Let's face it, traditional forms of learning are becoming redundant. As industry leaders battle to bridge an ever-growing skills gap, could immersive training be the key to success?
As technology evolves, so does the gap between employer and employee. While modern-day machines may be smarter than ever, entering a new job role as an industry novice has never been harder.
VR/AR developments continue to change the game for business leaders across the globe. With the ability to take training off the page and into a realistic setting, employers can transport their team straight onto the shop floor or inside a piece of complex machinery, all without leaving the classroom.
Better still, V-learners are up to four times more focused than E-learners (those learning on a computer), rendering immersive tech a crucial addition to a modern-day training programme.
Not only does this combat lack of time and low employee interest but, according to the CEO of The Training Arcade, Stephen Baer, immersive training experiences can speed up the learning curve and improve knowledge retention.
“A virtual reality (VR) game is one example, but 2D experiences like simulations, scenarios and learning games can be immersive, too,” he says. “Just like binge-worthy TV shows, they provide relatable stories and context that capture attention and imagination, so employees are less likely to be distracted and more likely to focus on the task at hand.”
As employee training trends digitally shift, let’s have a closer look at how VR/AR could transform the classroom.
Improved knowledge retention
Virtual reality breeds employee engagement. Transporting users to an interactive training environment allows new hires to learn on the go.
Experiencing real-world scenarios from the comfort of the classroom provides employees with the chance to apply their new skills to their job role as soon as they learn them. By turning theory into practice, VR aids users in retaining new information.
For example, if you’re a student doctor learning about the valves of a heart, the ability to jump inside a virtual organ can quickly bring a diagram to life and demonstrate the pumping of blood around the heart in much more detail.
In fact, research shows that a whopping 65% of the population are visual learners. Therefore, using immersive tools to turn the page into a picture could be the key to memorising important information.
Practising in a virtual environment, trainees are also given the opportunity to test their knowledge against common challenges and misconceptions that may impact their role in practice.
Brand giant and Fortune 500 company Walmart use VR technology to do just this. By positioning new employees in a virtual shopfloor simulation, they quickly test their knowledge in action as they approach tricky customers, shopping safety hazards and checkout chaos.
While they may make mistakes along the way, using virtual training tools provides Walmart trainees with a safe space to memorise where they went wrong and think about the choices they make on the real shop floor.
“Life happens in 360, not 2D video. We test our associates on the content they see. Those associates who used VR as part of their training scored higher than those who didn’t,” says Brock McKeel, senior director of operations at Walmart.
“We had associates standing in line to get trained. That never normally happens. So we knew we had something.”
This sense of enjoyment surrounding the training program has shaped Walmart’s onboarding success. If employees are actively engaged, they are more likely to train information and apply skills from the virtual simulation to a real-world scenario.
Training on the go
Traditional training takes time. In 2023, every industry will be fast-paced. Manufacturing technology is ever-evolving, healthcare procedures are ever-changing, and corporate client lists keep expanding.
In order to maintain workforce productivity, employee training must be more efficient. This includes cutting down classroom time and instead training new hires on the go. Immersive learning aids such as VR headsets and AR-powered smartphone apps reduce the need for in-person training. Acting as a digital guidebook, users can quickly tap into step-by-step simulations or pull up a 3D model of an intricate piece of machinery.
Picking up skills on the go significantly reduces the learning curve associated with transitioning from the training room into the world of work. This is especially important for job roles that require high levels of employee adaptation.
Take the special forces as an example. VR training can be taken to any camp base in any country and aid troops in preparing for a number of unexpected, high-pressure situations on the go.
VR platform SimX is currently working alongside the US Air Force (USAF) to provide location-adaptive training simulations during combat. Dropping troops into realistic battle simulations, SimX provides a safe space to practise safety protocols and medical training in a number of high-intensity locations.
"The mission impact of this project will be increased overall medical capability for combat casualty care,” says former USAF Pararescue Medical Director John R. Dorsch. “The new capability to train these critical skills in a virtual domain will ensure that our elite operators continue to provide the highest level of care to US and partner force casualties.”
Taking these training aids on the go not only teaches troops to adapt their skill set in a number of unfamiliar environments but could also save a life in a high-pressure situation.
Immersive learning is one of the most cost-effective ways to bridge the skills gap. While traditional training methods rely on costly equipment, resources and materials, VR and AR tools reduce the need for physical aids.
Additionally, one of the key benefits of immersive learning is that it can be delivered remotely. German manufacturer Henkel has certainly taken advantage of remote VR training. Instead of paying for employees to attend a costly health and safety course, they simply provide each new hire with an immersive headset and send them on a scavenger hunt.
As an extremely engaging and interactive experience for the user, Henkel’s idea is to give employees free rein in the factory and the surrounding area to search for potential hazards. For each hazard they find, they receive a level-up that takes them to the next stage.
Another industry battling to keep costs low is the healthcare sector. With one of the most expensive training programs on the planet, constantly donating costly equipment to student doctors and nurses can cost hospitals millions every year.
Los Angeles Children’s Hospital spends up to half a million dollars yearly on in-house training. This budget, however, only covers up to two hours of training time for practising doctors and surgeons.
They have since invested in a VR-powered alternative that aims to keep costs low while bridging the skills gap in a much more effective manner. Using VR headsets, trainees are able to experience scenarios based on real-life case studies.
They can interact with virtual team members, perform simple procedures using haptic sensors and, best of all, spend as long as they want in a training environment. Not only does this breed a more confident generation of doctors, but it can significantly reduce on-the-job mistakes.
Could VR close the skills gap?
Technological evolution is both widening the skills gap and closing it at the same time. While digital innovation requires more learning, these new aids have the ability to cut training time in half.
Virtual reality has become a game changer in the education sector. From reshaping classroom learning to innovating in-person onboarding, VR quickly takes theory and turns it into practice.
As a smartphone-centred generation of digital natives prepare to enter the world of work, VR/AR will play a large role in stimulating engagement during the onboarding process. The question is, what areas of the workplace could it transform next?