Over the last few years, the virtual reality industry has exploded. We’ve seen budget and high-end headsets make their way into the homes of consumers, the development of increasingly advanced games and media experiences, and the technology being used for more than just entertainment purposes. By 2021, the industry is expected to grow to a value of £801 million, according to figures from PwC, which will be a 76% growth from 2016.
One of the ways that firms are taking advantage of VR is for training their employees. Thanks to the greater accessibility of the technology, businesses are now able to put their staff into a virtual environment for educational purposes.
In this guide, we’ll look at the many benefits of virtual reality training in the workplace, as well as some of the industries that have already started to reap the rewards of using this relatively new technology. Read on to find out more.
What is virtual reality training?
Essentially, with virtual reality training you will be putting your employees in a virtual space so that they can interact and learn from the environment around them.
This is done through a virtual reality headset, which is a device that blocks out environmental light and puts a stereoscopic display in front of each eye to ensure complete visual isolation. Most headsets have various sensors built-in, such as an accelerometer or gyroscope, to track the movement of the user. The effect is completed with surround sound audio to create total immersion. Some headsets work with accessories, like controllers, for added functionality.
These devices are used with training software, which is usually designed to teach employees a new skill or how to react to a specific situation. This can be done by placing the user in a virtual environment that replicates their workplace — such as an operating theatre or the cabin of a truck — or a certain scenario they could experience on the job, like a fire evacuation or instances of manual handling.
The aim of this is to help the employee to learn through experience by seeing and doing, allowing them to develop essential skills without having to perform the task in reality.
What are the benefits of virtual reality training for employees?
There are many benefits of using virtual reality to train your employees, and it’s easy to see why the technology is becoming so popular. Let’s take a look at some of them.
There is much less risk involved in a virtual environment
Once of the main benefits of VR training in the workplace is that you can allow your staff to experience tasks and scenarios that could be too risky to replicate in reality. These can be accurately reproduced within a controlled environment to help prepare your workers for the real thing.
Virtual training could be for a highly technical task, such as medical surgery, piloting an aircraft, or engineering work, which are difficult to recreate accurately without posing a risk to the learner or those around them. VR can also be used to place the learner in a particularly hazardous scenario that they may face as part of their job, like a fire evacuation or gas leak, to help reinforce the right course of action in an emergency.
It can be more cost effective than traditional training
Another of the major benefits of using VR training in the workplace is that it can be much more cost effective than traditional methods of instruction. Though the size of budget you need for training can depend on a few factors, such as whether you do it in-house or if you need to hire out a specialist venue, generally speaking, VR training can reduce how much you need to spend in the long run.
While there will be an upfront cost for equipment and software, once you have your VR training programme up and running, you can repeat it as many times as you like for however many employees require it. And, because VR is becoming much more mainstream, the prices of high-end headsets have tumbled to the point that they can be considered affordable.
There are also other financial benefits of using VR to deliver training. Because it’s more effective than traditional methods, there’s likely to be less need for re-training later, freeing up your staff schedule for greater productivity. Also, as VR is delivered completely digitally, it’s possible to train employees at great distances, removing the need to pay for staff to go to an external location or for an instructor to travel out.
Realistic and bespoke scenarios can be created
Advancements of VR technology mean that virtual training environments can be created to a very high level of detail so that they look and sound like the real thing. Cutting-edge graphics presented in ultra-high-definition with all-encompassing surround sound can be combined to create an engaging experience. Because of this, a real sense of immersion can be generated, which helps the learner to feel like they are there getting hands-on experience.
What’s more, bespoke virtual simulations can accurately replicate aspects of a business for a true-to-life training experience. This can be particularly useful if your company has a unique environment or set of processes that mean technical training is necessary. For example, you may use a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment that you wish to provide training on or you might have certain procedures that you’d like to demonstrate to new staff. With a bespoke simulation, you can train your employees more effectively so that they hit the ground running once they begin work.
VR can improve retention and recall
With many forms of traditional workplace training, there’s always the worry that skills taught via instruction will not be retained by staff. While there is still value to be found in this type of study, backing it up with VR training can help to anchor learning in experience.
Your employees will be immersed in a virtual environment where they are learning through doing, which will help to reinforce the skills and knowledge they are acquiring through study. And, as the VR training can be repeated over, they can easily practice their skills as much as they need to, aiding muscle memory and knowledge recall.
