Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term for three technologies: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). Collectively, these technologies enable a very large shift in the methods by which users can interact with media. For the past few years, much attention has been given to the consumer applications of the individual components, especially VR in gaming. However, interest and development have been growing for applications of all three in industry and manufacturing, the military, medicine, sales, and retail, as well as in formal education.

Learning and development applications have been a little late to the party. Instructional designers and developers in general have not developed the skill sets needed to create XR applications. The use cases for XR in L&D are not often well-understood, business leadership has not shown much interest in adopting the technology to training, and identifying the return on investment (ROI) of time and money required to shift appropriate instructional content to XR delivery has not been easy. Yet the value of applying XR to learning is known, at least subjectively. The key is translating subjective value to quantitative benefits.

Known benefits of XR for L&D

What does XR offer in the way of benefits that can be quantified? There are a number of these, and while they can be proven to a certain extent, nailing down the numbers for particular cases is a challenge.

Engagement, retention, and transfer

Most of the frequently-cited benefits of XR technology to learning are related to learner engagement, retention of knowledge, and transfer of skills to job performance. Hermann Ebbinghaus published his hypothesis about memory and forgetting in 1885, and instructional designers have devised a number of approaches for defeating the "forgetting curve". Many of these, including the use of VR and MR in learning experiences, seek to improve learner engagement as a means of strengthening recall, although it is not a given that better recall will result in better performance on the job. "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—when the learning involves near transfer. Finally, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others have described the effects of being completely involved in an activity (the "flow state") and overlearning on engagement, learning, and recall over time.

Application benefits

There are other practical benefits that arise from the use of XR technologies, 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)

Getting the ROI numbers for XR applications

Adding new technologies to our repertoire of methods means needing to quantify the value and return on investment (ROI) that can be expected from the new technologies. In this article, I have identified some of the subjective ways that XR brings value to a training program. Now what about those hard numbers?

Jeff Meador will have some answers to that question in his session at the Realities360 Online Conference, July 23-24, 2020. During "Defining the Business Value of VR/AR Training", Jeff will dive into the details of the business value generated by VR/AR training programs. He will show specific metrics; how they are constructed, and how they apply to different types of immersive training, and go beyond the numerical values into some of the "softer", hard-to-quantify values that XR technology provides. He will also provide example data that others have seen as a result of their VR/AR training implementations. Jeff's session will include introductory materials and is suited for all people, regardless of their experience with immersive technology.

You can register for the Realities360 Online Conference or get a Learning Guild Online Conference Subscription to access this and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more. If you registered for Learning Solutions 2020 or Realities360 Conference & Expo, you will be granted free access when registering for this online conference.