How is VR Changing Corporate Training?

August 02, 2017 - SOPHIE THOMPSON

While many continue to debate over the adoption rates of virtual reality (VR) and if it really will be ‘the future’, a VR tidal wave is quietly bringing VR very much into the present. A number of companies are exploring VR as a supplementary tool for corporate training and you could find yourself being trained in VR sooner than you think.

For those new to VR, it uses 3D-generated images to immerse a user into a simulated environment so that they feel like they are actually there. VR can be broken down into two types:

  • Mobile - users insert their mobile phone into a VR headset
  • Desktop - VR powered by high-end computers and a VR headset.

The argument for VR in corporate training is simple - it can increase engagement and knowledge retention levels, and employees can be trained in a safer, more cost efficient way.

VR enables employees to learn through practical experience. Experiential learning has long been argued as the most effective way to learn and studies have shown that learning through experience increases the quality of learning, and retention by 75 - 90%.

Graphic showing the benefits of using VR in corporate training.

Benefits of VR in corporate training include higher engagement and retention levels, experiential learning, safer for high risk situations and reduced spend on training and travel.

So, how is virtual reality being used in corporate training?

Improving Business Skills

Many interpersonal business skills require practice to become good at them and VR provides employees with a safe space to practice and learn from their experiences.

Skills such as public speaking, sales, negotiation, and networking are rarely taught at school so are not embedded in our minds in the same way that remembering facts and figures for a test are. Yet it’s these enterprise skills that keep businesses running and are what managers demand in new candidates and employees.

VR enables companies to fill these skills gap and instill transferable, enterprise skills within their employees. VirtualSpeech specialise in this ‘soft skills’ training, integrating traditional online tutorial videos with VR.

The VR element allows employees to practice what they’ve learnt in the courses in realistic simulations such as networking events, job interviews, and speaking in meetings and at conferences. There are also bitesize courses in VR to guide them further.

VirtualSpeech help employees improve business skills in VR environments.

VirtualSpeech help employees improve communication and business skills in realistic environments.

Users can upload their own presentations, record their speeches, and receive instant feedback on their eye contact, use of filler words, pitch, pace, and more. They can then practice further to improve their scores, even when they are working remotely - all they need is their mobile device and a VR headset. Managers also have the option to view their employees’ progress to identify strengths and any areas for improvement.

Diversity and inclusion training has become a focus area for many companies over the last couple of years so it naturally follows that there are VR simulations that replicate these scenarios too. One company using such a virtual simulation for corporate training is Mursion. They built a virtual tool in partnership with the College of William and Mary to reduce unconscious bias and improve communication between employees when confronted with discrimination.

Retail stores are also starting to use VR training to improve the customer experience. For example, Walmart are working with STRIVR (previously known for training NFL athletes in VR) to create a ‘Black Friday’ simulator to train and prepare employees for the holiday rush.

STRIVR train Walmart employees in VR simulations

STRIVR training a Walmart employee in a VR simulation.

Reducing Risk in High-Stake Situations

The safety of the virtual world is not just good for interpersonal skills - it is the ideal training method for dangerous or high-stake situations. Before VR, employees would have to imagine a high-risk scenario and visualise how they would cope with it. VR removes the need to imagine a difficult situation and instead replaces it with a realistic simulation. It provides an effective learning experience by training people in the most realistic way possible, without the situation actually happening in real life.

For example, BP partnered with Igloo Vision to train their employees in start-up and emergency exit procedures at their oil refinery in Hull, England. Employees were able to learn from mistakes in the virtual world and thus reduce the probability of making the same error in the real world - an error which could ultimately cost someone’s life.

Chemical engineers training inside an Igloo Vision dome.

Chemical engineers training inside an Igloo Vision dome.

VR can also be used to lower risk in life-threatening situations in medical procedures. Surgeons at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles (CHLA) partnered with Shauna Heller and a team of developers (funded by Facebook’s Oculus VR division), to create training for how to treat children in emergencies. Specifically, their simulation helps doctors learn how to save infants who have suffered a seizure or are in anaphylactic shock.

The benefit of using VR for corporate training in this situation, is that it is safe to make mistakes and learn from them - a doctor’s performance is monitored and measured to assess where adjustments could be made in real life. Of course, the time pressure is lower in a controlled training environment so doctors can consider their options more thoroughly in VR training than if they were training on the job. This would allow them to make more informed decisions, at a quicker rate, for more patients, when faced with the situation in reality. Ultimately, effective VR training could save lives.

