Technology has evolved considerably since I was a child – when “Oregon Trail” was the hottest learning game on the market. I learned about the life and struggles of a pioneer in the 19th century from the comfort of my school computer lab. As a millennial child, I had little context of the life or death decisions that pioneers faced on the great Oregon Trail. But the storytelling elements and the unpredictable nature of the game increased my engagement in the learning content and made learning fun.

Learning games are now incredibly more advanced thanks to emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR). Individuals no longer need to be passive spectators in a game, they can now be transported into another virtual world to learn and experience the environment first-hand.

VR games have become increasingly popular in the past few years. The more widely adopted VR becomes, the more accessible and affordable it is for consumers. With a VR headset, players can be transported from their living room into the middle of a zombie apocalypse or climbing a mountain hundreds of feet off the ground. While consumers largely use gaming systems as a fun pastime, VR offers more than pure entertainment value.

Technology is creating more opportunities for employees to learn in industries where failure is not an option. Using VR and other immersive technologies in corporate training can create an engaging learning experience that enables the practice of potentially high-risk skills in a safe, secure environment. VR technologies are being used in a variety of industries including aviation, oil and gas, health care, and construction. Learners can now practice fighting a fire or operating on a patient with a rare medical problem in a no-risk environment.

Practice improves performance. By deliberately repeating a skill or behavior, you improve knowledge recall and response time. In environments where practicing a skill is highly dangerous, a realistic, no-risk environment is critical to on-the-job success.

Virtual reality is just one component of digital reality that can help solve real-world business problems and increase training outcomes, according to Deloitte Insights. There are several technologies that can create a multidimensional learning experience.

  • Virtual reality: Creates a three-dimensional virtual environment that mimics reality as closely as possible.
  • Augmented reality: Enhances reality by overlaying digitally created content into the user’s real-world environment.
  • Mixed reality: Blends digital content into the real world and creates an environment where both coexist and interact.
  • Immersive: Places users in an interactive learning environment, either physically or virtually, to replicate possible scenarios or teach specific skills.
  • 360-degree video: Provides a new perspective that allows users to look in every direction.

Choosing the technology that is right for your training program is a challenging decision for training managers. With so many options available, it’s easy to get lost in the latest fads without a clear understanding of your training goals and outcomes. It’s important to determine whether the training would benefit from a high amount of interactivity and hands-on learning where skills can be tested and repeated in a low-risk environment. Then select the digital experience that would be most suitable for your training goals and learners.

Experience Matters

The learner experience is at the heart of training and development. Experience increases learner engagement, competency and the likelihood that the new skills will become engrained behaviors. Effective learning does not occur through a one-time event; it requires a continuous process that involves reinforcement, repetition and application of the new skills. Technology can enable this reinforcement and result in more effective training outcomes.