Immersive learning is a hot topic — and for good reason. It can engage learners, hold their attention and lead to true behavior change. And if you’re using the right technology, skills data can be captured as the learner goes through the experience.  

So, how can you choose the right tech platform for immersive learning? There is no single leading technology or methodology, since so much depends on the type of knowledge and skills your teams need to develop, your budget, and the size and geography of your organization.  

There’s reason to choose immersive learning as an overarching principle for engaging your learners and improving training outcomes. However, immersive learning means different things to different people. To some, it means donning a high-tech headset for virtual reality (VR); for others, it means realistic video scenarios. For those new to the technology options, here is a primer on the different immersive learning methods. The options for simulating a realistic environment each have their own pros and cons.  

The best place to start when weighing your options is with a framework for deciding which platform best meets your organizational needs and goals.  

Start With a Needs Analysis  

There isn’t a universal choice for immersive learning, since the optimal strategy for any organization relies on several factors, such as learner population size, available funding and learning goals.  

Frequently, entities tend to concentrate initially on the technology and its deployment instead of first identifying the learning challenge and examining potential solutions for it. Before focusing on technology, it is best if organizations review their existing learning needs analysis procedure and other learning implementation processes to ascertain if they can be used to pinpoint where an immersive learning experience might be useful. 

What Training Issues Need to Be Addressed?  

Just like creating any training solution, a thorough learning needs analysis should be done to ascertain the challenge that needs to be addressed, explore potential approaches and decide on the right solution. This should include any evaluation requirements and whether an immersive learning solution should cater to this training need. It may be that it can be managed in the existing system, such as a learning management system (LMS), separate from the immersive experience. 

What is the Organization’s Tech Capability?  

Even if your learning and development (L&D) team does not have the necessary resources to launch an immersive learning technology solution, there might be an opportunity to source support from another department that has already experimented with new technology. The talent development team might have already tapped into platforms that are measuring skills data and could join forces with the learning team.  

You might also consider whether your organization should solicit external assistance from a company that specializes in creating immersive learning content … which leads to the next crucial question. 

As stated earlier, it’s important to assess whether the learning advantages and outcomes justify the investment, in terms of both time and finance, needed to develop the experience. 

What’s the Budget?  

Is there a budget available to launch an innovative learning solution or do you, as a learning leader, need to advocate for an additional budget to implement an immersive learning strategy? 

It’s valuable to determine if a complex immersive approach is needed for a learning issue or whether a simple experience like compelling storytelling with video can sufficiently address the learning requirement. 

In addition, consider the initial cost of investing in any hardware and the expense of maintaining any equipment, especially if employees are geographically dispersed. 

What is the Organization’s Size and Type?  

For smaller organizations, the business case for immersive learning technology may not be as strong. This ties back to the balance between benefit and effort, and the nature of the organization and learning context. 

For instance, if an organization focuses on training in safety-critical tasks like construction, mining or technical work heavily reliant on machinery, then immersive learning with VR or augmented reality (AR) through the use of headsets can be highly effective. Providing learners with a safe learning environment is one of immersive learning’s main advantages. 

For soft skills, like leadership and management, or dealing with scenarios related to diversity and inclusion, then AR/VR hardware may be overkill and reduce accessibility — especially for large and disparate teams. In cases like these, online simulations to practice dealing with scenarios may be much more practical and effective.  

What Technology Is Available?  

In each situation, thorough research is vital. It might be useful to benchmark against other similar organizations to discover which immersive learning technology they’ve adopted and what has (and hasn’t) been effective. 

It’s also valuable to understand why another organization has chosen a particular immersive learning strategy or technology. Was it simply because this was available with pre-packaged content to address a specific learning requirement or has this other organization conducted research in this area? 

What Skills Data Do I Get From the Experiences? 

Immersive learning is high impact but can also come at a higher cost. This puts a greater spotlight on the investment, so measuring impact is critical. It is important to understand what data you will obtain over and above traditional completion and engagement data.  

Experiences that involve realistic skill application have the potential to measure learning impact and upskilling. Look at the available data and how you can use this to demonstrate learning effectiveness and return on investment. 

Can the Organization Run a Pilot?  

Conducting a pilot test with a smaller group of learners and collecting feedback is one of the most effective ways to ensure the solution is suitable. Constructive feedback, defining your learning metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) ahead of time, and checking if they have been met will assist in building your business case and deciding on the strategy. 

Numerous organizations have deployed immersive learning strategies and technologies to address a specific high-value need and learned a great deal from an initial deployment.  

After a pilot is finished, as with any learning strategy, the emphasis should be on iteration, enhancement and addressing a further learning challenge to assess if immersive learning is a good fit for general programs.  

Can the Learning Program Scale to Larger Audiences? 

Another point to consider is the scalability of the immersive approach. If the pilot proves successful, consider how the approach can be expanded to other areas of the organization. Is the technology capable of being scaled up to thousands of learners? Will it meet peak demand periods around mandatory training? Will it require additional resources, support or infrastructure? 

Could We Build More Experiences Ourselves? 

Assuming you scale immersive learning to more learners and programs, what is the longer-term plan for developing experiences? Are you looking for generic content or the ability to customize it to the unique needs of your organization? Who will do this work if you want to customize it: Your vendor or your instructional design team? If you plan on building your own experiences, you must also evaluate the available tools. How quickly can you go from script to experience and what support will you need? 

How Accessible is the Immersive Learning?  

This is another critical factor to consider. Is the immersive learning technology easy to use for all learners, including those with disabilities? It is essential to ensure that technology does not create barriers to learning — but instead enhances the learning experience for everyone. 

Don’t Set and Forget 

Evaluate and iterate. Post-implementation, it is important to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your immersive learning approach. Has it achieved the intended learning objectives? How has it impacted learner engagement or skill acquisition? Use this information to continuously refine and optimize the training experiences. 

In Conclusion  

There’s no single recommendation for choosing the best immersive learning solution, as the most effective approach and technology for you will always depend on the specific needs, resources and capabilities of your organization. However, by taking a systematic, thoughtful approach and considering key questions, you can make an informed decision that best supports your organization’s learning objectives and maximizes your training ROI.