As developers continue to explore virtual reality (VR) technology, the applications are becoming more common and practical. This growth is having, and will continue to have, a positive effect on the contributions learning and development (L&D) makes to the enterprise, and in fact on the success of the enterprise itself.

Why VR technology is disrupting old-school L&D

The effects of immersive learning have been well-known for a very long time. The earliest examples—simple simulations—predate the digital era. Anticipating the development and spread of virtual reality technology that we see today, Clark Aldrich, in his 2009 book Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds, suggested three reasons why highly interactive virtual environments are effective for learning:

  • They put people “in the flow,” situating learning in the environment where it will be applied
  • They provide context and emotional involvement
  • They engage people through actual participation

Other benefits of immersive learning include the elimination of the risk of injury, the immediacy of feedback, and the ease of tracking the progress of learning and identification of difficulties that impede that progress. Digital technology, beginning with the most basic computer-based, drill-and-practice apps and continuing to today’s virtual, augmented, and mixed reality, along with analytics and artificial intelligence, has facilitated all of these improvements.

In a recent Learning Solutions article, JD Dillon identified the features of ”modern learning.” Each of these is an area where “old school” L&D often fails, and where newer technology has disrupted it through improved methods:

  • Relating learning to day-to-day reality
  • Providing consistent, scalable learning and support experience
  • Getting better data and using it to improve solutions
  • Using AI and adaptive technology effectively
  • Showing impact on business results
  • Reducing "time to implementation" compared to traditional training

What are the use cases for VR?

There are use cases in healthcare, equipment maintenance and repair, and safety, and in other areas that have traditionally been challenging for L&D, such as compliance training, selling skills, and coaching and personal development.

The most obvious use cases for VR training are its application to high-stress and emergency procedures; the opportunity to reduce job-related injuries; and to outcomes where training itself could present danger.

But when appropriate, virtual reality training can also be used instead of the didactic, androgogic (or even worse, pedagogic) approaches to learning that have been the default of L&D. This is one of the opportunities that the evolving understanding of learning engineering may be helping us to see—"continual enterprise feedback and revision."

As Will Thalheimer has pointed out, one of the fundamental shortcomings of the default approaches has to do with assessment of required skills and knowledge. The reason that virtual reality training can improve on the defaults is that people get continuous feedback on how they are doing, and continuous assessment that supports adaptive learning.

Opportunities VR offers

Here are three ways L&D practitioners and leaders can realize the benefits of virtual reality training:

  • Future proof investment in eLearning using VR simulations, together with SME-led training within blended learning.
  • Apply the BUILDS framework suggested by Chad Udell and Gary Woodill in The Shock of the New to evaluate the potential uses of virtual reality for best effect.
  • Use virtual reality as a way to capture and deploy the expertise of subject matter experts (SMEs) throughout an enterprise. By doing this, VR can create dramatic change in corporate competency profiles.

At The eLearning Guild’s Emerging Technology & Learning online event July 17 and 18, 2019, Hugh Seaton will explore a framework for understanding the business processes that are most suited for virtual reality training, and how to use that framework to guide analytics implementation. In his presentation, “How VR Learning Is Changing Business: Expanding Competence,” you will learn how VR simulations can augment SME-led training, and how hardware choices enable and scale deployment of that training.

Register for this particular online event, or add an Online Conference subscription to your eLearning Guild membership in order to participate in all of The Guild’s online events.