Benefits of VR training

October 03, 2019 - Dom Barnard

Virtual Reality (VR) has become increasingly popular as a way to train people in a wide range of industries. Companies including BMW, Walmart, Verizon and Ford are training their employees in aspects such as design, presentation skills, empathy, customer service and engineering.

A whitepaper by Intel estimates that their first VR-based corporate training course has a potential 5-year ROI of 300%, with 94% of trainees wanting more VR-based courses.

In today’s training environment, there are multiple challenges that can be overcome by immersive learning:

  • Changes in target audiences, budget, and skills needed to introduce new technologies
  • Growing headcount and teams working remotely
  • Growth in popularity of presenting information in a short, crisp and direct way

In this article, we’ll explain how training in VR can address these challenges, as well as other benefits of VR training, including increased memory retention, performing dangerous tasks in a risk free environment, the ability to repeat exercises, isolation from distractions and detailed skills assessment.

Safe and controlled environment to learn

VR provides a safe and realistic way to train, without the risk of injury or costly damage to expensive equipment. There are some immediate use cases which highlight this:

  • Doctors can practice difficult surgeries they might not have performed before
  • Workers can learn how to operate a crane without needing to actually be inside one
  • Firefighters can simulate dealing with fires without putting their lives at risk
  • Employees can learn how to deal with active shooters or robbery
  • Staff can practice working with a new food production machine without the possibility of destroying the equipment

Through immersive VR, trainees get to safely experience situations that may normally be unsafe. And perhaps most importantly, they can practice in these virtual situations as often as needed to feel prepared and confident.

Using interactive training techniques that manuals and videos can’t provide, employees can experience, make mistakes and learn through repetition, which is often impossible in the real-world when it puts the organisation at risk.

Flaim System firefighting in VR

A demo by Flaim System showing how VR can be using to train firefighters in VR.

Perform training remotely: save time, money and the environment

Instructor-led training often requires employees to meet at a specific training location. This costs the employees time in travel and away from the office. It’s also harming the environment, particularly when some specialised training requires people to fly to the site of training. With immersive learning, employees can carry out the training within their office or at home, without needing to travel anywhere else.

In addition to saving time on travel, trends in the workplace are leading to a decentralized workplace - people are now able to collaborate over a vast distance via video calls and in VR. VR headsets are becoming even cheaper, they can now be purchased for training and then implemented remotely. A trainee will be able to download and access the training material from anywhere.

Improves retention and recall

Higher engagement rates typically lead to higher retention rates and recall. If learners pay attention to what they’re learning, they’ll remember it more effectively.

Research suggests that memory retention after a VR experience is higher than after viewing video or text based learning materials. A study in the Education Psychology Review explains how memory is made stronger with increased multi-sensory and emotional input - something that VR does well.

An example highlighting this gave half the participants a 360-degree VR video of a motorcycle ride to watch, while the other half watched a regular 2D video. A memory test 48 hours later showed that the VR group performed twice as well as the video group in the memory recollection test.

Repeatable and controlled exposure to stressful situations

Another benefit is that our emotional and physiological response to stimuli in VR is close to what we would expect in real life situations. This finding is supported by years of research showing that VR can be used to treat phobia disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

During a VR experience, patients can safely be exposed to stressful stimuli. Over time, this experience reduces the stress or fear response of the participant to that stimulus.

VR experiences are easily repeatable, allowing subjects to be exposed to varying levels of intensity in the experience. The subject can therefore gradually become accustomed to the stronger stimuli. Any stressful situation can be turned into a safe VR experience, such as dealing with an angry customer and putting out a fire.

Difficult customer in VR

WarpVR training how to deal with difficult customers in VR.

Highly engaging training at scale

VR provides a way to train large numbers of employees in an effective way. Previously, organisation had to choose between less effective but scalable solutions (i.e. videos and online courses) and effective but expensive solutions (i.e. instructor-led and on-the-job training).

Through data analytics within VR, you’ll be able to determine who completed the training and how well they performed. This is the data L&D teams need to demonstrate successful training modules and ROI.

Isolation from distractions

Keeping people motivated during both online and in-person training sessions can be a challenge. The constant temptation of checking your mobile phone and other distractions cause learners to lose focus. With research suggesting our attention spans are shrinking, a method of training in a distraction free environment is exciting.

When employees put on a VR headset, the experience captures the learners full attention through both visual and audio stimuli - users are fully immersed in the virtual environment where they can learn distraction free.

The isolation from distraction helps to increase learner engagement, leading to higher retention rates and overall less time spent training.

Improve skills faster through experiential learning

As highlighted in a whitepaper by Todd Maddox which looks into the science behind VR enhanced training, “compared to traditional learning tools… virtual reality speeds the development of mastery and expertise through repeated experiential learning that broadly engages multiple learning systems in the brain in synchrony and is scalable.

Learning by doing has long been established as one of the most effective ways to improve a skill. When you perform the task over and over again in a realistic setting, you improve that skill much faster than if you just read or watched a video about it.

According to the cone of learning by Edgar Dale, after two weeks, the human brain tends to remember 10 percent of what is reads, 20 percent of what is heard, but 90 percent of what it does or simulates.

Radio interview room in VR

Practice various soft skills in VR with the VirtualSpeech app.

Another study carried out by the National Training Laboratory revealed that retention rates for hands on learning was 75 percent, whereas for lecture style learning, only 5 percent.

Importantly for calculating ROI for a VR project, VR enables experiential learning. Some studies demonstrate that a 15 minutes VR experience can produce the same amount of learning as from a 1.5 hours documentary.

In addition, the jump from reading a manual and watching others do a task, to actually getting to perform that task well, is bigger and more error prone than the one between a VR experience of practicing that task and doing it for real.

Skills assessment and data collection

How do you assess an employee’s role for a new position in the organisation? How do you evaluate performance based on quantifiable data?

Humans introduce a huge amount of variation during assessment of an employees or candidates performance. They can introduce bias without knowing it, questions can be interpreted differently depending on the person or there might not be sufficient data to properly assess the person. In addition, people might lie about their qualifications and experience, adding to additional variation.

VR and immersive learning simulations can be used to assess whether employees are best suited to a given role or set of roles, as well as to better understand how candidates and managers would behave in real-world scenarios, if hired.

Data in VR

An example of eye contact data collected in a VR scenario within the VirtualSpeech app.

In contrast with traditional methods, assessment in VR captures far more comprehensive data that can be analysed. Subjective ratings of confidence, satisfaction and engagement can be obtained. L&D teams can determine if learning has actually occurred and challenged the learner. These can be combined with data from eye gaze, heat maps and more, providing insights into the attentional processes and engagement of the learner. This data can be used to iterate towards an optimal training solution.