VR can also help your staff get to grips with complex theories and practices that they may need for the job. These concepts can be visualised in a much more digestible way than on paper, and the interactive element of the technology can give VR an edge over on-screen presentations. For example, a user could take some complicated data and visualise it in a way that helps them to better understand it, such as through an interactive graph or chart, which can’t be done within the more rigid confines of traditional instruction.
It’s effective for different types of learners
One of the most popular methods used to classify how we learn is the VARK modalities that suggest there are four types of learning: visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic. While no-one exclusively belongs to one group, each member of your staff is likely to have their own preferred way of learning, which can make planning effective training for everyone difficult. However, by introducing VR, you can enhance your workplace training to suit everyone.
As we’ve mentioned, virtual reality training is highly visual and aural, while encouraging learning by doing. By backing up instructional methods that read/write learners prefer with VR training, you can build a programme that will appeal to the other VARK modalities as well. People who prefer visual and aural learning will be catered to, as will those who learn kinesthetically, because they’ll get to put the skills they are gaining into practice to see how things work.
Training can be done remotely
Over the past few years, the workplace has changed a lot. Over 50% of staff now spend more than 2.5 days a week working outside the office, with around 25% doing so from a different city (Regus). And, because things are becoming a lot more decentralised, the opportunities for everyone to undertake training at the same time are becoming rarer. However, The Harvard Business Review recommends that “just because employees are out of sight doesn’t mean they get to be out-of-mind when it comes to learning and development.”
Thankfully, with VR training, the whole programme can be accessed or downloaded remotely, so a workforce can receive the same interactive training even if they are spread across multiple locations. With quality VR headsets becoming cheaper and more available, this method can often prove much more cost effective than getting everyone to the same place and delivering hands-on training. Your staff will be able to have the same experience without the need to travel.
If you have a large business that is spread over multiple locations or a significant number of remote workers, delivering your training through VR is a great option to ensure that everyone receives the same instruction at a high standard. In doing so, you can guarantee that your workforce is on the same page.
For instance, if you have a new car model you need your sales staff to familiarise themselves with, you could use VR to give them a detailed overview of how it looks, as well as a demonstration of its features. You could even simulate the experience of driving the new car for your staff in a virtual environment. This way, your sales team could get a real sense of what the new product was about, even before they’ve seen it themselves.
The user experience is engaging and enjoyable
In a recent survey by Investors in People, one in five people who left their job in 2017 cited a lack of personal development opportunities as a reason for leaving, highlighting the importance of training in the workplace. But, ensuring your staff engage with the training they’re giving isn’t always easy — fortunately, virtual reality can help with that.
In a world where we’re used to sitting through slideshow presentations, introducing VR can offer an alternative that generates excitement and interest, as well as improve engagement and enjoyment. Through VR, topics can be presented in different ways, allowing for greater variety, while instructional segments can be easily broken up with immersive activities to keep brains in gear.
VR training is also a great stimulus for discussion, which is great news if you’re trying to increase teamwork among your staff. It’s easy to add an element of fun too, which can get everyone on the same page and feeling good about training if it’s used in healthy doses.
It’s useful for attracting the best candidates
When it comes to recruitment, every firm wants to have their pick of the very best candidates. But, to reach that point, you need to be able to show you’re the kind of business a promising jobseeker will choose over others, otherwise you’ll have to settle for second best.
Around 36% of millennial workers think an employer should be innovative and open to new ideas, while 29% believe an employer should provide them with the chance to improve their skills at work, according to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018. Adopting VR training for your staff is a great way to show you’re forward-thinking and willing to invest in your employees’ development, which makes it a nice plus point when it comes to recruiting the best candidates.
Training can be tracked to evaluate its effectiveness
Data is playing an increasingly important role in the workplace as businesses try to measure how well they’re doing to determine whether their actions are having the desired effect. Staff performance is one aspect that comes under regular focus, with targets and key performance indicators playing a key role. However, with traditional training programmes, it can be difficult to quantify how staff are getting on and whether the instruction is proving useful — this often comes down to an employee survey, which isn’t the most accurate method.
