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You may have heard the famous quote from Confucius, which says, “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand." This concept perfectly sums up why training simulations are effective. Unlike a lecture or a video, simulations let learners practice or “do” the tasks they need to master. Training simulations come in various formats. If the process allows, you could have the learner use the actual equipment to perform a fictional procedure. Or, you can create an online simulation for learners to take on a computer or a tablet. The most intricate form of a training simulation is a Virtual Reality experience, also called VR. There are countless reasons to offer simulation VR training experiences to your audience. We’ll explore 5 of those reasons.
VR systems involve a learner putting on a headset that blocks their view of the outside world. It immediately takes them into a 3D replica of the environment they’re learning to work within. They can walk around and use handheld controllers to pick up materials, just like real life. Most systems also allow learners to wear headphones to hear the audio from the simulation. If you use headphones rather than playing audio from the optical headset, they will block out the room noise surrounding the learner. This creates a completely immersive experience where the learner truly feels like they’re in the environment.
As a result, learners give their undivided attention to the learning experience. They’re 100% focused on performing the task, learning from their mistakes, and striving to succeed. No other training platform guarantees this level of devotion. Plus, learners don’t have to imagine what it will be like to transfer the knowledge they’re acquiring to the work environment. The reality of it surrounds them from the moment they begin the simulation. The experience is quite literally “as real as it gets.” Therefore, VR simulations shorten the amount of time it takes learners to grow comfortable in their job roles.
VR simulations also provide enormous flexibility for training. Practicing on real equipment in a busy factory would disrupt other employees' workflow, whereas a VR simulation is available at any time without disturbing others. Learners can complete most VR games or scenarios on their own without a supervisor or proctor. The VR experience provides guidance and feedback to the learner based on their actions and choices in the simulation. In fact, the simulation may detect finite details that a supervisor could not observe by watching a trainee use the equipment, thus allowing the simulation to provide more accurate feedback.
VR is also considered flexible because it can instantly “transport” learners to different locations. This may help warehouse workers who need to learn where items are located in all the facility's various sections. The simulation can let them practice picking products or storing supplies throughout the building without leaving the training area. Or, it could allow employees who travel to different sites, such as cable installers, to practice procedures in multiple styles of homes and office buildings. The flexibility of VR saves an incredible amount of time and money compared to supervised hands-on training.
As we repeat physical actions, such as dribbling a basketball, our brains form procedural memories. These ingrained memories, often called muscle memory, facilitate our ability to perform routine tasks without thinking about them. Computer or tablet-based simulations lack this component of muscle memory. We have to simplify physical interactions to make them work on a 2D screen. For instance, imagine someone needs to open a drawer, identify the tool they need, and pull it out of the drawer. A 2D simulation would likely have the learner click the drawer, which would cause it to open. Then, they would click the tool, which would automatically pick it up. Yet, a VR simulation would require the learner to grab the drawer handle and physically pull it open. Then, they’d have to reach into the drawer, grip the tool, and pull it out of the drawer.
These added intricacies make the simulation feel genuinely realistic. More importantly, they allow learners to develop muscle memory of moving their arms to the setting's proper locations. They’ll begin to learn, subconsciously, which direction to reach for certain tools. Practicing this physical motion will help the learner quickly adapt to the real work environment.
There’s no denying that certain situations in the workplace can be stressful. Sometimes, this causes employees to panic rather than logically think through the appropriate response. The immersive aspect of a VR simulation allows you to place learners in these stressful situations. One such instance could be the security alarm going off at the entrance of a retail store. The learner will hear the alarm, look at the door, and walk-in that direction to investigate the cause. Their reaction to the unplanned, stressful situation in the VR world serves as a true indicator of how they’ll respond when it actually happens in the store.
Facing these situations, then seeing the consequences of their actions teaches learners how important their choices are in these tense moments. The VR simulation may continue to place learners in stressful scenarios until they prove they can accurately follow the company’s response procedures each time something happens. Like muscle memory, repeatedly mastering these scenarios increases the learner’s retention of what to do when these situations arise. It instills a sense of confidence in new employees who may otherwise be fearful of stressful events.
Along the same lines of creating stress, VR allows you to produce rare events so your learners can experience them. Examples include natural disasters, safety threats, or equipment failure. Many organizations run drills for these types of events so that their employees are trained in what to do if one does occur. These drills often involve disrupting the entire building. On the other hand, VR allows learners to practice procedures for these events in an isolated training experience.
In the VR experience, you can simulate other stressors that are likely to occur in an emergent situation, such as police sirens blaring, flames billowing from a fire, or injured colleagues crying out for help. Forcing learners to take in all of these possibilities makes the training exercise truly feel real. Hopefully, your organization will never be faced with a tragic situation. Yet, one of the best ways to prepare is to let employees or key leaders gain virtual experience handling these terrifying events.
The five reasons discussed here only scratch the surface of the benefits of virtual reality for workplace training. It truly is the most practical way to provide hands-on experience to learners. A fun way to start envisioning how VR could help your organization is to think about training programs you already have – whether they’re classroom seminars, printed handbooks, eLearning modules, or any other delivery platform. Then, imagine how you could present that same information through a VR experience. Picture what the learner would see, hear, and do in a VR exercise created for your organization. This exercise helps you list the precise benefits VR has over the current training methods.
Please note our team originally published this article on elearningindustry.com.