With new advances in artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and machine learning, technology is transforming the training industry at an accelerated pace. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of new technology without fully understanding the benefits and drawbacks. Education needs to take place for both instructional designers and learning leaders to understand the economics involved and the potential value for learners and the business.

Leveraging technology in the right way can help improve employee performance. We know that the power of doing has a huge impact on skill development, and these new technologies can support that power. The technologies allow us to move beyond basic skill development to employee performance improvement. Their use can benefit learners by adding context, relevance and personalization to the learning experience.

These technologies have the potential to bring the learning to the employee. They can make high-risk environments safe for learning. The classic example is the use of VR for flight simulation. If a pilot has difficulties or even crashes the plane, they can be provided with information on what went wrong to prevent the same sequence of events from occurring in real life. This type of environment enhances learning by providing a safe yet valuable experience.

We foresee that the investment in these emerging technologies will increase exponentially over the next few years, but it will be targeted. To better understand the impact that this investment will have on the training industry, we asked a group of leading learning and development companies to share their perspective on how learning delivery methods like AI, AR, VR and machine learning will shape the future of corporate learning. We hope that the perspectives shared in this report will provide a context for decision-making going forward, and offer a deeper understanding of how technology can add depth to learning.

Behavior Change & Business Outcomes through Growth in Knowledge
– Carol Leaman, CEO, Axonify

The evolution of technology applied to learning delivery methods has made the learning experience far more specific, personalized and measurable than it’s ever been. Not only can we keep the experience interesting and engaging for the learner, but we can now understand how to actually achieve what learning was intended to do: get a behavior change and business outcome through growth in knowledge. Using a variety of delivery modalities via software, and being able to measure their effectiveness deeply and granularly, has allowed us to optimize the experience for everyone. Now companies can leverage data that was previously impossible to get, adjust it automatically through machine learning, and get value for the learner and for the business that is orders of magnitude greater than at any time in history. Gone are the days of boring, one-size-fits all, static and unmeasurable investments in learning.  

Improving the Feedback Experience
– Simon Fowler, Learning Technology Specialist, AchieveForum

New experiential learning methods can help organizations improve the feedback experience required for skill development. A person’s ability to improve how they do their job and add more value to the organization depends on many factors, such as how quickly they receive feedback and in what form. Too often the gap between when someone performs a skill and when they receive feedback is too long. In addition, the nature of the feedback is often incomplete. Consider the case of a feedback form used in a role-play exercise. A person may write “too aggressive” on the form. The leader may not realize how they showed that. Richer and immediate feedback can be provided with tools such as facial recognition to detect a furrowed brow, voice analysis to detect tension, and wearables to detect posture. Adding interaction with virtual reality avatars can even further improve the immediacy and richness of feedback, accelerating self-awareness and skill development. 

Era of Unparalleled Opportunity for Employee Development
– Kate Pasterfield, Head of Innovation, Sponge UK

The use of emerging technologies in learning has launched an era of unparalleled opportunity when it comes to developing full potential of employees. VR and AR will enable organizations to deliver more immersive learning experiences that have not been possible before. Creative professionals will look to this new tool to solve training problems in new ways, and because the technology is becoming better and cheaper, we’ll see it becoming more prevalent in the workplace.

Developing immersive VR experiences takes learning out into the streets. Using 360° filming techniques can give users a complete picture of who and what’s around them. This is real life learning like never before. Soon, haptics will be raising the bar further, allowing learners to experience touch, temperatures, pressure, spatial awareness and more within immersive learning environments.

3D Immersion into Training
– Andrew Hughes, President, Designing Digitally

Virtual reality is slowly increasing adaptation of full 3D immersion into training like we’ve never seen before. As we have migrated from out of the classroom to online, we’re now in an age where full training immersion is possible without a keyboard and mouse – you can use the tools you need for the job virtually, and be put into scenarios via the virtual training experience. It will only be a [matter] of time before costs come down and we’re able to use VR to provide hands-on training in any scenario we want to simulate instantly and immersively. I will be there, with a headset on, waiting for L&D to join us!

AI Virtual Mentors
– Sayan Guha, Senior Consultant, Technology and Innovation, G-Cube Solutions

Experiential learning is proven to be more effective in comprehension and retention compared to text or video-based content. Here’s a scenario: Robert is excited and apprehensive about his meeting today. It is a final phase pitch to the customer, and the deal could make a substantial dent in his quarterly targets. In the morning, he received an email from Tina.

“Hey Robert,

All the best for your pitch today. I have collated a document set to enhance your pitch containing comparisons with our competitors, a video nugget on our USPs and a short write-up on the client. I hope they will help you.

