Using Virtual Reality for Training


The fast-growing industry of Virtual Reality (VR) is an increasingly becoming a common part of worker training, from hospitals to oil rigs and offices around the world. Now, employers also are looking to VR technology to help recruit, train, and retain employees with VR simulations. By giving new recruits and old timers immersive yet fascinatingly novel experiences that seem more like fun than work, VR can inject enthusiasm and engagement where they may be lacking, and therefore is helping employees see their jobs in a fun and positive light. Employee training is one of the areas that is benefiting the most from the immersive revolution. Notably, VR has been and continues to be used in other areas of training such as for various military forces, an aspect not covered here. 

The case for VR in corporate training is simple – it can increase engagement and knowledge retention and provide the means for the employees to be trained in a safer, more cost-efficient way.

VR enables employees to learn through practical experiences. Experiential learning has long been argued as the most effective way to learn and studies have shown that learning through experience increases the quality of learning, and the knowledge retention by up to 90%.

Experiential learning in VR can be cheap, and enables practical and cost effective, safer training for high-risk situations, situations that would be a health and safety hazard if they were in the real world. The benefits of using a virtual world are a reduced spending on training as well as travel in the real world.

Many business skills require practice to become good at them and VR provides employees with a safe space to practice and learn from their experiences.

Skills such as public speaking, sales, negotiation, and networking are rarely taught at school so are not ingrained in our minds in the same way that remembering facts and figures for a test are. Yet it’s these workplace skills that keep businesses running and are what is being sought after in new candidates and employees.

VR enables companies to fill these skill gaps and instill transferable, workplace skills within their employees.

A number of companies are exploring VR as an additional tool for corporate training, and you might find yourself being trained in VR sooner than you think.

The safety of the virtual world is the ideal training method for dangerous or high-stake situations. Before VR, employees would have to imagine a high-risk scenario and visualize how they would cope with it.

VR removes the need to imagine a difficult, stressful and complicated situation and instead replaces it with a very realistic, fully immersive 3D simulation. It provides an effective learning experience by training people in the most realistic way possible, without the downsides of a dangerous situation actually happening in real life.

Real-world examples of employee training with the help of VR

We are still in the early stages of mass adoption of VR for workplace training, and yet there are already many examples of the technology being used to great effect.

BP partnered with Igloo Vision to train their employees in start-up and emergency exit procedures at their oil refinery in Hull, England. Employees were able to learn from mistakes in the virtual world and thus reduce the probability of making the same error in the real world – an error which could cost lives.

Another oil giant, ExxonMobil, is also using VR for safety training. Users can put on a headset, grab a controller, and be immersed in the virtual world, engaging multiple senses. To ensure that long after the simulation is over, the skills learned will be retained as knowledge and will remain relevant. 

Immersive simulations can transport VR users onto the loading dock of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker, where they spend a day on the job assessing and reacting to different scenarios, from the mundane to the complex. The experiences allow employees to explore different possible scenarios, catch and review their mistakes, and make instant decisions so that they’re better equipped to work safer and more efficiently.

The Medical World

VR can also be used to lower risk in life-threatening situations in medical procedures. Surgeons at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles (CHLA) partnered with a team of developers funded by Facebook’s Oculus VR, to create training for how to treat children in emergencies. Specifically, their simulation helps doctors learn how to save infants who have suffered a seizure or are in anaphylactic shock.

The benefit of using VR for training in this situation, is that it is safe to make mistakes and learn from them, a doctor’s performance is monitored and measured to assess where adjustments could be made in real life.

The time pressure is lower in a controlled virtual training environment so doctors can consider their options more thoroughly in VR training than if they were training on the job. This would allow them to make more informed decisions, at a quicker rate, and for more patients, when faced with the situation in real life. This is a practical way in which effective VR training will save lives.

Another example of VR being used successfully in this sector is when Johnson & Johnson began looking to improve medical training for surgeons. They worked with Osso VR to develop immersive training for doctors to perform operations. The results saw a 230% increase in surgical performance.

VR training works on the premise of experiential mistake-driven learning, allowing doctors to learn and explore the best solutions in a risk-free environment. The cost of making a mistake in the virtual world is nothing compared to the cost of human error in a real medical setting.

