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Virtual Reality: Training for the Future

You don’t have to look far to find examples of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the workplace. For starters, the “workplace” is now home or wherever there’s internet for many.

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This social distance-laden world has changed the structure of meetings, the way companies hire and onboard employees and it’s also caused leaders to reevaluate how they train their workforce. The latter of which has become more pressing given the increased reliance on automation during the pandemic.

However, despite looming concerns this will lead to mass layoffs, most organizations are committed to reskilling and upskilling their workforce. One way to accomplish this brand of training is through virtual reality (VR) which, according to a survey by Mursion, is something more learning and development (L&D) leaders are turning to.

The survey found that 35% of L&D leaders are using VR or simulation today and more than 72% of these leaders plan to experiment with VR or simulation for soft skills training by 2022.

Mark Atkinson, CEO of VR software company Mursion, said the demand for VR software has accelerated “rather significantly” during the pandemic and he expects this trend to continue because of its learning and development benefits. While current e-learning often allows for the user or trainee to multitask during simulations, VR affords no opportunity for that.

“You can’t multitask in VR. You are fully engaged, you are immersed and you are being challenged in the moment,” Atkinson said. “It requires intense concentration. Often people fail, which gets their attention, and then they immediately need to come back in and work on it further.”

Mursion’s survey found some of the most applicable uses of VR training are to demonstrate listening skills (56%), provide constructive feedback (55%), delivering a complex presentation (53%) and handling a customer complaint (43%).

The technology might also help support companies’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Mursion’s survey found that just 40% of participants believe they have adequate coverage of DEI in their current training programs, while 50% said they had no formal training, or there was room for improvement in this area.

VR training can provide leaders and fellow employees with a better understanding of what inequities might exist at their workplace, Atkinson explained.

“It highlights the underlying problems that I think diverse workers have felt in many employment contexts and people haven't known the difference,” Atkinson said. “This immersion training is all about recreating — in an authentic way — what those conversations are like at work and preparing executives, managers and frontline workers to stand up and speak out in the right way, in the appropriate way, so that an inclusive culture is possible at work.

“Giving people lots of repetitions and changing their behaviors is the only way to get that culture shift.”

In projecting where VR technology might be heading on the workplace training front, Atkinson recalls the early stages of e-learning and how it quickly proved to be a preferred method of training over course books. Eventually, social dimensions and multimedia were layered into the technology to make it more engaging and effective.

Atkinson said he sees VR charting a similar course over the next several years.

“I think these VR simulations are the next frontier of e-learning that will produce the next level of an engaging practice and performance assessment,” Atkinson said. “Going through these simulations will prove that you can handle a difficult conversation in the workplace, because you’ve demonstrated it. It’s not just because you’ve sat online and you’ve collected hours reading learning material — you’ve actually been in the kind of situation that the workplace produces all the time and passed the test. That’s the kind of confidence I think employers and employees will want to see.”

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.


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