Guide for training employees in VR (from 1000s of hours of experience)


April 29, 2019 - Dom Barnard

This guide is aimed at training managers, L&D professionals and corporate trainers looking to introduce virtual reality (VR) into their training program, whether that be in-person or online.

At VirtualSpeech, we’ve trained thousands of employees with our VR courses, had over 250,000 downloads of our VR app, won 3 VR awards this year for our work and discovered many best practices along the way. The tips discussed in this guide will hopefully help you develop an effective VR program within your organisation.

It’s worth noting that our tips and comments are based on our own experiences, primarily training soft skills, and that your experience using VR may differ slightly from ours.


Tips for training employees in VR


1. Combine VR with traditional training

This statement comes from a couple of core observations:

  • People don’t want to spend too much time in VR
  • Skills take many hours to learn, practice and improve

Feedback we received from employees using our application showed that users (especially new users) didn’t want to spend more than 15 minutes in a VR headset in a single session. This didn’t come as much of a surprise to us given that the average session time in our app is just over 10 minutes.

In addition, learning a new skill, such as how to deliver a sales pitch, takes hours of training before being competent. Combining VR with traditional training methods therefore has several benefits:

  • Users can spend well over an hour in one session learning the core material through in-person training or online tutorial videos
  • Users can then practice specific parts of the training in 15 minute VR modules
  • Users improve skills more quickly with this blended approach because they are learning in a more familiar environment and then able to practice their new skills in the safety of the virtual world.

You can read more about the benefits of VR training for employees compared to traditional training with no VR component.

So, how exactly can VR can be integrated?

  • Online with VR - employees learn through tutorial videos, quizzes, case studies and articles. They can practice in VR what they are learning at key points throughout the online course. Our courses tend to have 3-6 VR training scenarios spread throughout the course.
  • In-person with VR - employees learn through instructor-led classroom activities and presentations. They can then practice in VR what they've learnt towards the end of the training session, either in breakout areas or as a take home exercise.

Learn more about our LMS and how we integrate VR with online classes.

Instructor led VR training session

2. Training needs to be very structured

Most users will be unfamiliar with VR and any training performed in VR needs to be well structured, so that the user knows exactly what to do once in VR, which buttons to press, how to complete scenarios, and so on.

Visual and audio cues can guide an employee through the training. These might include audio voiceovers explaining what the employee needs to do at the start of the training, or arrow indicators if the user is looking in the wrong direction (it’s easy for users to look in the wrong direction as they can look anywhere in VR).

3. Which headsets to use? Smartphone vs. standalone vs. tethered

There are many pros and cons for the different types of VR headsets. In this guide, we’ll narrow them down to three main categories:

  • Mobile headsets designed for use with smartphones (e.g. Merge VR, Blitzwolf VR)
  • Standalone headsets (e.g. Oculus Go, Oculus Quest, Vive Focus)
  • Tethered headsets designed for use with a desktop computer or console (e.g. Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Playstation VR)

Our experience has mostly been with mobile and standalone headsets, however we have experimented with tethered headsets and explain why these aren’t our focus for corporate training.

Mobile (smartphone)

If you want a training program setup as quickly as possible, perhaps as a pilot or on a smaller scale, mobile VR is the best solution. Mobile headsets can be easily sent around the world and work with the majority of smartphones, enabling employees from any country, at any time, to access VR training.

We’ve trained company employees in countries including China, Malaysia, US, UK, Germany, Panama and Japan and didn’t encounter issues. The most difficult country we’ve shipped a headset to was South Sudan due to import limitations. Once the mobile based headsets are shipped to the employee, they can easily and quickly setup the VR training on their mobile phone, insert it into the headset, and begin improving.

The downside of mobile VR headsets is the quality of the VR experience. Mobile headsets do not provide a great VR experience and quality can vary dramatically depending on the type of VR headset used. We recommend the Merge VR headset as the optimal mobile based headset.

For soft skills training, we believe mobile headsets deliver a good enough experience to mimic environments and build skills. However, for training which requires hand tracking (e.g. training to drive a fork-lift truck), mobile headsets are not suitable in our opinion (unless you use a complex workaround such as a Leap Motion device).

Standalone

We’ve found standalone headsets to be the best combination of cost, convenience and quality. The Oculus Go costs $200 as of this writing, and provides a very good immersive experience.

Companies have multiple training options with standalone headsets:

  • Share an Oculus Go amongst several employees, using a VR lab or rental system similar to a library.
  • Provide each employee with an Oculus Go, which we’ve found is popular amongst companies looking to have a more extensive VR catalogue. Although this is a heavy upfront cost, if VR training will be a large part of their future training curriculum and if a large number of employees will be using it, it makes sense that they should all have access to their own headset.
Oculus Go standalone headset

The Oculus Go standalone headset in use. No external wires or hardware are required.

Tethered

Tethered headsets provide a high image quality, hand tracking and a highly immersive experience. We have the least experience with this type of headset because our findings showed there was less demand for training with tethered devices at the moment.

This is because they are more difficult to setup and distribute amongst employees, require a large, dedicated space for use, and are expensive.

Another, less discussed reason is that when practicing soft skills (our training focus), people don’t necessarily want to practice out loud in a public area where other employees can hear what they are saying. A big factor with practicing soft skills is for learners to build confidence and therefore they would prefer to do this in their own space.

