When I talk to other learning professionals and clients about using immersive technology for corporate training purposes, there is often quite a push back and sometimes quite loud vocal defiance. The idea of using augmented reality to add a digital layer over your physical world or a virtual reality headset which places you within a simulated environment seems to be something that some learning providers and training functions within companies don’t really want to engage with, but why? What are the reasons for the push back, are they sensible or are we missing out on an incredible opportunity to create effective experiences to support learning?
The initial push back tends to be the price of hardware but prices for virtual reality (VR) headsets are falling. You can purchase a VR headset for a few hundred pounds now and it can give you an incredible immersive experience. The Oculus Go is good for the more passive, exploratory simulations and the likes of the Oculus Rift or the new Quest will give you that more engaging, interactive feel. In terms of augmented reality (AR) headsets, the HoloLens is being used by larger organisations to help support employees in real-time with digital overlays which instruct and guide them through tasks. This type of headset is more costly and into the thousands of pounds but the ROI is there when you take into consideration the amount of time and effort it saves across the organisation.
If you’re looking for a more cost-effective solution then the VR Google Cardboard allows you to put your phone into a cardboard headset and view a virtual reality environment. The cardboard can be branded with logos and campaign messages so it can be a useful way to engage learners.
The cost of creating an AR or VR experience can be reduced too if assets are sourced from a central repository such as the Unity Asset Store. Tools, software and resources are improving all the time so hopefully the ease of producing content will improve and even become easier to self-author content for learning.
So, if the price is falling in general and the returns on investment can be good, then what else could be causing this push back?
Some clients have expressed concern about needing to set up equipment and dedicate areas for learning experiences. VR and AR headsets are getting better however and with many of the headsets out there you’re no longer tethered to a high-powered PC. You have more freedom and can switch it on and go. AR can also be deployed through a phone or tablet so learners can engage more easily with immersive technology. It literally can be at their fingertips.
If the technology is improving and it’s easier and quicker to set up and use some headsets or devices, then why is there still some resistance to using it in the Learning & Development space?
One of the biggest obstacles seems to be the content. There simply isn’t enough content out there which demonstrates effective learning through immersive technology. Learning professionals and clients are hesitant to adopt it until it has proven its worth.
Immersive technology presents a great opportunity, it aligns seamlessly with active learning. Active learning is where people learn through doing. The learner is put in a safe environment and can make decisions, see consequences, fail and succeed in order to learn. If we consider commercial pilot training for example then the impact of VR simulators is evident with thousands of pilots being put through effective training, not only to check and teach knowledge and skills but to challenge them and assess response in difficult situations.
In the corporate world, we need to ensure there is real purpose for deploying immersive technology. This seems to be at the heart of most concerns, some people are worried that it is just being used as a gimmick when another format such as eLearning would work just as effectively.
Immersive technology must work as part of a blended solution. It’s well placed to become one of the multi-modal formats that learning professionals can turn to and using different mediums ensures the learner sees the content from different angles which helps them to gain a holistic understanding of the material.
Immersive technology assists learners to reflect on what they know, apply new learning and see the consequences of their actions within a realistic environment. This type of training is also highly effective at putting you into the shoes of someone else, playing out situations from different perspectives. It’s also good in terms of letting you oversee processes, allowing you to focus in to look more closely at detail and see what is going on at a more granular level.
We need quality examples and case studies showing the value of training through immersive technology. Learning professionals need to support businesses and highlight the benefits. We also need to measure the effectiveness of this type of learning experience and use this to promote it further. We need to push forwards and use the content to drive the technology rather than the other way around. Let’s push for experiences which support learning and actually work. It’ll take time but a few years from now AR and VR may well be the norm and we’ll wonder how we ever did training without it.