Extended reality (XR) is a technology that is already used for digital transformation of employee training and development (T&D) in manufacturing, aerospace, and healthcare. But the use of XR can go far beyond such high-consequence industries and bring value to T&D retail, real estate, tourism, and more. For example, Walmart has expanded its use of virtual reality (VR) to train its employees by simulating challenging scenarios like Black Friday sales. However, while offering rich capabilities for the cutting-edge training of employees, XR raises financial, health, and ethical concerns.
In this post, we’ll enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of XR-driven employee training for you to decide whether the game is worth the candle.
XR Technologies and Their Application for Employee T&DThere are three main types of XR technologies depending on the relationship between virtual reality and the real world: VR—virtual reality (immersion in a completely artificial digital environment), AR—augmented reality (projection of virtual objects on the real environment), and MR—mixed reality (projection of virtual objects on the real environment with an ability to interact with them).
XR’s main application for employee training is simulating real working environments. VR can be used to train pilots by mimicking challenging situations, such as landing, which improves their skills and reflexes. AR can help to train technicians to install electrical wiring on an aircraft by displaying wiring diagrams in front of their eyes. MR is the right choice for training surgeons, as it allows to look inside a patient’s body and study their organs separately in 3D without making a single incision.
Pros of XR in Employee T&DThe following are some of the benefits of XR.
- Visualization. A lot of people are visual learners, and VR can be helpful to them. VR enables such employees to get a better understanding of concepts, objects, processes, and so on by seeing into and experiencing them. For example, an MR app can enable illustrative anatomy training that reveals the organs layer by layer and shows how they work.
- Remote learning and collaboration. XR technologies allow erasing distances between trainers and trainees who are physically located in different places of the world. Thus, VR headsets enable a trainer to “teleport” into the same room with trainees and guide them through their immersive experiences. With VR, trainees can also collaborate remotely, for example, when implementing group projects. What’s more, immersive technologies provide a feeling of genuine presence as in face-to-face meetings, which can’t be achieved by emailing, chatting, or video conferencing, so communication becomes more engaging and effective.
- Accessibility. XR technologies enable creating safe environments that allow trainees to learn from their mistakes without any risks—for example, when taking VR training on high voltage switching or chainsaw operating. Besides, XR technologies help companies to save money on training equipment and environments. For example, it’s much cheaper to train employees on repairing aircraft engines using virtual copies rather than the real ones.
- Helping to stay focused. XR technologies ensure employees focus intensely on the training process. For example, a VR headset isolates a trainee from the real world and any potential distraction. Thus, an employee’s attention span is increased, which facilitates faster assimilation and learning new information as compared to non-immersive learning.
- High engagement and knowledge retention. Using XR for employee training makes the learning experience more enjoyable and engaging for employees, as an XR training session resembles playing a game. What’s more, XR training can be additionally enriched with game elements. For example, at a training session for technicians, a trainee may earn achievement points for correct virtual connecting and launching of a grinding machine. Plus, immersive experiences usually cause strong emotional reactions in trainees, which encourages social learning among employees who share their impressions and opinions. XR tools also turn the process into “learning by doing,” which facilitates absorbing new information.
- Advanced analytics. XR technologies can be complemented by using various sensors that allow for collecting extensive trainees’ metrics, including behavioral data, heat maps, gesture and eye tracking, voice recognition, and more. Such comprehensive systems can help to evaluate the efficiency of XR training programs and improve them. For example, pupil dilation can tell what does and does not attract employees during training sessions and define the level of their engagement.
Cons of XR in Employee T&DThese are a few of the potential drawbacks of using XR for training.
- Artificiality. No matter how realistic XR training may look like, it doesn’t have the same consequences as training and working in the real world where factors like psychological state may come into play. For example, if a medical trainee does well with a simulated heart surgery in a VR environment, they might not do well in the real world.
- Lack of flexibility. Employee learning based on XR lacks the flexibility of traditional training when employees can give their suggestions and ask questions. With XR, it’s impossible to change a training program upon an employee’s request, so trainees’ learning opportunities are restricted by software.
- High costs. Development, updating, and support of software and headsets for VR, AR, and MR, as well as the creation and deployment of training content into the 3D environment are still very expensive.
- Health risks. Immersive technologies pose certain health risks for their users. Wearing VR or MR headsets for long periods may cause stress and anxiety, nausea, and eye strain. Besides, when used unsupervised, XR devices may even cause injuries—for example, as the result of stumbling over real-world objects.
- Privacy and data security concerns. Capturing information about employees and recording their performance during VR training raises ethical questions. There is a fine line between gathering data for improved analytics and total surveillance of employees. Besides, large VR providers can freely share trainees’ data with their affiliates and subsidiaries, which aren't always easily tracked down, and these providers’ privacy policies can’t ensure 100 percent personal data security.