Know the challenges before you blindly conduct virtual and augmented reality training programs.
Learning technology is a term that covers a wide variety of solutions, from learning management and reporting systems to Promethean boards and Apple TVs. Other terms, such as e-learning, gamification, and microlearning, can also constitute learning technologies. Many times, when these and other technologies emerge as popular terms, we, as talent development professionals, are quick to react, whether out of excitement of something new or out of fear of being left behind.
However, in our quick reactions to implement, we can miss the mark on training courses that most benefit from the technology, or we can overlook planning for how the technology could affect the users and environment, resulting in lower-than-expected results. As virtual and augmented reality emerge as learning technologies, we must first learn about them before delving into training others on using them.
The VR and AR basics
With VR, users wear a head-mounted display or headset that provides them with a full, immersive experience, removing all aspects of the real world and transporting them to a virtual world. In this new world, users can experience simulations and experiences without needing to leave the room.
Users experience AR with a head-mounted display, headset, or a handheld screen like a smartphone or tablet. Unlike VR, AR does not eliminate the world around the users but overlays or places digital instructions, graphics, or art in the existing environment, enhancing the real-world experience.
Today, there are many stories of companies successfully using VR and AR to train employees. For example, VR helped Walmart reduce training time by up to 90 percent, taking a 30- to 45-minute training module down to a three- to five-minute VR experience. And a University of California Los Angeles surgical study shows that those who trained in VR outperformed by 130 percent those trained traditionally.
At BMW, AR has helped the company achieve a 70-75 percent reduction in certain repairs at its dealerships by giving mechanics hands-free access to instructions and remote experts. And Boeing's use of AR on certain aircraft has reduced wiring time by 30 percent and increased installation accuracy.
Those are all impressive results and may excite talent development professionals about the possibilities with implementing the technology. In fact, we may even feel that if we don't deploy those technologies, we are going against everything we are trying to do with preparing learners. While that fear may be real, it doesn't mean you will succeed once you do. First, you must learn the technology.
When VR is most effective
VR is a powerful medium that can take learners to places not possible before or actually put them in someone else's shoes. The training community highlights use cases—including training dangerous situations, training the impossible, and helping understand users' empathy and reducing training—as keys to success with VR. While these are all great use cases, to succeed, you need to dive a little deeper and understand what you need to implement for success.
Using VR to train employees to complete a physical task can be game-changing if the task is expensive or difficult to replicate in the physical world. However, if you are training restaurant employees how to build a salad at a salad station, the physical salad station with utensils is likely the better option.
If there is no need to travel, being part of the actual environment can provide individuals with a less expensive and better experience than being in a room with a headset on using unnatural moves to pick up tongs and pour salad dressing. Explore each training situation, because not all will require or benefit from VR.
That said, some situations are well-suited for VR. For example, if individuals are training for surgery on cadavers and only have limited time with the cadaver, VR is a great alternative to extend their learning. Providing learners with the ability to practice without additional cost can be a huge advantage.
VR is likewise great for employees learning to work on large machinery. Bringing the equipment to the learners or re-creating its functionality in the real world could be impossible, but VR can provide individuals with the hands-on experience they need.
It also enables you to provide learners with different issues or decisions each time they practice, varying their experiences.
Considerations for implementing VR
Think through your current training deployment plan and how VR fits within it. Will deploying VR hinder your goals for completion?
A great advantage with VR is that it provides learners perspective. Imagine using VR for compliance training and having the learner see the situation from multiple points of view.
However, most compliance training is deployed at the beginning of the month with learners completing it within 30 days. So, keep these questions in mind:
- How do you follow that model if you need to distribute VR headsets to everyone?
- Is your user group spread across multiple locations?
- How many need to complete the training and by when?
- Without proper planning, you may struggle to bring everyone into compliance.
- Is the enhanced training worth the cost or time?
When AR is most effective
AR enables you to enhance the existing working environment with just-in-time instructions and guidance. Overlaid instructions or access to remote experts via a phone or tablet or even hands-free through smart glasses can have a big impact. Yet implementing AR across all tasks or users can be challenging. You need to understand how the technology will work with the environment to be successful.
