Experience is everything
The best VR — whether it’s a mind-bending video game, a stunning cinematic, or an engaging training program — delivers immersive, impactful, and unforgettable experiences. By completely blocking out distractions in a room and placing the user in an interactive, multisensory environment, VR is primed to deliver experiences that ripple out from the virtual world into real life.
So, what do we do with this ability to create real and lasting experiences out of virtually thin air? The applications are boundless, but one of the clearest and momentous is enterprise training. In training, experience-driven VR programs provide a unique opportunity to simulate and control experiential learning. In other words, VR delivers the powerful ability to learn by doing without really doing (at least in the physical world). Experiential learning improves engagement and recall, builds confidence, and impacts the user far more than hollow hypothetical exercises.
The ability to learn by doing in VR is augmented by exclusive design elements available in the medium. This can include gamified interactivity, in-the-moment feedback, guiding prompts, pop-ups and hotspots, detailed analytics, and more. What’s more, VR enables experiential learning that wouldn’t even be possible in the physical world. Users could, for example, walk across the surface of the moon and remember the experience of examining the landscape as though it actually happened.
The science of learning
The saying “practice makes perfect” isn’t just a platitude spouted by high school teachers and coaches. In fact, the truth of the statement extends all the way down to a neurochemical level. When we learn something new — whether it’s picking up Mandarin, perfecting a golf swing, or quickly dicing an onion — it is initially stiff and awkward and requires an immense amount of concentration.
Each time we return to practice the activity, though, we trigger a pattern of electrical signals in our brains. This carves out and reinforces a particular neural pathway, physically altering the structure of our brain to execute the behavior with less and less effort. Think of the process like walking back and forth on the same strip of undeveloped land: slowly but surely, the strip becomes well worn, and an easy-to-follow path is established. Soon enough, the behavior becomes automatic: this is what we call “muscle memory.”
The incredible thing about VR training for hard skills is that we can take advantage of neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to reshape itself — in a completely simulated environment. A coffee shop, for example, could introduce a training program designed to teach new employees how to use an industrial espresso machine. By learning to use the machine in VR, an employee could arrive on the first day of work with automatic muscle memory before ever touching the machine in real life.
Safe and resource free
Even though we have the ability to rewire the brain for real-world behavior in virtual reality, why should we? What’s the benefit of practicing using a simulated espresso machine, especially if the real thing is available?
The first reason is safety. Whether working with scalding espresso or performing maintenance on a nuclear reactor, VR training experiences enable exposure and practice to all sorts of workplace operations without any fear of injury or damaging equipment or interruption of work activities. VR training eliminates wasted company resources and provides “before-the-job” exposure, reducing learning time and costly mistakes when the learner starts their “real” job. Additionally, these benefits can be experienced on repeat from anywhere around the globe, allowing opportunities for consistent training and more practice.
Another benefit of VR training is consistency. While still being engaging and immersive, VR training programs eliminate the variable of the trainer. The quality of trainer-employee training depends on whether the trainer successfully follows the company’s curriculum and has the experience and training talent to pass along the same information as any other trainer. VR training is written, designed, and fixed to ensure each employee is receiving complete training each and every time. However, this doesn’t mean VR programs are sterile and inhuman: in fact, by using VR, each employee can receive a personal guided tour by the CEO. Finally, by eliminating the need for trainers to walk employees through each and every step in the training process, companies no longer need to pay employees to take time from their regular duties to train new staff. This means a significant reduction of costly absences, double-duty shifts, and on-the-job mistakes.
VR training programs can be revolutionary for companies like Seabourn, a cruise line that partnered with Pixvana to design and implement a VR training experience. Seabourn is known for its world-class service but struggled to properly train new waitstaff because the ship’s dining room is perpetually occupied. Using VR, Seabourn was able to create a virtual environment wherein new employees could memorize the table layout and practice navigating the space in order to bring orders to the correct tables. Seabourn leveraged VR to allow its employees to train in a space that was otherwise unavailable to them. What’s more, Seabourn plans to make the training experience available to new employees at home via the web, allowing them to begin training and develop a strong mental map of the room before ever stepping foot aboard the ship.