Commonly associated with futuristic ideas, virtual reality often brings to mind concepts like the metaverse and expensive headsets, which can feel distant and out of reach for the average consumer. However, over the past few years, virtual reality has found a practical and meaningful application in a domain that holds significant real-world benefits: job training.

An increasing number of employers are leveraging virtual reality (VR) for training their employees, spanning across various roles including retail associates, medical professionals, and aviation pilots. Despite being in its nascent phase, this innovative platform has been widely praised for its capacity to offer trainees an experience that closely simulates real-world scenarios, achieved simply by donning a VR headset.

VR Training
VR Training

As the precision of VR technology improves, it is likely to progressively emulate real-world learning. Eventually, the demarcation between virtual and physical learning could narrow down to the point where it would be imperceptible. The brain’s ability to grasp a task might become identical whether in a traditional classroom or within a virtual counterpart.

What leads to success? According to VR proponents, when executed effectively, the immersive training approach enables employees to engage multiple senses simultaneously. This enhances their capacity to remember information, boosts their confidence, and provides a heightened, lifelike perception of their future job responsibilities.

An initial pioneer in this endeavor was Walmart, the giant retailer. In 2017, Walmart integrated virtual reality (VR) into its training methods, yielding a notable 5 to 10 percent improvement in employee test performance. Presently, Walmart employees are harnessing this technology to prepare for the frenzy of Black Friday, master the art of effective spill cleanup, and engage in a plethora of other instructional scenarios.

Conversations with scientists, researchers, and technology experts reveal a unanimous consensus: Virtual Reality (VR) is widely acknowledged as a high-yield, low-risk training solution. It offers a means to refine an individual’s decision-making abilities without incurring significant time and financial investments. The ensuing sections outline the avenues through which VR is believed to improve and enrich worker training:

Virtual Reality is Immersive

In the training program developed by the VR company Striver Labs for a beverage distribution company, an employee’s responsibility involves efficiently arranging boxes as they are delivered via a conveyor belt into the rear section of a truck.

The worker utilizes the complete 360-degree environment around them to accomplish the task, mirroring their on-the-job actions. The trainee receives valuable feedback upon making mistakes…or when they do the correct thing.

Virtual reality operates by integrating a dynamic field of vision that emulates the expansive panorama of human sight. Rather than presenting a solitary frame, VR provides an array of numerous frames, prompting the user to turn their head for complete observation.

Consequently, within a virtual reality training scenario, you are not only presented with the assigned activity, but also immersed within the three-dimensional environment where the task unfolds — whether it’s a warehouse, a grocery aisle, a cockpit, or even a trauma ward.

Do not misunderstand the fact that simply placing a headset on someone’s head does not automatically result in enhanced learning. Jeremy Bailenson, the original mind behind Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and a co-founder of Strivr, emphasizes this. However, when virtual reality training is skillfully developed, the encounter can be incredibly immersive and dynamic. It has the potential to create a sensation of being engaged in real work, despite not accurately replicating real-life situations.

The immersive and captivating quality of virtual reality serves another purpose as well – minimizing distractions. Once the headset is donned, individuals are compelled to maintain unwavering concentration on the current task, leaving them with no alternative.

Maintaining focus can be challenging while using a computer. With your phone easily accessible, there is a constant temptation to shift your attention. However, when engaged in virtual reality (VR) experiences, you become fully immersed in that environment. This heightened immersion minimizes distractions and prevents the fragmentation of your attention.

Virtual Reality Helps With Memory

Virtual reality (VR) training has the capability to simultaneously involve multiple senses, resulting in the emergence of a multimodal learning encounter. This facet offers a range of advantages, foremost among them being a more effective approach to accommodating diverse learning preferences. However, perhaps most noteworthy is its pronounced impact on enhancing information retention.

Research indicates that improved recall and motor skills are observed upon removing the VR headset following training. Engaging your visual, auditory, and even tactile senses during the learning process might lead to a more holistic and effective acquisition of knowledge, potentially enhancing retention as well.

Understanding arises from the interplay between our senses and our bodily movements as we engage with our surrounding world.

Virtual reality training settings might encompass scenarios such as the sound of machines beeping within a hospital chamber, or a family member of a patient inquiring actively – these are akin to the challenges or stressors that healthcare professionals, such as nurses or doctors, could encounter during their work.

Less Costly Mistakes in Virtual Reality Training Environments

Employers appreciate virtual reality (VR) for its ability to allow them to select distinct tasks, even those that may not be easily teachable through a traditional laptop screen. When an aspiring surgeon struggles to fully comprehend a specific incision technique, VR can step in to provide targeted assistance.

In an immersive environment, you have the ability to craft a truly authentic setting surrounding the individual while they attempt to recollect the procedure. It’s, therefore, possible to simulate a high-pressure scenario.

The VR education functions akin to a two-sided mirror within a focus group chamber: It allows the employer to observe the trainees’ gaze direction and gauge their responses to various stimuli.

In contrast to the physical realm, errors made by a trainee in VR carry no repercussions. Consider a medical student who, in a life-or-death training scenario, can reset after a patient’s demise — spared from actual tragedy. The weight of a taxing circumstance diminishes through repetitive handling. The resurgence of symptoms unseen by a doctor for some time may evoke heightened unease, yet virtual reality (VR) bestows the solace of safe, consequence-free practice.

Occasionally, the intention is to create a sense of urgency. An extra stress level is sought, as it prepares you for the actual experience, having encountered and practiced these scenarios beforehand.

The training sessions can also facilitate interactions aimed at honing interpersonal skills. These interactions may encompass scenarios where multiple trainees engage within a shared virtual reality environment, along with situations that could be challenging to replicate in real life.

Giving students exposure to Spanish-speaking patients, patients with hearing deficits, or patients with autism might be a rare occurrence. The potential to interact with such diverse cases may be limited, making simulations the essential avenue to grant them access.

What has prompted employers to adopt VR technology? Enhanced efficiency at reduced expenses. Derek Belch, the founder and CEO of Strivr, emphasized that the primary factor driving return on investment is the significant time and consequently, cost reduction. VR holds the promise of delivering on both fronts. Rather than requiring individuals to physically attend training sessions for extended periods, employers can now provide flexible, on-demand learning experiences through 15- or 20-minute sessions, akin to having a medical school available whenever necessary.

However, the advantages can manifest in alternative ways. This was most evident in a tragic incident when a shooter took the lives of 23 individuals at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, back in 2019. CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon, affirmed that virtual reality (VR) training played a crucial role in preserving lives, as staff members had undergone training scenarios simulating active-shooter situations. There’s a certain immersive quality to experiencing these simulations through VR that enhances your understanding of the necessary actions to be taken in active-shooter scenarios.

While VR is far from flawless — evident to anyone who has experienced dizziness or discomfort while wearing a headset — its optimal potential lies in its ability to revolutionize training. Should VR succeed in fulfilling its commitment to faithfully emulate reality, education could become equally effective for individuals in remote rural classrooms and bustling urban labs.

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