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Most people familiar with virtual reality and augmented reality (VR/AR) think of gaming and entertainment, but VR/AR technology extends further beyond these limits. Leveraging VR/AR technology, organizations can offer safer, more effective job training for employees at a fraction of the cost of building labs and real-world environments. This technology also has the advantage of triggering the employee’s “memory palace,” a human element in learning that helps them recall facts and information more easily because they’ve experienced it “in reality” rather than through traditional classroom learning methods.

How virtual reality is already improving training

Some industries already use the benefits of VR training, mainly in scenarios where it would be expensive or dangerous to train someone using real-world experience. Several organizations already leverage VR to train people. Numerous Fortune 500 companies currently leverage virtual reality to save money training employees and reduce risks. Boeing, UPS and Walmart are just a few examples of organizations using virtual reality for its many training benefits. 

The University of Delaware researched the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the top 25 most dangerous jobs, and several of these industries already leverage virtual reality to help train workers without the dangers of life-threatening mistakes. For example, roofing, which research shows is the fourth most dangerous job. According to researchers, the roofing industry sees 41 fatalities for every 100,000 workers. The most common risks are falls, slips and trips mainly from ladder misuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 81% of slips and falls in roofing are caused by ladders.

While these injuries are the result of human error, some of these mistakes can be eliminated with more training. Virtual reality is being leveraged to help train workers on better ladder safety. Ladder safety apps let workers set up a ladder in a VR environment and then give them feedback on any mistakes made so that they can try again. This VR environment is safer but gives a roofer the look and feel of placing a ladder against an elevated wall as if they were truly in the field.

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As you can imagine, training race car drivers is extremely dangerous. One mistake could cost the lives of passengers and the driver. Honda trains drivers using virtual reality devices offering the closest that drivers can get to real-world experiences without the dangerous consequences that come from one hazardous mistake. The VR simulation gives drivers the same feeling as being on the track, requiring split-second decisions and the consequences that drivers would experience during a real race.

Why virtual reality trains better than standard classes

Studies suggest that virtual reality can train better than standard classroom instructions or book learning. The latter two training methods give the learner no real experience with what they are learning. They can remember facts and tidbits of information, but this does not always translate to better learning when their job requires fast thinking based on previous experiences. With virtual reality, the learner experiences consequences from their actions (good or bad) in the same way they would experience the same scenario in the field.

The improved learning capability is due to a human phenomenon called a “memory palace” that helps our brain recall information more effectively and quickly. It enables us to organize memories spatially within an environment. University of Maryland studies consistently show that experiences in a VR environment have similar retention to those activities performed in the real world. After providing 40 volunteers with a virtual reality environment, University of Maryland researchers showed that the VR experience improved their ability to recall information more accurately by 8.8% and 40% more than volunteers given a simple desktop learning environment.

Virtual reality training has benefits across several industries and can be implemented using fewer resources and less space than classroom learning. The technology itself costs money, but it’s a far less expensive route than building labs and other real-world spaces and equipping them. Since learners are not working with expensive or dangerous equipment, it also reduces costs in insurance and risk management. 

Another enterprise benefit is virtual reality environments can be offered regardless of location. For large organizations that span the globe, it’s expensive to require employees to travel to a specific location for training. It could mean plane tickets, food and housing for employees that cannot get training in their local community. Instead of forcing them to travel, enterprise organizations can offer a virtual reality device that can be used for basic training in the comfort of their home, saving both the employee time and the organization money in training expenses.

Getting started with virtual reality training

If your organization wants to try out virtual reality training, the first step is to decide which groups would benefit the most and improve your return on investment. Any training groups that require travel, real-world environments, or groups that could perform better if they had more than simple desktop courses are a good place to start.

Before you have your training developed, here are a few more points to consider:

  • Create a storyboard and determine skills and experiences that will be conveyed from the application.
  • Determine the outcomes and what you want employees to learn from the application.
  • Choose the device and integration requirements.
  • Get ready to help develop, test and implement the new training application.

Regardless of industry, your organization will improve training, help employees better retain information and provide better and safer productivity.

Nik Froehlich is the CEO of Saritasa

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