Formal, classroom training is number one. According to the LinkedIn 2017 Workplace Learning Report, 78 percent of respondents said that this is the way their employees learn. The reasons for this popularity are vast. Only, there is also a darker side to this; it is the mindset of seeing no other alternative and sticking with “the way we have been doing it.” This often results in unengaged trainees, impacting business processes, planning loads and inflexibility in the way, and time, we train and learn.

Luckily, times are changing, and the moment has come that we can take a leap in improving this side of formal learning. Let’s put instructors, classrooms, PowerPoints, e-learning, on-site, field trips, mobile phones, blended learning and engagement all into the “learning wash machine,” turn it on, and reimagine our learning and training – virtually.

ILT

Several elements of instructor-led training (ILT) suit us well: the social character, the ability to convey and discuss perspectives and storytelling. The master-apprentice principle is as old as humanity itself, and is encrypted in our DNA. Add experimenting and play to it, and we are hooked.

This kind of training will always have its merits, however, given the changing characteristics of business, learners, society and technology, we have a responsibility to take these opportunities and rethink and re-evaluate the effectiveness of this training model in current times.

Scale

The ILT model is effective, especially when dealing with a smaller group of people where action (instruction) and reaction (learning) is happening in a quick feedback loop. In the world we live in now, this works when the group is in one location. But what happens when some members of that group are in another location, or have different needs? ILT at different places and phases becomes less obvious. Add globally distributed teams and the question arises on how to organize a group of individuals who need training, so that the output of that group, and thus training, is coherent, reportable (i.e., for compliance reasons) and of lasting value?

In Clay Shirky’s TED Talk, “Institutions vs. collaboration,” he explains our modern response to this problem of coordination: We form institutions. In business terms, we would call this creating a training department with people whose sole responsibility is to make sure everyone else is properly trained and registered. As a trainee, you just show up, take the training and get back to work. Or, when you are ill, the result is tasking the training department with finding you another spot while balancing trainer, classroom and operational availability (often resulting in you being able to take the training only a couple of months later).

Situational

The challenge of making training situational and contextual for trainees within a classroom setting is apparent and dealt with in various ways. Role-play, serious games or outdoor activities are being used to get some of the context (the real situation) into the learning arena. While these activities are sometimes beneficial for the trainee, one could argue that this is merely an attempt to solve a problem that is unsolvable. For example, getting a real situation into the classroom, or getting the class into a real-life situation and being able to practice with various elements, (e.g., emotions and contextual elements). Is the trainee then really able to immerse fully in learning and behavior in real life?

The Flaws

From a business perspective, it boils down to two major difficulties with the classroom/instructor-led way of training. Training capacity is scarce, and the result and desired effect of the training takes a long time to reveal itself from within the trainee. 

The Effect

The result of a training program is based on three things, as we learned from the Kirkpatrick-Phillips Model: 1) reaction to the program; 2) learning the intended knowledge, skills or attitude; and 3) on-the-job application of what has been learned.

Figure 1 visualizes the effect of different learning elements. There is little integration between reaction, learning, contextual behavior, theory and practice. A classroom setting will address learning and touch upon behavior, but the result (the thing the business manager will see as return on investment) takes time to reveal itself. Especially since the trainee has to put the learning into practice in his/her own context while dealing with the madness and distraction of everyday work. Furthermore, we all know that practice makes perfect, and the ability to keep re-echoing the learnings as time progresses improves retention.

The Scarcity

The capacity of the classroom is very limited if we think about the people/trainers, the physical location(s) and the time available for training. No matter how big the demand is, your supply is always limited and restricted to the boundaries of people, place and time. All very understandable and human, but in this era of exponential growth and availability of resources that used to be scarce and not shared (information, beds and breakfast, taxis, opinions, etc.), one must think, isn’t there another way?

Reimagine Learning and Training

The current state of technology enables us to consider another way to improve engagement, training effect and availability. The premise of learning on the job, of connecting the “10” and “70” in the 70-20-10 model has arrived and will change the way we think about classroom, instructor-led training. Virtual reality (VR) enables us to surpass the boundaries of people, place and time. It increases the result by making on-the-job training available anywhere, anytime with direct feedback and unprecedented trainee performance data.

What do you need?

Experience. Go and experience all that is already out there. Don’t experience only one thing, because the world of VR is broad and consists of many forms and possibilities. Becoming experienced is something you can do easily on your own. Buy a set of VR goggles, go to the app store and search for “VR.” Be sure to test animated VR as well as 360-video, filmed with a 360-camera. Next to that, be very thoughtful of your needs. VR is still a means to an end; not the other way around.

Experiment

When you immerse yourself, literally, in the universe that is called VR, you will probably end up with various ideas on how to apply this within your business/training context. As always, there are many people jumping on this horse, and only a few who can really tame it, so be sure to surround yourself with professionals and experts who have already created training and learning content. Mastering this medium is not to be taken lightly; it requires various new and adapted skills, especially due to the immersive character and the profound impact it has on the user. It is really a “make it or break it” experience; once the trainee removes the headset out of frustration or nausea, you will have a hard time convincing him to put the goggles back on.

Advantages

The advantages are, in my opinion, groundbreaking and disruptive for the world of learning and training. Being able to create immersive learning environments where people are in a situation, applying knowledge, exercising skills and getting immediate feedback are unprecedented, let alone the leap in performance reporting and analytics one can make. All of this can be gained with one’s own mobile phone or a more advanced VR headset like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, depending on business and user needs.

So, the next time a business executive has a challenge for which he or she needs, for example, 300 people trained in two weeks on new procedures or on-site do’s and don’ts, don’t respond with limitations, but with abundance. You only need a smartphone, a VR headset and great content. It will remarkably impact your business’ bottom line as well as your trainees’ performance.

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