The Training Landscape and Emerging Immersive Technology

Training is on the precipice of a major change. First, its current iteration isn’t cutting it: Almost 50% of employees say traditional training is not very effective, and a staggering 62% of chief learning officers agree, according to ATD’s “Instructional Design Now.” For many companies, training has become a matter of compliance rather than a way to educate, engage and empower employees. This state of things is especially alarming considering that companies globally spend around $366 billion annually on training.

Innovations in learning technology are turning heads and broadening ideas of what’s possible. Just like online learning revolutionized workplace training in the early 2000s, new tools are set to reshape the training landscape and offer better approaches to long-standing challenges.

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) are generating a lot of buzz as golden saviors for corporate training. According to Gartner, by 2022, 70% of companies “will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use,” with 25% already deployed to production. This predicted growth is due to the maturation and accessibility of immersive technology, the falling costs of hardware, and the influx of research and success stories pointing toward the power of immersion.

As VR transitions from tomorrow’s potential technology into today’s viable tool, the conversation must widen to include actionable, focused upgrades to existing training programs. VR won’t be a catch-all solution for all training challenges, but certain training projects are ripe to be converted into engaging, immersive VR experiences. Enter the concept of VRifying.

What Is VRifying?

At its simplest, VRifying is converting existing training materials, especially content that isn’t achieving desired results, into dynamic VR experiences. While it’s possible to make a VR training program from scratch, and many organizations have done so successfully, VRifying specifically means capitalizing on the training and storytelling potential of immersive media at low cost to both time and budget by translating preexisting training materials into VR.

In other words, VRifying helps inject an element of engaging storytelling into training content, thereby engaging trainees, drawing explicit connections between cause and effect, and clarifying abstract concepts. It takes the nutritional value of written content and serves it as a delicious, appetizing meal that leaves a lasting impact.

Why VRify?

To understand the raw value of VRifying existing content, it’s helpful to understand what the medium of VR has to offer as a training tool.

VR is as a powerful medium for training because of its three superpowers: immersion, presence and empathy. In VR, users can’t check their phone or respond to emails during training as they often do during classroom sessions or traditional online models. Instead, the headset immerses them in an environment, producing a unique sense of presence that prompts the brain to absorb information as if it were actually in that environment. If the environment is convincing enough, users can form lasting spatial and muscle memories that carry over into the real world.

VR has been dubbed “the empathy machine,” because more than any other medium, it places the user in other people’s shoes, promoting understanding, patience and empathy-driven changes in attitude and behavior. VR’s capacity to promote empathy makes it well-suited for customer service e-training, anti-harassment and diversity training, and more.

Why Now?

When extended reality (XR) technology first came onto the scene, the biggest barrier to adoption was the cost associated with creating and distributing functional, high-quality content. Fortunately, VR content is now easier to create than ever. Consumer 360-degree cameras run as low as $150, which is a big win for hobby filmmakers and independent creators. Businesses, however, should be apprehensive of skimping; footage, stitching and post-processing quality can make or break the in-headset experience. Well-produced VR eliminates motion sickness and increases realism, heightening the sense of presence and improving retention and recall.

Today, a business could partner with an XR production company to VRify an existing training program without much strain. To produce a comprehensive set of top-of-the-line 360-degree videos for training, businesses are looking at as little as one day to shoot, 90 days from ideation to execution and measurement, and as little as $50,000 to start. Those numbers are especially exciting considering VR’s scalability: With multi-screen functionality, training administrators can share content across any number of VR headsets (as well as laptops and smartphones) around the globe. Learners can even download VR content for offline access, making it a good fit for staff who work in locations without internet connection, such as a cement warehouse or at sea. Once content is delivered, training administrators have access to detailed, live analytics that provide actionable heat maps, performance data, user gaze analysis and more.

What Should You VRify?

When it comes to VRifying, the key is focus: Businesses would do well to start small, leveraging XR to address a specific problem with a measurable impact.

First, identify critical information that isn’t landing or connecting via online, print or other forms of traditional training. Here, employee feedback is valuable: What segments of training have they been skipping? Are there any moments during training that seem irrelevant to their day-to-day duties? What do they find boring or unengaging?

Unless your intent is to invest in highly interactive VR content, the best candidates for VRifying are opportunities for compelling storytelling that enacts change, rather than highly technical skills. Because XR media provides opportunities for immersive, empathy-rich storytelling, it’s a particularly good fit for company values training, unconscious bias training or an announcement of a corporate brand refresh.

When in doubt, refer to the three superpowers of VR (immersion, presence and empathy), and target one or more of the four Ps of VR training (process, product, people and place). With these guiding principles in mind, other strong candidates include familiarizing new employees with large facilities, customer service training, onboarding, process training to avoid safety hazards, diversity and anti-harassment training, and beyond.

The next time you’re about to oversee a boring, ineffective company training program, ask yourself, “Why not VRify the lesson?” It could make a world of difference.