In a world where stories are shared over a seven-second Snapchat, friends are “requests,” and the world leaders update the masses in 140 characters or fewer, technology is permeating all aspects of our lives. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry is delivering a 24/7 stream of high-quality media to consumers worldwide. Technology and media are thus becoming pervasive and accessible to anyone, anywhere at the push of a button.
However, the training industry lags behind when it comes to using upcoming technologies to drive efficacy. For a trainee, processing information they already perceive as tedious, using last-generation graphics and multimedia, is tantamount to torture. Virtual reality (VR)-based training content has the power to transform training from boring clip art, multiple-choice questions and silly animations to high-quality interactive, emotional experiences capable of capturing the wavering attention of the digital native.
Advances in computer and graphical processing capabilities have made creating immersive, realistic virtual worlds affordable and accessible to trainers and instructional designers. Instructional designers in all industries strive to create a narrative around learning objectives. Combining the power of narrative with technology to create worlds will bring about immersive, engaging and autonomous learning environments never seen before. These worlds contextualize job-specific training, providing learners with the ability to experience the consequences of their decisions in a safe environment where failure only invites more exploration.
New intellectual challenges are arising as an outcome of ubiquitous information platforms like Google and Facebook. Knowledge no longer resides with experts and professors exclusively. Hence, critical thinking skills and contextual application of knowledge has become more important than rote memorization of facts. VR worlds, with their ability to create complex challenges that require adaptive thinking and application, are the perfect training tools for this new digital age.
The efficacy of VR-based simulations has been proven time and time again. A 2004 study tested medical students’ performance using laser trabeculoplasty surgery. They were trained on a point-and-shoot simulator instead of with traditional content like lectures and PowerPoint. The results demonstrated the powerful impact of virtual learning: Only 8 percent of students trained through simulation missed the target, while 55 percent of those presented with traditional learning content missed the target. Only 7 percent of the simulation group over- or under-treated the eye, while 46 percent of the control group miscalculated treatment. Inadvertent laser application dropped from 34 percent to 4.5 percent. These staggering results demonstrate the power of learning using VR. Our ability to create richer virtual reality experiences has grown manifold in the decade since that study, and subsequent research has pointed to even more promising results.
Many in the training world consider VR to be a fad or a technology of the future at best, but in fact, over the last four years, global tech companies like Facebook, HTC, Google, Microsoft and Samsung have made massive investments in virtual and mixed reality technologies. These investments have driven down the cost of mobile and PC VR headsets, resulting in higher adoption rates, especially in the quickly growing mobile VR category.
It’s time for training organizations to embrace the technology and exploit its potential to train for procedural skills in high-risk environments that are difficult to simulate or for soft skills like communication, conflict management, compliance and leadership. VR training applications are being used across professional domains like health care training, military training and retail training. As the awareness about the potential for VR training grows, so will the use cases. This is not the future of the training industry. This is now. As Gen Z would say, “sync or swim.”