Cheers, Tina”

The meeting went well. The customer asked about the infrastructure peripheral costs which Robert was not fully prepared for. Thankfully he could connect with Tina over chat. She supplied him with the relevant documents as well as connected him to an expert within the organization over a conference call.

Tina is an AI Virtual Mentor for the 1000+ strong workforce of Robert’s organization. She is an extension of a system that integrates with the CRM, HR and KMS systems to gather data for its users. The scenario isn’t futuristic. NLP (Natural Language Processing) and machine learning are commonplace and available as a service. Rule-based engines and data analytics have been around for ages. The next generation of LMS would bring these together for a learning experience that is intuitive and enjoyable. And that future can be now.

Creating the Ideal Learning Experience
– John-Carlos Lozano, Chief Creative Officer, SweetRush
– Clare Dygert, Manager of Instructional Design, SweetRush

These emerging learning delivery methods are helping us get closer to the ideal learning experience for target audiences to meet business and performance objectives. The ability to create learning that is more physically and mentally immersive, or with more connection to the work environment, or more personalized, means we can keep their attention more fully, offer learning solutions that are more aligned with real-world work experience, and address each learner’s specific needs.

The next level we’re envisioning is these learning methods working in concert. Mixed reality (VR and AR) is already in its infancy. And imagine a VR experience with AI in which the characters you interact with in the virtual world monitor what you’re saying and your body language, and respond appropriately, giving you coaching in the moment. This opens up great possibilities for teaching topics that are challenging in standard e-learning – such as empathy – with subtlety and consistency. 

Depth-Mapping Techniques
– Jeremy Miles, Learning Solutions Architect, GP Strategies

Augmented reality is evolving. Next generation technologies (known as AR 2.0) use depth-mapping techniques to scan real environments such as a car engine, a color printer, or even a patient in intensive care. This provides a 3D reference model that native AR software in your smartphone or tablet can use to overlay additional digital information. The result: an immersive experience that provides enhanced information about the environment you are actually standing in.

Just imagine standing on the site of Ground Zero, or the Berlin Wall, or a London Street, and being able to overlay historic images and information on the scene you are looking at. Or, open the hood of your car and watch a step-by-step guide on how to change the oil, overlaid on your engine. Or, walk around a patient and view the skeleton, muscles and organs.

These technologies are currently being incorporated, as standard, in next-generation smartphones, and the applications, described above, already exist. Imagine where you could take AR 2.0. 

Need for Learning Analysis & Design
– Bob Szostak, Program Manager, Raytheon Professional Services

The influence of emerging delivery technology in the corporate learning space will ultimately depend on a few factors. First, the form and shape of learning will continue to largely depend on its acceptance and adoption by the class of rising learners. Regardless of method, organizations will continue to demand bottom line results and have a frontline role in the provision of time, monies and infrastructure for these efforts. That said, the biggest risk/reward factor is not the technology or its ability to add value to the user experience, but rather the extent to which learning professionals continue to understand, design, and stress the importance of learning systems, which make the most effective use of the new media to accomplish business, performance and learning objectives. Now more than ever, with so many avenues available for deployment, there is a critical need for learning analysis and design. That effort will make all the difference between fun or engaging, and truly effective. 

Dramatic Results for L&D and the Business
– Caroline Brant, Director of Client Success, Zoomi

For years, corporate learning has failed the employee. Now, the learning tech market is providing a new surge of excitement, enabling L&D to make a huge impact on learners and business outcomes. AR and VR are changing the way we experience learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence reveal each individual’s cognitive and behavioral preferences as well as engagement. Not only can we see where learners are engaging with content, we can prove knowledge transfer, measure learning’s impact on business outcomes and truly individualize learning experiences with AI-based personalization of content.

Artificial intelligence can predict whether you will get your next assessment question right, based on your behaviors, cognition and engagement. It shows when a particular slide or snippet of video has a positive (or negative) impact on job performance. Breakthroughs like this are changing the game; the first organizations to embrace these technologies will see dramatic results both within L&D and the organization. 

Combatting Shrinking Attention Spans & Learner Expectations
– Doug Stephen, SVP, CGS Enterprise Learning

Cutting-edge learning delivery methods such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have made digital, hands-on training more accessible to any organization’s workforce, no matter where an employee is located. Delivering learning via AR or VR enables organizations to enrich the content with real-world visuals, interaction and well-designed replicas. For example, if trainees need to learn how to run tests at a data center, delivering the content via AR enables employees to experience the environment without being on-site at the data center.

Additionally, as consumer preferences continue to evolve, delivering content via AR and VR will be crucial to keep learners engaged in a world where attention spans continue to shrink and users have come to expect the same digital, hands-on and interactive content they consume in their day-to-day lives. 