But, virtual reality training can be completely trackable. You’ll be able to access data and analytics from features like head tracking and heat mapping for more precise results about your employees’ performance. For instance, with health and safety training for an emergency scenario, you will be able to see how an individual’s performance improves as they become more familiar with the correct procedure and how they need to act. And, because data is collected in real-time and the scenario can be played back, an instructor will be able to provide immediate feedback for the employee and give them advice on how to improve.
Over time, you will also be able to collate the results from your entire workforce to judge whether the training is proving to be effective. With access to this, you can look at the bigger picture and make data-led decisions on how the programme should be modified and what areas your workforce need further training in.
Where is VR training for the workplace already being used?
Now that we’ve had an in-depth look at what benefits virtual reality training could bring to your workplace, let’s have a look at a few examples of industries where the technology is already being used to revolutionise how the workforce develops its knowledge and skills.
In the offshore drilling industry, which sees an average of 415 non-fatal injuries per 100,000 workers (Oil & Gas UK), virtual reality training is helping to improve health and safety. One of the most effective ways that this is happening is through the use of technical training simulations that can replicate experiences at sea and provide instruction when using specialist machinery, both of which are difficult to replicate in regular training.
Previously, it was only possible to train staff on the job or at great expense on shore, but VR technology now allows workers to get hands-on practice at a reduced cost and in a much safer environment. Combine this with the fact that both new hires and returning staff can approach their time offshore having trained with the latest machinery and emergency procedures, and it’s easy to see why VR training is improving health and safety.
If you want to see an example of VR being used offshore, be sure to take a look at our work aboard the Belford Dolphin, a deep-sea drilling vessel. We used our laser scanning expertise to map the piping around the ship, then the data was used for a number of purposes, including the creation of a 1:1 VR model of the working environment. This model was then used to set up a variety of training simulations to improve situational awareness among workers, as well as help them to identify muster and fire points.
In the UK, the construction sector is one of the riskiest to work in, with a non-fatal injury rate of 2,940 for every 100,000 workers, according to the latest figures from the HSE. From heavy machinery accidents to falls from height, there are many hazards to plan and train for when on the job, so it’s understandable that employers want to provide the most comprehensive training possible. Thankfully, VR training is helping to make construction workers more competent.
Virtual reality training can cover a lot of bases in the construction sector. Whether the required training is for health and safety procedure, such as hazard perception or handling dangerous materials, or technical training for equipment training and maintenance, VR allows staff to improve their skills with total immersion and without any risk, so they’re ready to keep a higher standard of safety on-site.
Here at Luminous Group, we worked alongside Lionbridge, a documentation provider for technical industries, to create a VR excavator technical procedure to sit alongside their instructional material. We created several 3D scenarios where the user can run through a range of technical procedures, allowing them to visualise each stage and familiarise themselves with essential tools and equipment.
When it comes to precision engineering, there aren’t many sectors that demand work with pin-point accuracy quite like aerospace and aviation. To work in a technical role in this industry, you need to have a comprehensive knowledge of all the parts, equipment, and procedures required to create and maintain the complex machinery that goes into building aircrafts. To gain these necessary skills takes years of study and practice, but the learning process can now be enhanced with VR training.
In virtual reality, a technical procedure can be accurately portrayed so staff can learn by doing, and traditional instruction is reinforced. For aerospace professionals, a simulation like this also allows the procedure to be repeated as many times as they like, something that would simply not be possible in reality due to costs and time constraints. Virtual reality training for aerospace promises to enhance the training of engineers so that they can work with a higher level of competence.
A good example of VR training for aerospace in action can be found in our work with Lionbridge on a VR technical procedure for engine maintenance. In this simulation, the user can learn exactly how to remove a faulty unit from the side of the engine by performing the task and receiving instruction at the same time. The training is a great way for learners to get regular practice in something that would not usually be possible.
In the healthcare sector, medical professionals are training to work in potentially life or death situations a lot of the time. However, the chance to gain practical, hands-on experience working with the human body can be rare or expensive, so many institutions are turning to VR to provide realistic training for staff. In these simulations, the user can hone their skills and get an insight into complex medical procedures in a safe space for learning.
Additionally, VR training programmes have been created for empathy training, where students learn how to break bad news to loved ones, so they are mentally prepared for such sensitive situations. The medium is also providing opportunities for medical students to learn about the human anatomy in a highly visual way, increasing their knowledge and understanding.