Last month, KFC announced a new training program: a “Virtual Training Escape Room” in which cooks use clues provided by Colonel Sanders to virtually fry chicken. KFC says it’s using the new virtual reality (VR) program to supplement its Chicken Mastery Certification, which includes e-learning and hands-on training in restaurant kitchens. The company is also planning on using VR for its regional general manager training, quarterly franchise meetings and headquarters employee onboarding.

Another restaurant chain, Honeygrow, is using VR to make its frontline training more engaging. Employees participate in a 360-degree tour of a restaurant, hear from founder and CEO Justin Rosenberg, watch employees, and virtually stock a walk-in refrigerator. Honeygrow also demonstrates the technology during interviews and uses it as a recruiting tool. Rosenberg told Entrepreneur in July that the percentage of employees earning certifications in company culture grew from 50 to 77 percent within one month of implementing VR, and “of the people who are getting certified, those certifications are happening faster, so they’re learning quicker.”

The adoption of VR by companies like KFC and Honeygrow may come as a surprise to anyone who follows the news, where VR is often called overrated and overhyped, at least in its current condition. Sales have been lower than anticipated, and many are wondering if VR’s value will be delayed until its technology is better.

However, points out Danny Belch, chief sales officer of Strivr Labs, that’s true for consumers, many of whom can’t afford or don’t want to pay the high costs of VR for entertainment. For businesses trying to develop their employees, though, “VR is actually a very good solution.”

For example, STRIVR has worked with Walmart to develop VR training for its retail employees – “from the bagger all the way up to the assistant store manager.” Belch says the new training has proven effective, especially for situations like training deli workers, where training a new group of employees during store hours would be disruptive to operations. With VR, they experience the deli without leaving the training center.

It’s also useful when training employees for events like Black Friday or emergencies like active shooter situations. Due to the high turnover rate in the retail industries, many employees have never worked on Black Friday. When there are thousands of people in the store, Belch says, employees can be overwhelmed and anxious, and they can’t do their jobs well. By simulating this situation and allowing employees to practice as many times as they need to, Walmart can prepare them for Black Friday without the anxiety.

So far, Walmart has seen positive results with its VR training. Employees are reportedly enjoying training more, and their retention is better than employees who are trained using traditional methods like observation or reading instructions on a PDF. In fact, Walmart’s blog reports that by the end of the year, all 200 Walmart Academy facilities will be using VR to train associates.

Best and Worst Cases

A common mistake Belch sees organizations make when implementing VR is using it for the wrong situations. “What’s good in VR is really good,” he says, but “what’s not good falls flat.” One retailer, for example, wanted to use VR to train employees on how to handle a scanning device using VR. But VR is best for immersive situations, when “things are happening all around you.” To learn to use a device, it’s typically best to use the actual device.

There are several situations when VR can make training more efficient and effective:

  • Training for dangerous jobs, such as working on oil rigs or in mines, preparing for an active shooter, or preparing bank employees for a robbery
  • Training that would otherwise be very expensive, such as training pilots with real airplanes
  • Training that would otherwise be impossible or difficult to replicate, such as training for construction jobs, since construction sites are often closed or have too many regulations to host training
  • Training in which mistakes would be costly, such as in the health care industry

Industries such as manufacturing, hospitality and telecom are also “ripe for VR,” according to Belch, who adds that United Rentals, an equipment rental company, has said VR will cut training time in half.

Tips for Using VR in Training

First, make sure to understand that, as Belch says, “this is a pretty substantial departure” from traditional training, whether that’s in the classroom or online. It involves new technology, new ways for learners to interact with that technology and a new mindset. It means committing to this change.

That said, it’s important not to use VR just for the sake of using the latest flashy technology. It may draw employees to training, but if they don’t have a good experience, it will hurt more than it will help. For example, Belch says many organizations don’t understand how to create VR experiences using movement; if you simply record a customer service associate’s movement throughout a hotel, for example, and then have trainees watch that movement using a VR device, they may be nauseous. Instead, “build a world” where learners control their own movement.

The type of device you use for training is also critical. For example, VR hardware designed for mobile devices can’t withstand training as long as 10 or 15 minutes without overheating and shutting down. If you’re planning on using VR in mobile training, make sure your training experiences are brief.

Research has found that VR can support improved learning and retention. However, with such an expensive, immersive learning experience, it’s important to get it right. Ensuring that VR fits your use case and that you’re using the right technology effectively can make your VR training initiative a success.