There is a certain amount of frustration people might feel concerning various technologies. It seems like the driverless car technologies have been in the news for a long time now and yet we’re still waiting to see it become a widespread reality that makes a real difference in people’s day-to-day lives. I think there’s a similar frustration when it comes to virtual reality, and especially as it applies to corporate eLearning and training efforts. Will virtual reality learning have a role to play in companies looking to boost their learning programs?
Virtual Reality Learning and Training Today
Looking for a moment outside the realm of corporate learning, I think it’s very encouraging to hear that football quarterbacks have seen decision-making skills improve by 30% using virtual reality for training. Healthcare providers are using VR training to effectively reduce error rates. Others are using virtual reality training to reduce the fear of public speaking as well as reducing the occurrence of unconscious bias (think of the positive impacts this could have on hiring practices). When you see a company like Facebook spend $2 billion to get a piece of the virtual reality market (it acquired Oculus VR, a virtual reality headset manufacturer), people sit up and take notice.
Where does virtual reality training make sense right now? The clear answer is any time you need to teach technical skills that would otherwise be too dangerous, expensive or impractical to teach in real-life scenarios. Law enforcement and security situations come to mind. Any number of medical procedures are another obvious area.
But it turns out that VR can also be used to effectively teach plenty of soft skills as well, especially in terms of diversity and inclusion. VR technologies are being used to let people see what it’s like to experience discrimination by virtually assuming a different identity. It’s a fast-track way to change attitudes and behaviors in the direction of empathy, and it’s surprisingly effective.
New Directions in Virtual Reality Learning
One of the more exciting new developments comes out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), who have come up with something called Interactive Dynamic Video. People learn about objects by physically manipulating them, which is something that doesn’t work very well in normal virtual and augmented reality videos. This new technique makes it possible. It takes video of a real object and more accurately captures the finest details of its shape and how it moves and then puts it into a virtual reality environment where users can see how it responds to new forces they apply to the object. The applications are endless and could prove to be very useful in a wide range of scenarios, such as assessing the structural soundness of buildings and other structures. Rather than simulating virtual objects in real spaces, IDV is about manipulating real objects in a virtual space.
Perhaps the most important new direction many have been waiting on is the price of virtual reality equipment. It’s still just way too expensive to be a viable option. Yes, there are “inexpensive” VR systems out there, but they simply aren’t good enough to be used for some of the sensitive health and safety applications mentioned above. When high-quality systems drop from thousands to hundreds of dollars, companies will be more willing to jump in and get started.
The key to effective learning and training is the concept of immersion. Everyone knows that the fastest way to learn another language is to completely immerse yourself in a place where that language is spoken. It simply forces you to adapt as quickly as possible by rapid learning. Virtual reality will become more effective as it continues to sharpen its ability to provide increasingly immersive experiences to users.
Whether virtual reality learning and training turns out to be more hype than substance remains to be seen, but just ask yourself this question: Do you want your company to be on the leading edge of a potential emerging learning technology or find yourself playing catch-up down the road when it does take off?