Once the turf of marketers and gamers, immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are championing major transformations in the modern workplace, especially when it comes to training. As more virtual headsets and AR-based mobile apps hit the market, enterprises are starting to see how investing in these technologies can help them stay competitive.
- Augmented Reality: Augmented reality is a type of interactive, reality-based display environment that takes the capabilities of computer-generated display, sound, text, and effects to enhance the user's real-world experience. It essentially allows you see the real world with virtual objects and sound superimposed.
- Virtual Reality: Virtual reality refers to computer-generated environments or realities that are programmed to simulate a person’s physical presence in a specific environment that is designed to feel real.
- Mixed Reality: Mixed reality (MR) is a type of hybrid system that involves physical and virtual elements. MR and AR are often defined interchangeably but the essential difference is that projected visuals appear to interact with the real world.
These concepts, especially VR and AR, have been around for hundreds of years. They have also been used in marketing and gaming for quite some time. Now that learning and development (L&D) professionals have seen successful marketing and gaming examples and experienced the proven effectiveness of other digital and immersive training tools, we’re seeing more emergence of AR, VR, and MR within the training environment.
In fact, the marketing industry explored novel AR and VR instances more than eight years ago during the initial hype phase and has since moved beyond novel experiences to business-driven purposes. In contrast, the L&D industry is generally still exploring novel AR and VR test cases. This slow shift is occurring alongside the solid application of these tools in the modern workplace and business enterprises, making the opportunity ripe for business-driven AR, VR, and MR in training.
Practical Applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality
To borrow from marketing, some classic examples regarding VR, AR, and MR that training employees can learn from include:
- The Coca-Cola Santa sleigh ride experience of 2015. This is a prime example of a VR application creating immersive marketing campaigns that the consumers loved.
- The Pokémon Go craze of 2016. Pokémon is the most popular example of AR application in the gaming world. Its creator believes we have yet to scratch the surface when it comes to the potential of AR.
- Volvo’s test-drive experience of 2014. There’s nothing better than being able to test-drive something before committing to a purchase. Volvo capitalized on this by introducing its test-drive experience in 2014, a VR experience built with Google Cardboard that allows the consumer to test-drive from a smartphone.
- Microsoft’s HoloLens of 2015. This is a great example of putting MR into play. Since its debut, this MR gadget and its continuous improvements have redefined training and innovation in the modern workplace. One of its new features, hand-tracking, allows users to touch and interact with holograms.
In the workplace, AR and VR are also starting to become more prevalent.
- Manufacturers now carry out process optimization without having to stop their production line. Their application can help manufacturers virtualize and visualize their line, get an idea of how their processes are performing, and spot problems areas. Tweaks can be tested virtually for effectiveness before they are applied in the actual field. This reduces waste and ensures better final products are far more quickly put into place.
- VR and AR add an immersive and interactive layer to training. They can be used to mimic real-life potentially dangerous procedures before the skills are taken to the field. For instance, a surgeon can practice a surgical procedure without endangering a real human and a pilot can learn to fly a plane without the risk of crash-landing. The industrial AR training applications have also been useful with increased efficiency due to in-context technical information.
Limitations to Virtual and Augmented Reality Adoption
While AR and VR have been coming to the forefront of the technological world, two main limitations stand in the way of their take-off in training:
The success of any innovation depends largely on how it is implemented and who implements it. These immersive technologies are nothing if they lack proper user experience design. Certain skill sets are required to design the full 3D interface needed for a truly effective, complex virtual experience—and employees in a L&D department don’t typically possess these design skills.
To further the evolution of these emerging technologies and realize their maximum potential, these skill sets need to be taught, hired into L&D, or sought externally. In the meantime, L&D professionals within the department can dabble with easier-to-use platforms and less sophisticated training programs.
Turning to the learners, let’s not forget social acceptance of new innovations. Even though AR and VR are not that new, their adoption into training will take time. This is especially true because most learners feel that AR isn’t relevant to their lives. These technologies have not been fully explored in at-home consumer use and are not yet widely affordable and accessible.
Currently, when speaking about VR and AR, the consensus is usually a relegation to applications in gaming. The true potential of these technologies is not fully understood and it might have something to do with timing.
The concept of mobile phones was not fully explored and embraced by large corporations until after early adopters had used them for their personal use. Following in the same vein, AR and VR will not be accepted quickly. Right now, organizations are not seeing the potential these technologies have; but with the leaps and bounds being made in advancing them, soon AR and VR will be more common and not used only in novel, “nice to have” workplace games.
In a few years, VR, AR, and MR will reach mature levels and offer never-before-seen possibilities in training to match other enterprise and consumer uses. It’s time for organizations to start looking into furthering design and development skill sets for these immersive technologies. More action is required to push the boundaries of these emerging technologies and reap their revolutionizing benefits.
* Note: All definitions were sourced from Techopedia.com