Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that supports a very large shift in the methods by which users can interact with media. For the past few years, most attention has been given to the consumer applications of VR in gaming. However, interest and development have been growing for applications in L&D. In this article, I will address ideas that will help you get started in virtual reality, where the applications to skill development today are most immediate.

Instructional designers and developers in general have not developed the skill sets needed to create virtual reality applications. The use cases for VR in L&D are not always clear, interest in adapting VR to training has been slow to materialize, and identifying the return on investment (ROI) from shifting appropriate instructional content to VR delivery has not been easy.

Known benefits of VR for L&D

What does VR offer in the way of benefits that can be quantified?

Most of the benefits of VR technology to learning are related to learner engagement, retention of knowledge, and transfer of skills to job performance. Instructional designers have found a number of approaches in particular for defeating the "forgetting curve". Many of these, including the use of VR in learning experiences, improve learner engagement as a way to improve recall. "Learning by doing" is also felt by some experts to be the most effective way to acquire procedural knowledge or skills through direct experience of carrying out a task.

There are other practical benefits that arise from the use of VR, some of which are more readily quantified:

  • Training on demand
  • Cost savings (travel, equipment requirements, onsite costs)
  • Faster time to proficiency
  • Consistency
  • Better human performance analysis

Use cases

In an interview published in Learning Solutions on April 24, 2019, Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, identified four situations when VR is "worth it". These are the cases where doing something in the physical world is:

  • Dangerous
  • Impossible
  • Counterproductive
  • Expensive (and rare)

In addition to industrial training, VR is an important application for medical training, education, military and defense, and for workforce development.

Getting started

The time to start developing the skills needed to create VR is now.

The best way to start is to pick a VR technology platform and master it. The two most-used platforms are Unity and Unreal Engine, and the biggest reason for picking one of them is the number of resources available for learning them. Each platform offers its own distinct advantages, depending on the type of applications you want to develop. Study the websites carefully before making a decision. Don’t try to do both at the same time, especially when you are just beginning. Depending on your decision, you will also need to learn either C# (for Unity) or C++ (for Unreal).

You may also want to look for online information about the development of virtual reality and about current work being done.

  • Voices of VR: podcast interviews featuring artists, storytellers, and technologists driving virtual & augmented reality.
  • Upload: news and ideas

Unity Technologies offers hundreds of hours of Unity Learn training. This will require a dedicated effort to complete, over an extended period, even with strong motivation.

Unreal Engine also offers extensive training and support, and requires a similar level of effort.

You may instead want to use other online training resources, such as Udemy’s courses that include training on Unity and Unreal Engine, as well as on Vuforia and Game Development fundamentals.

The 2021 Conferences from The Learning Guild, the Learning Solutions Digital Experience (May 3-14) and the DevLearn Conference & Expo (October 20-22) will also provide sessions that will help you with planning the addition of VR content to your offerings.