As learning and development (L&D) professionals, we’re no strangers to the term “digital transformation.” Most people think digital transformation is all about technology, but it’s really about people, process and technology. This digital evolution has occurred quickly and is affecting every aspect of business, including product and service design, operations and process. This article will focus on how digital transformation is impacting L&D practices and how we can use disruptive technologies to upskill or reskill our workforce.

I recently had the opportunity to co-host a webinar with Brandon Carson, director of learning at Delta Air Lines and author of “Learning in the Age of Immediacy,” on how digital transformation is disrupting learning. In Carson’s current role, he oversees training and development for all global airport agents for Delta Air Lines, and he has previously held L&D leadership roles at The Home Depot, Microsoft, and Yahoo!

In the webinar, we examined trends in digital technology that are transforming the way employees learn on the job and shared real-life case examples. Here are some of the highlights on how to bring training to new dimensions through virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mobile learning.

Virtual Reality Case Study: Safety Training for Delta Air Lines

According to an Udemy for Business survey of L&D leaders, 18 percent of organizations plan to incorporate VR in the next few years. VR technology is more mature than AR, so we’re seeing some sophisticated learning experiences and opportunities.

Carson shared how Delta Air Lines recently conducted a VR proof of concept for safety training to test its ability to provide an authentic and scalable learning environment for high-risk, real-world training scenarios. In the past, it has been challenging for Delta to train agents to prepare the aircraft for takeoff because they’ve relied on using actual aircrafts during flight times. Agents also need experience identifying hazardous material around the aircraft and it can be difficult to implement this training with real flights.

By creating a VR environment of the airplane walk-around task, Delta takes agents out of the work environment and into a realistic simulation. In the VR setting, trainers can easily introduce various types of hazardous material, which means practice sessions in the VR environment cover multiple scenarios that agents may be exposed to in the real world.

The results from the Delta’s proof of concept were promising: 12 flights were observed pre- and post-VR training and five flights performed better post-VR training, while none performed worse. Participants received immediate feedback on their performance, and the majority of participants rated the experience as “valuable” or “very valuable.” The VR technology also makes it possible to identify high-performing agents, who can then be encouraged to share their strategies and advice with others.

Augmented Reality Case Study: New Hire Onboarding at Udemy

At Udemy, we’ve recently introduced AR into our onboarding program for new hires. We were inspired to focus on onboarding when we learned that 79 percent of individuals see opportunities for improvement in their company’s onboarding process and people who have had an effective onboarding experience around company culture are 12 times as likely to feel committed to their organization.

This led us to outline the following learning objectives for our program:

  • Engage employees with our mission.
  • Share knowledge about Udemy with our employees.
  • Create opportunities to bond.

Our new onboarding program contains two major initiatives: an online onboarding course, “Welcome to Udemy” and “Udemy Go,” our AR scavenger hunt that sends people on an augmented reality race around the office. The name was inspired by Pokémon Go, the first mainstream use of AR technology. Our new digital onboarding program also enabled us to scale onboarding throughout our global offices in Ireland, Turkey, and Brazil. New hires could take the online course on day one rather than waiting for scheduled face-to-face training in our San Francisco office.

On a new employee’s first day, their space is decorated with a balloon as a way of welcoming them to the team and the office, so the Udemy Go game is built around collecting virtual balloons by completing activities, learning about the company and answering questions. We also use 360 video tours to show footage from different offices and encourage employees to take group selfies as they complete different activities.

We’ve been excited about the results of the game so far. New employees reported 4.6 out of 5 on an increase in company knowledge. The net promoter score (NPS) for the app is 54. And there’s no denying the connections that have happened between employees as they’ve gone through the app.

Mobile Case Study: In-aisle Training at The Home Depot

In the webinar, Carson also shared his experience with a mobile training pilot conducted while at Home Depot, his former employer. Training at Home Depot is no easy feat as there are over 200,000 associates working across almost 2,000 stores in the U.S. The store training model is mostly transactional – meaning training is conducted off the floor, away from work. New employees are “fire-hosed” with e-learning modules, which they completed sitting in an office removed from the sales floor, often before they even had the chance to interact with customers.

There were several problems with this approach. New employees were overwhelmed with information but without necessary context. Because the learning wasn’t occurring in the moment of need, knowledge retention was low. And because employees completed e-learning modules away from the sales floor, it was considered different from, and less valuable than, their regular work.

Of the learning objectives, Carson says they wanted associates to be more competent and confident so they could better serve customers. He believed there was an opportunity to build a product knowledge app experience that provided enough information to help customers make decisions based on their needs and the products/solutions Home Depot offers.

There were two main components to the app: a product category section focused on the top-selling items in the store and game-based challenges designed to reinforce product-knowledge understanding. The product category section allowed associates to search or browse the top-selling products that are most interesting to customers.

For example, if a customer came in with a question about chainsaws, the associate could look up chainsaws in the app to see a list of the top questions a customer might ask and how to answer them, a list of top-selling products in that category, and a list of other recommended items that customers tend to purchase together. The other component, the “challenges,” were learning modules that associates could engage with whenever they had a few quiet moments when no customers were around. The idea of the challenges was to go on a scavenger hunt to locate specific items and learn more about them in a hands-on, tactile manner.

The results from the pilot were impressive. Ninety percent of associates agreed that the mobile app helped them assist customers and improve their own knowledge. The average time on a page was almost one minute, the average duration for a session was over three minutes, and the average pages per session was more than four. Plus, when compared with the control group, who had gone through the traditional e-learning modules, the group using the mobile app got through all the questions 24 percent faster.

We’re still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new VR, AR and mobile training, but these case studies show what’s possible. When aligned with your learning objectives and carried out thoughtfully, these technologies offer the opportunity to disrupt learning at your organization.