Virtual Reality in Training – Is the Technology Ready?

Thanks to the recent rapid advancements in technology, virtual reality training has become a hot topic. And indeed, virtual reality is arguably one of the technologies that will fundamentally change training and development. However, as with any emerging technology, wide-spread adoption takes time. Furthermore, technologies need to go through several iterations before reaching an appealing level of scalability. That being said, here are a few things to consider if you’re looking to implement virtual reality training.

Understanding the Two Types of Virtual Reality

As far as the public perception goes, people seem to think of virtual reality as just one thing. However, similar to AI and its different levels, virtual reality comes in two different types. These types have massive differences in application, which means they should not be mistaken with each other.

The first, more rudimentary type of VR is Passive Virtual Reality. In passive VR, the user is able to view and look around his surroundings with a 360 degree view. However, the user remains a passive observant, as he is unable to interact with the environment. In the interest of training, passive virtual reality is clearly lacking, as learning requires interactivity. Unfortunately, due to issues in technology scalability, passive VR is the current prevalent mode of VR.

However, we are moving towards the second and more effective type of VR – Interactive Virtual Reality. With interactive VR, the users are able to interact with their environment and the VR simulation. This type of VR is the one that will change the field of training. Naturally, it enables superior learning experiences for people with preference towards kinaesthetic learning. Furthermore, it enables us to train for hazardous/unsafe/difficult conditions in a safe way.

Scalability Issues with Interactive Virtual Reality Training

Unfortunately, there remains a big issue keeping us from leveraging the “real” interactive VR. As it is, the technology infrastructure is not quite there yet. Yes, we can build interactive virtual reality training experiences already. However, this kind of VR production is very expensive and out of reach for most organisations’ training budgets.

A major issue is that there are no real content production tools for building this type of VR. Everything has to be built by hand, from scratch, with programming playing a major part. Producing quality VR hence requires a good bunch of dedicated personnel with niche expertise – programming, design, etc. To understand what it takes for VR to develop to a mature enough state, we should look at other technologies that came before.

For instance, one technology that has had a major impact in learning and training is video. Again, motion pictures have been popular for a long time. Yet, the real wake of video did not occur before two changes happened. The first fundamental change happened when we got the ability to consume videos on-demand through platforms like YouTube. The second, and perhaps more impactful change happened with the launch of smart phones. Due to these events, all of us finally had the means to both produce and consume videos. Ever since, videos have become increasingly easy to produce – just point, shoot and edit on the spot. Hence, we have been able to adopt them in different fields and use cases, such as training and learning.

Obviously, Interactive VR is not at this stage yet. Passive VR is almost there, as we nowadays do have the tools to produce and share 360 degree images and videos.

Are you applying VR to Relevant Training Needs?

For the moment, as the technology is not mature enough, we need to stay cautious about our use of VR. If your organisation does have the budget to experiment around with high risks, you should keep in mind the application. VR is a wonderful technology, but at this stage of limited scalability, it can be a waste of resources for many training needs.

Currently, we would limit the application of VR to only the critical training needs, which are impossible to fulfil by other methods. Some examples could include dealing with hazardous settings or critical high-difficulty maintenance and engineering works. Furthermore, we would advise against investing on extensive application of passive VR. There are many more resource efficient ways for creating engaging learning experiences. Most of the general needs could easily be fulfilled by animations and other modern learning tools. Moreover, passive VR will be surpassed by technology development enabling interactive VR. As it is though, it will most likely take a few more years to mature enough. Meanwhile, augmented reality could provide interesting opportunities for organisations looking for wider scale adoptions.

In case you would like to find out how augmented reality will change the training field in the coming year, let us know. We would be happy to share about some upcoming disrupting AR training technology.