Generational Impact
– Fabian Herrera, SwissVBS

Technology trends have actively influenced newer generations in terms of education. These so-called digital natives are reluctant to embrace old pedagogy. Instead, the eagerness of employees has forced organizations to replace passive learning with more interactive learning experiences. The “learning by doing” paradigm is more appealing to generations who see constant and immediate feedback as the norm, just like in the video games they played as children.

Secondly, augmented reality has the power to enhance the world we perceive through our senses. Instructional designers are creating hybrid learning experiences that bridge the physical and the digital world. These experiences help employees process information by adding a virtual layer of information on top of manuals, charts, machinery and tools through the features of their mobile devices such as camera, gyroscope and GPS navigation.

Finally, millennials have been exposed to technology since they were very young. This over-stimulation has conditioned them to be more distracted, impatient and sometimes underwhelmed. These modern learners place a high value on engaging learning environments that are able to attract their attention. Virtual reality offers unique immersive training that directs their senses to the educational experience. Realistic settings that simulate real-life scenarios can be used to develop skills where context, engagement and decision-making are imperative in the learning path. 

Gaining a Competitive Edge on the Market
– George Elfond, CEO, Rallyware

With the wider use of AI and ML, we’ll be able to deliver the right training to the right people at the right time. Smart systems will learn not only from the previous learning experience of an individual but also from external factors, such as changes in company’s workflows or employee’s personal characteristics. This will lead to a much bigger effect on talent development and on every company’s growth.

Potential benefits of AI and ML extend well beyond increased productivity. Companies that embrace these new technologies will quickly gain a more competitive edge with better-informed decision-making, greater operational efficiency, cost savings, and greater returns on their investment because:

  • With the ability to analyze volumes of data, AI would result in quicker and better decisions.
  • Volumes of data would be aggregated and complex analytical tasks completed in minutes.
  • Automating mundane tasks would free workers to spend more time on creative and innovative activities.

Expanding the Range of Educational Scenarios
– Randy Brown, ARA VP, Manager Virtual Heroes Division

New experiential delivery methods for corporate learning provide the opportunity to massively expand the range, reality and relevance of today’s educational scenarios. By connecting artificial intelligence and deep learning back-end systems in real-time to significantly more engaging immersive learning experiences through augmented and virtual reality interfaces, much more topical, current and accurate learning will take place. Imagine training on today’s market data, or in a company’s current physical plant environment, and interacting with objects, environments, individuals, teams or your company’s systems through fully immersive representations instead of just flat screens interfaces. Imagine virtual experiential team training, or procedural scenarios overlaid through augmented reality onto your real-world environments. By connecting these advanced technologies to critical training objectives, true learning instead of rote memorization or training on obsolete materials will become the expected or even demanded approach to support future life-long learning methods. 

Coaching through Chat Bots
– Gina Richter, Senior Strategist, Conduent

A great example of augmented reality is providing salespeople with details on a client, based on their location. However, I don’t believe a majority of AR/VR is coming to an office near you anytime soon. The budgets and infrastructure to produce most of these types of simulated environments for a practical application is still cost prohibitive for most of us. However, I think AI is already changing the world of learning in two distinct ways. One is that many of the jobs that include repetitive type tasks are and will continue to be taken over by AI, and AI has already begun to curate learning for us through recommendations and daily learning feeds. AI is also driving coaching scenarios through chat bots, as well as performance support within an organization where chat bots can point a new user to the right place for their need at the right time.

Neuroscience Research Reinforces Benefits
– Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Creative Officer, Skillsoft

There is a lot of hype around AR, VR and gamification, but these are modalities, not learning strategies. These technologies augment the user’s worldview with contextual, relevant and actionable information.

The reason Skillsoft is investing is that neuroscience research tells us that purposeful, cognitive practice is as valuable as actual performance because the brain stores the information the same way. Skills embed into the brain through the overlapping circuitry engaged by recruiting resources from multiple parts of the brain. Simulations require the brain to use multiple skills simultaneously, facilitating actual application of knowledge. Users, and therefore organizations, benefit from improved retention rates that result from impactful multiple-sensory inputs and immersive learning simulations. 

– Steve Fiehl, Chief Innovation Officer, CrossKnowledge

One of the key forces disrupting the L&D world today is mass-personalization, and this is happening through the use of experiential learning. New technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, semantic web and voice-driven interfaces are turning the web into a personal assistant to anyone with an Internet connection. This has tremendously raised the bar of a learner’s expectations, who is no longer convinced or engaged by a one-size-fits-all to learning. To meet these high expectations, the L&D world has to leverage these new delivery methods, and start speaking to each learner individually. Today, and for the future, it’s essential to start relying on self-driven learning experiences to keep learners engaged. This starts with the real problems that employees face on a daily basis. Thanks to big data, L&D departments can start providing individualized learning solutions, and thus create more vibrant, engaged learning communities.