach to multiple learning preferences, and slowly incorporate hands-on experiences and mini-challenges. Once employees complete their training, they’ll move with confidence into the field equipped to excel on the job.

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