Breakthroughs Ideas in VR Training & Education in 2020 & beyond

Towards the beginning of the year, it seemed that virtual reality (VR) would yet again get delayed from hitting the mainstream. While sporadic adoption for marketing, consumer use, and research made the headlines, it was far from being ubiquitous.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting social distancing environment accelerated adoption — just as it has pushed the pedal on digital transformation in other areas. VR (and immersive technologies as a whole) could solve the lack of engagement and difficulty in retention that learners face today.

A Paradigm Shift in the Making

VR was always poised to be a magic bullet for the training and education sector.

PwC studied how VR helps in learning and retaining soft skills. Surprisingly, learners absorb information 4X times faster using VR than in a classroom setting!

They are 3.7X more emotionally connected and 4X times more focused. On similar lines, Accenture delved into industry-specific opportunities for VR training and education. It found that VR learners display 12% higher accuracy and 7% faster time-to-course completion than traditional methods. Specifically, there are opportunities in:

Medicine — VR-trained surgeons make up to 40% fewer mistakes.

Retail — Store managers can save up to 80% of training time, thanks to VR.

Field sales — VR simulations reduce training time by 40%.

In 2020, industry leaders are fast-recognizing the incredible potential of VR. Underscoring this, the VR Awards 2020 by AIXR shortlists 9 initiatives that demonstrate how far we have come in this field, and how laggards can get inspired to drive differentiation in these complex times.

Soft Skills Training Gets More Realistic

Recreating the conditions and challenges around soft skills around communication in a classroom environment was always difficult. Now, VR offers an alternative, as witnessed by Lloyds Banking Group. The organization partnered with MakeReal for courses on “Difficult Conversations” and “Personal Vitality + Resilience”, going through 1500+ lines of scripted dialogue to help bank executives, build better relationships. Soft skills were also a priority for TANTRUM Lab’s VR solution for a McDonald’s outlet. Using six VR training scenarios, it trained employees on customer communication best practices and empathy.

Another solution targeted collaboration soft skills, which is a must-have in today’s digital communications era. A company called VirtualSpeech built a VR meeting room where multiple learners could join in real-time, practice collaboration scenarios, and give feedback.

VR Could be the Default Industrial Training Medium

Three of the nominations revolve around industrial use cases or VR education. First is Orka’s VR platform called “DHL SLAM” that would train employees of the logistics giant on supply chain methodologies. The platform also helped in HR onboarding processes. Also, GE Hitachi worked with Virtualware to create new content on OEM processes, with support for training customization. At the heart of the solution is the revolutionary VIROO Immersive Room that combines physical equipment with VR software for effective learning experiences.

To measure the concrete benefits of such learning experiences (and the reasons to invest), TAFE NSW in Australia conducted a learning experiment with participation from plumbing, welding, and veterinary sciences students, among others. They gained hands-on knowledge like how to recognize risk from return electrical current, solve hazardous scenarios, explore 3D anatomical structures, and more. The experiment revealed a 64% improvement in learning outcomes and 88% higher engagement than cohorts using traditional learning material.

Industrial applications are increasingly popular, with ITI VR offering a virtual training program for OSHA regulations.

Employees can consume the content at their worksite using VR headsets, learning about common risk vectors like fall prevention, scaffolding, and eight others.

Schools and the Public Sector Emerge as High-Potential Areas

Dipping student engagement has compelled teachers to look for other alternatives, as I noted in a previous article. One nominee is using VR to make science lessons more relatable — Chemistry in particular. Learners can visualize atoms, molecules, ions, and other structures in 3D format, which is sure to boost retention for these concepts.

VR education at the K-12 level can help to train tomorrow’s workforces and contribute meaningfully to society. One important initiative that is worth referring is work being done by Unicef as it is reflected by their futuristic and bold statement as documented on their website

“UNICEF is investing in augmented reality/virtual reality prototypes to identify scalable solutions that can solve real problems, strengthen its interventions and provide the same technological advances to children from programme countries as to their peers in other parts of the world.”

On closer examination, I found that Veative Labs had recently completed with UNICEF and that they awe have converted their entire VR STEM library into a WebXR format, playable on a PC by students who are currently at home. Veative is calling this as Veative WebXR. An example of this is freely available to anyone who visits Veative covid.veative.com. This also means that as students work through these modules (already aligned to their curriculum), they will need to answer assessment questions and complete tasks just as they would within a VR environment, and their teachers will still be informed of progress and can intervene early when at-risk students are identified, even from the comfort of their own homes. This is good, and this answers an immediate need

The promise of VR and spatial learning made years ago is now upon us. We all know interactive, immersive content is extremely efficient at acquiring new skills and knowledge. The problem up to now has been accessibility to a large community of potential users and the need for multiple devices to do a variety of spatial learning. WebXR levels this inequity of accessibility and reduces device costs to run different experiences. As more developers are utilizing this technology in their projects, the end-user base will grow exponentially as a broader spectrum of devices running WebXR-capable browsers can be used for the same experience… regardless of the device. It is an exciting time in immersive learning!

James McCrary, M.Ed.
Director of Technology, St. James Episcopal

James McCrary, has raided pertinent points, in addition the challenges are conferencing/video fatigue, limited attention span and lack of engagement . This is not just limited to schools, colleges and higher education institutions but it can be leveraged in public sector/government enterprises for adult learning as well.

Accenture has delved into adult learning in the public sector, with a solution that trains police offers on procedural competence, discretionary judgment, and a basic understanding of the stop and search technique.

What Does this tell us About the Road Ahead

In 2020, there’s no denying that virtual reality (VR) is here to stay. One of the biggest barriers to adoption — capital expenses — no longer apply, with VR proving to be more effective than classroom sessions or even e-Learning. PwC found that at 375 learners, you could achieve cost parity between Vr and classroom education. Scale up to 3000 learners, and the cost-benefit rises to 52%.

The nine initiatives I discussed exemplify how VR puts forth a learning experience that’s more engaging than any medium we have ever seen before. Thanks to this engagement, learners are more curious, can interact with the content 1-on-1, have a longer forgetting curve, and apply the learnings in the real world. If we consider this year to be a “test case” for mainstream VR education, 2021 will witness VR gaining ubiquity equal to automation, cloud computing, or IoT today.

Finally, apart from cost challenges (which isn’t a challenge at all at scale), we must look at a cultural transformation — or in many ways, embrace a gathering paradigmatic shift — where new modes of learning can comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with practices that are several millennia old.

To know more about the ideas that are the zeitgeist when it comes to VR, please email me at Arvind@am-pmassociates.com.

Board Advisor, Growth Enabler, Strategy & Culture Alignment and Technology Advisor

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Arvind Mehrotra

Arvind Mehrotra

Board Advisor, Growth Enabler, Strategy & Culture Alignment and Technology Advisor

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