Experiencing something in virtual reality is not like other mediated experiences. “It is closer to an actual experience,” according to Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-founder of STRIVR. That’s one reason VR is a natural venue for training—one that could reduce the need for business-related travel for training, speaking engagements, and other meetings. While VR might not completely replace face-to-face training, it offers benefits beyond reduced travel.

Improving on in-person training

Face-to-face training has some drawbacks that VR mitigates, key among them the need for advance scheduling and associated workflow disruption. Training with an instructor must be scheduled. In many cases, instructors travel to a corporate site (or learners travel to a course location). Regardless of who travels where, learners are taken away from their work for the duration of the training, whether that means a couple of hours, once a week, for several weeks—or a full day or longer.

Once a VR training module is created, learners can use it any time, and repeat the training as often as they need to, without incurring additional cost. And the training can be used in short increments that fit more easily into their workflow.

In addition, “Some trainers are better than others. It’s hard to get the best people all of the time—and even the best people have bad days,” Bailenson said in an interview with Learning Solutions. But VR gives you a level of consistency that allows the best training to be reproduced for any learner, any time, indefinitely.

VR also leverages the science of effective learning. “We know from learning science that the best way to learn is repeated experiences. You get some variations in the surface details, but the overall lesson is repeated,” Bailenson said. “Organically, those variations actually improve the generalization of transfer because you’ve now got many instances and you’ve learned a general category, as opposed to a specific instance. With VR you can start with the baseline perfectly consistent on what you want to have—which is the perfect instruction, the right level of interactivity, the right level of telling vs. doing, and constructivism. But then you can add the variation that you want.”

Taking full advantage of what VR offers, Bailenson said, is a matter of “natural selection” of content, which is occurring with commercial applications. “The consumer market is slowly adjusting—maybe violent video games aren’t fun to play in VR because it’s way too personal; maybe I don’t really need to read my news stories in VR because the newspaper works just fine and so does a 2D video of a newscaster.”

But where VR does shine is in creating experiences that would be difficult, impossible, or very expensive to do in the physical world. In this arena, Bailenson is focused on changing people’s behavior in ways that benefit the planet.

“I would say about a third to a half of my efforts are based on solving climate change. And one of the ways that we can do that is by reducing physical travel,” he said.

Trimming the travel budget

In addition to replacing some face-to-face training with virtual training, “One of the ways we can reduce physical travel is producing networked VR that’s so compelling that you don’t need to commute five days a week … or I don’t fly to South Africa to give a 45-minute talk,” Bailenson said.

People already use some VR experiences to “visit” places they could never otherwise see. VT field trips are a fixture at many schools, and travel marketers are exploiting its potential to lure vacationers by offering a taste via VR apps.

Bailenson is studying ways to reduce latency so that eye contact and gestures are more natural in a VR environment so that business professionals will be willing to use the medium for important meetings—rather than traveling. And MeetInVR, a Denmark-based company, hopes to create virtual workspaces that will enable companies to gather virtually in the “workspace of the future,” rather than meeting in person.

Explore VR and training

The eLearning Guild invites you to explore VR’s potential for training and education at the Realities360 Conference, June 25–27, 2019, in San Jose, California. Register today!