VR training works on the premise of mistake-driven learning and allows doctors to learn the best solution in a risk-free environment. The cost of making a mistake in the virtual world is nothing compared to the cost of human error in reality.

Training and Preparing Military Personnel

The military have been using VR for years as a supplementary method of training. Military training includes flight simulations for pilots, battlefield simulations for on-ground soldiers, and response to battlefield injuries for medical personnel.

VR training is used as part of boot camp exercises (alongside traditional military training). VR has the unique ability to make the soldiers feel like they are actually on the battlefield and they can put their skills to the test, and build on them in a safe environment. Teamwork, communication and the speed of reactions are all important factors in training an elite force, and can all be practiced and improved upon by using VR training.

The Virtual Squad Training System (VSTS) at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii use wireless VR training environments as part of their military training. Trainee soldiers are given a head mounted display, motion trackers, and wireless weapon controllers that accurately reflect the size, weight and shape of real military weapons such as the M4 and M165. They are then immersed in a combat simulator and can learn by practical experience, without putting themselves or each other in potentially fatal situations.

VR being used as part of military training.

Virtual Squad Training System being used as part of their military training.

Given the nature of their jobs, soldiers must be able to adapt themselves to unpredictable and complex situations. VR simulations are a powerful tool for replicating these situations and ensuring soldiers are more prepared for a variety of combat situations.

Recruiting and Onboarding

VR training can also be used to improve the recruitment and onboarding process within a company. Using an interview simulator, HR professionals and managers can practice asking interview questions to potential candidates and learn the questions typically asked, skills to look for, and warning signs about a potential employee. This type of corporate training also extends to existing employees, who can receive virtual in-house training for internal promotions within a company.

Practice answering interview questions in VR.

Interview practice in VR can be extended to train HR professionals and managers.

Once a candidate has accepted a job offer, the next step is the onboarding process. Onboarding is the first experience of training an employee receives and it can give them a good idea of the training they can expect as they progress with the company.

A company without an effective onboarding process is more likely to have lower employee retention levels and productivity. VR can vastly improve this process and make it more efficient and enjoyable. New employees can be given an introduction to the company, a tour of the building, view multiple business locations, meet their manager, and much more - all in the comfort of their own home, before they’ve even stepped foot in the office.

Onboarding in VR can allow employees to experience the company culture and daily life in their role before their first day, making them feel more confident when they do start. Virtual training can also set a universal standard for onboarding for MNCs with multiple locations around the world. If every location followed the same structure for virtual onboarding, retention and productivity of employees would increase, while costs would decrease with a standardised process.

Barriers to Adoption of VR Training

Despite the benefits of using VR for corporate training, there are barriers to adoption that are holding companies back. The short term cost of implementing VR training can be higher than traditional methods because of the price of purchasing headsets and ensuring employees have access to modern phones that are compatible with VR. The budget is stretched further by the current costs of desktop VR, where headsets and computers add up to hundreds of dollars, and employees would have to travel to training areas.

It’s not just the purchasing of hardware that need to be considered when balancing the budget. Initially integrating VR training with existing LMS and customising the training for your particular brand can both add to the cost of uptake. With such a new, evolving technology, the risk of ensuring ROI is higher than for traditional training methods.

Health and safety training with VR in civil engineering.

3D Repo is working with companies such as Balfour Beatty and Highways England to deploy a Virtual Reality (VR) simulation for health and safety training.

Of course, the main reason for introducing VR training is to benefit employees but there is a risk of employee backlash, especially from older generations who tend to be more reluctant to adopt new technologies.

As more companies introduce VR to their training catalogue, and report positive results, the risk will lower for more cautious managers and we’ll likely see VR training as standard. As millennials make up an increasing proportion of the workforce, companies will have to adapt to their behaviours, working styles, and preferred methods of learning - which are likely to be technology-focused and geographically dispersed.

The Future

Companies are already implementing VR as a tool for corporate training. From public speaking, to medical procedures, and training for dangerous situations, VR provides a realistic, safe training environment for employees. Despite the initial set-up cost, managers are realising the long term reduction in cost and the ROI in terms of engagement, safety, and retention of training in VR. As the VR industry develops and more becomes possible in a virtual setting, it’s likely that more training will be done in VR.

Corporate training will be an important step into mass consumer adoption of virtual reality, as more people realise it is beneficial to so much more than gaming.