Workforce Productivity Employee Training

DHL Express wanted to increase the skills and knowledge of people within their organization. Working with Immerse, they built a VR training platform to promote the principles of safe, efficient unit load device (ULD) stacking. The new method was tested at 12 locations around the world and found 99% of participants felt it helped them work better and more efficiently.

UPS will begin training student delivery drivers using virtual reality headsets in its teaching facilities. Those in the training will wear headsets like the HTC Vive that will show a simulation of real road and hazards. The simulations were created in-house and the training modules will test students in identifying pedestrians, parked cars, and oncoming traffic.

The VR experience the trainees will use are realistic street recreations. In this way the VR complements their real-world training in a way that the employees find innovative, memorable, fun and engaging.

UPS says the VR headsets will replace touchscreen devices that are currently used. The training program will be preparing the employees who will drive package-delivery trucks. In the future, UPS says it plans on using more VR and AR for other training purposes.

How Walmart Uses VR for Worker Training

Walmart’s “Walmart Academy” training centers incorporate virtual reality after an earlier successful pilot program. New Walmart employees put on an Oculus Rift headset and enter different real-world scenarios, during which they’ll be asked to make simple choices based on what they see.

Training simulators have been part of VR since the beginnings of the technology, but they’re more frequently associated with industrial labor or military training than with service work. The goal is to put employees in scenarios that would be difficult, dangerous, expensive, or inconvenient to physically re-create, like dealing with spills or a shopping spree.

Recruiting and Onboarding

VR training can also be used to improve the recruitment and onboarding process within a company. Using an interview simulator, HR professionals and managers can practice asking interview questions to potential candidates and learn the questions typically asked, skills to look for, and warning signs about a potential employee.

This type of corporate training also extends to existing employees, who can receive virtual in-house training for internal promotions within a company.

Once a candidate has accepted a job offer, the next step is the onboarding process. Onboarding is the first experience of training an employee receives and it can give them a good idea of the training they can expect as they progress with the company.

A company without an effective onboarding process is more likely to have lower employee retention levels and productivity. VR can improve this process and make it more efficient and enjoyable. New employees can be introduced the company, a tour of the building, view multiple business locations, meet their manager, and much more – all in the comfort of their own home, before they’ve even stepped foot in the office. Onboarding in VR can allow employees to experience the company culture and daily life in their role before their first day, making them feel more confident when they do start.

Barriers to Adoption of VR Training

Despite the benefits of using VR for corporate training, there are barriers to adoption that are holding companies back. The short-term cost of implementing VR training can be higher than traditional methods because of the initial investment of purchasing the VR headsets.

However, newer headsets such as the Oculus Quest 2 stand-alone headset, have proven very popular as they are more affordable than other VR headsets and are more portable than desktop-based headsets. This means employees can loan the headset from their company to complete their training and return it afterwards.

The Potential of VR Training

Employee training covers a very broad set of topics, from basic manual labor methods all the way through to leadership development. In its early application, VR’s impact on training will focus on safety and manual practice, where many jobs require skilled movement. This is especially the case where safety is of huge concern.

For interpersonal skills and leadership development, VR could be utilized to create an office working environment where leaders must practice the company’s leadership model. However, this use of VR could potentially waste money, time, and resources while frustrating executives.

As more companies introduce VR to their training catalogue, and report positive results, the risk will lower for more cautious managers, and we’ll likely see VR training become a commonplace standard.

As younger people make up an increasing proportion of the workforce and new generation start to enter it, companies will have to adapt to their behaviors, working styles, and preferred methods of training, which are likely to be visual, technology-focused and geographically dispersed.

The Future of VR in Training

Companies are already implementing VR as a tool for corporate training. From public speaking to medical procedures, to training for dangerous situations, VR provides a realistic, safe training environment for employees.

Despite the initial set-up cost, managers are realizing the long-term reduction in cost and return on investment in terms of engagement, safety, and retention of training in VR. As the VR industry develops and advances, and even more becomes possible in a virtual environment, training in VR will become much more commonplace.

Beyond the Gamer mass market, corporate training will be an important step into mass consumer adoption of virtual reality, as more people realize it’s useful and beneficial to so much more than gamers.