AR has seen tremendous success transforming the warehouse product-picking process. Taking a process that required a clipboard or checklist and moving it to a headset can increase productivity, reduce errors and costs, and eliminate the paper needs or, in some instances, replace handheld scanners.
As virtual and augmented reality emerge as learning technologies, we must first learn about them before delving into training others on using them.
AR glasses could also eventually eliminate the need to train employees on simple tasks. For example, today you may physically train an individual to organize or merchandise a room or shelf. With the right AR solution, you could recognize the items an employee is putting out and instruct him where and how to place them, eliminating formal training altogether.
Where VR is great for training physical tasks, AR does not always translate well. Providing VR training for building a product and providing those instructions via AR is a great way to transition and build users' confidence from the classroom to the manufacturing floor. But for tasks like painting a car, AR may not be the best approach, given the environment. Be aware of the environment and outside influences.
Considerations for implementing AR
Building individuals' confidence is a compelling result of AR. It can provide assurances that users are completing the tasks correctly and reduce errors. However, putting all tasks in AR could overwhelm users.
Today, most companies are creating a select few tasks and procedures in AR with great success. As the use of this technology expands, we need to understand how to organize and provide help versus creating an overwhelming environment for learners.
We don't want users walking the factory floor constantly seeing instructions, warnings, and tips popping up in their field of view. That could lead to safety issues.
At the same time, we don't want to provide information for things that they rarely do.
Some have made the mistake of only using AR for rare tasks. Yet, if a user has not used the AR glasses except when that rare event happens, then the user has the added struggle of learning AR and not just the rare process. In this case, the technology introduced to help with a problem has become a problem.
AR needs to be the solution that helps augment the training you already provided. As mentioned above, look at the possibility to eliminate simple task training used every day with step-by-step, on-the-job support. Or perhaps you have required processes or procedures and employees can now document their completion via AR as it happens.
Another great opportunity to use AR is with regulatory lab procedures that change. Currently, when one step changes, your option is to retrain the entire staff. However, with AR, you can inform users of the change while they are completing the task and ensure they are following the updated procedure correctly.
Hygiene is a common concern with wearable technology. Because it may not be cost effective to provide a one-to-one ratio for VR and AR headsets, how will you clean them, where will you store them, and how will you track them?
Further wearing head-mounted displays can get tiring or they can feel heavy. Users may need to wear AR glasses for hours at a time, so how comfortable are they, and what happens when they need to charge during the workday?
For VR, you need to consider similar things like how to charge, store, and clean the wearable devices. Build your VR training program as a supplemental component that requires learners to spend no more than 12 to 15 minutes at a time in a VR headset.
Additionally, both technologies have challenges with their user interface. Without physical keyboards, how do users log in? Do you need a second form of authentication? How will you track learners' completion or scoring? How do you know where they are or whether users are accessing the right content? And what do you do when something breaks?
Some of the challenges have been solved and solutions are already available, but many of the challenges will likely be unique to your organization. Without the right understanding and evaluation, your journey into the immersive learning space could require costly rework or lack of user satisfaction, leading to far less success than other have seen. To avoid these missteps, reach out to industry leaders with enterprise experience to help with your initial journey into AR and VR before going out on your own.
Another key to successfully using VR and AR in your training courses is not to plan for a pilot but plan for success. While starting small and delivering a pilot could be the right way to begin other learning programs, planning for it in this instance can affect your achievement.
Instead, plan how you will deploy the technology at a large scale, whom your users will be, and how all your environments could affect the outcome. Considering these components will help you better understand what it will take financially, how it will affect your users globally, and where you need to adjust your environments, making for a much more successful initial launch and ultimate full deployment.
This article is not meant to scare you—it is intended to ensure your success. The benefits of VR and AR for both your users and organization far outweigh these considerations and challenges.
As talent development professionals, we have all likely jumped into something headfirst without the right plan and then had to learn from that mistake. The same goes for VR and AR.
The potential for these technologies is tremendous, but without the right plan, you will spend too much time and money fixing your mistakes or—even worse—walk away entirely from the most transformational technologies in learning.
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