The majority of our training occurs at the employees home or in a private meeting room in the office with no one else present. Some people find practicing soft skills embarrassing so the majority choose to do the training alone and would not feel as comfortable in a dedicated space in the office, where other people might be present or overhear.

4. Read a short, instructional training guide before entering VR

For new VR users, simply telling them to put on a headset and start practicing isn’t going to be effective. You’ll need to explain what they are going to see, what they need to do and what is expected of them. Because it is a new learning experience with a new technology, they will require some initial guidance.

Providing a short guide to the VR training they are about to participate in is a great way to prepare them. A 1-2 page document (including images) is enough to prepare the user and explain elements such as:

  • How the features work (e.g. how to use the speech analysis feature)
  • How to interact with buttons (do they hover over an action button or click their controller to action it?)
  • How to navigate around the different VR environments
  • What the hand controller buttons do (if using a headset with a hand controller)
  • How long the VR experience will last

5. Make the VR experience simple and easy to use

Virtual reality is still a very new technology. Employees may have heard of the technology, however few have had the chance to try it and if they have, it is usually through gaming and not education.

Because of this, VR training applications need to be extremely simple and intuitive. Having watched employees use our VR training for the first time, it’s interesting to notice how some users struggle with basic features and uses of VR. For example, when someone is supposed to look to the left, they may not automatically turn their head, and instead just their eyes, because they are not used to being inside an experience and not just observing it. Any VR training really does need to be extremely intuitive.

We’ve found that a simple, easy to use VR app beats a feature-rich experience for the user as some start to feel overwhelmed. A few years in the future, this is likely to change as user habits develop and more employees become familiar with VR.

6. ROI can be measured and useful metrics tracked

As explained in our white paper, VR provides organisations with unique and unparalleled insights into an employee’s behaviour.

In VR, you can measure and track a range of employee skills like never before and build corporate training programs around any weaknesses so that the employee can perform their job more effectively.

For example, in our VR application, we can provide data on presentation performance, including:

  • How well an employee used eye contact during a presentation, and whether they were looking at certain parts of the room for too long
  • Whether they used certain keywords and phrases
  • Whether they were talking too quickly, too slowly, too loudly or too quietly
  • How many hesitation words were used
ROI in VR - tracking employee progress

Some of the performance metrics in the VirtualSpeech app.

7. Not all employees will be willing to use a VR headset

This is an important point - not all employees will be willing to use a VR headset. This defines the type of training you can perform in VR and how to roll it out into your organisation.

At this point, you can’t really perform compulsory corporate training in VR or roll out VR training to all employees (as not all employees will be willing to do it).

A better solution is to make VR training optional, where employees can opt-in to take the training, much in the same way organisations have a catalogue of online and in-person training courses. Adding VR training courses to this catalogue is an effective way to introduce VR into an organisation.

8. A small number may feel motion sickness

A small portion of employees who try VR for the first time will feel slight motion sickness. Although usually not severe, it is worth being aware of and warning employees of this before they try the VR training.

There are measures you can use to reduce this effect – for example, we limit our VR training scenarios to 15 minute sessions and minimise head movement around VR scenes.

Motion sickness amongst first time users will reduce as headset quality increases (with increased FPS, higher resolution and a wider field of view). Generally, motion sickness is caused by the VR environment around the user moving, while they remain static - it confuses their inner equilibrium. This is also one of the reasons we focus on untethered headsets, where the VR environments aren’t moving around the user.

9. Time in a VR headset

We believe time in a VR headset needs to be limited to under 15-20 minutes. Beyond this point, people can start to feel motion sickness or dizziness, particularly first time users, partly because they are not used to being ‘cut off’ from the real world.

Data from our VR app shows that when a user is using VR for the first time, session time is around 8 minutes, increasing to over 12 minutes after a few weeks.

Even after the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in a VR headset, anything beyond 30 minutes straight can give me a slight headache too.

10. Employee age and willingness to use VR

Contrary to what we expected, there hasn’t been any noticeable difference in willingness to try VR between younger and older employees.

This goes against the idea that VR is only suitable for younger employees due to the relative newness of the technology.

11. Training employees in-person

We’ve had several training companies incorporate virtual reality into their in-person training sessions. VR was typically used at the end of the session, giving the participants a chance to practice what they had learnt throughout the rest of the training.

We’ve found that breaking the cohort into smaller groups (of 4-6 people) works well. While one of the groups is practicing in VR, other groups are performing other activities, such as writing a speech or creating presentation slides to add into the VR app.

In the VR group, each participant practices a speech or presentation for 5-7 minutes, so that the group of 4 completes the VR session in around 30 minutes before another group is rotated into the VR section.

Using VR in groups of 4 means that people aren’t waiting around for too long. One headset (we recommend the Oculus Go) can be shared amongst the 4 group members, with 1 presenting and the other 3 listening to the presentation and providing feedback.

If you have the resources and space to practice, you could purchase 4 Oculus Go headsets so that multiple groups, or a higher number of learners, can practice at the same time.

If you have any questions about incorporating VR training into your organisation, or are interested in using our VR soft skills training, you can contact us.