Sandra Marshall is a leader on Booz Allen Hamilton’s immersive team. She develops new solutions at the intersection of creative and technology, including augmented and virtual reality, and serious games used by a variety of industries including education, operations, and health. Views are author's own.
You stand in the operating room among your medical team, ready to operate on a patient’s shattered shoulder bone. The procedure is challenging but it goes smoothly. Once the final stitches are in and you finish the job, you do something unexpected: you take off a virtual reality (VR) headset. The operating room vanishes and, in its place, sits a small VR setup, ready to provide training for the next complex procedure from your office, lab or even the comfort of your home.
This example illustrates just one application of immersive training technologies, which are seeing a marked upswing in demand in the current novel coronavirus quarantine environment. Up to half of American workers are working from home, including skilled experts in many professions and industries who are removed from their equipment and typical work environments and in need of training to keep their skills sharp. From healthcare to manufacturing to military training, immersive technologies can accelerate performance and increase safety in training and job performance.
A study by the surgical training platform Osso VR found that orthopedic surgery residents who trained with a VR system performed 230% better than their peers. In addition to being a more powerful learning tool, immersive training is also easier to update and scale, allowing organizations to improve training while reducing costs. Intel estimates that its first VR-based Electrical Safety Recertification training course for employees has a potential 5-year ROI of 300% and found that 94% of trainees wanted more VR-based courses.
When is immersive training right for your organization?
Not every situation calls for immersive technology. For example, if you’re teaching employees how to use software, VR offers relatively few advantages over traditional desktop training. If you’re training for a complex, experienced-based job like performing surgery, flying an airplane or operating heavy machinery, immersive technology offers total engagement in a simulated environment for deeper understanding and better learning. It’s also particularly adept at enabling employees to experience something from someone else’s point of view, which has vast applications such as empathy training for sectors like customer service.
But how do you know if immersive training is right for your organization? In our experience building VR platforms for laboratory safety training and medical triage on the battlefield, you should consider investing in immersive training when:
- Tasks are repeatable and experience based. Immersive technology enables training for situations that are difficult to replicate, due to lack of access to equipment or the level of difficulty of the task, or the need for the training to be performed multiple times or experienced from another person’s point of view, such as customer experience or empathy training. With immersive technology, you can repeat even complex, large-scale scenarios with ease.
- You train large numbers of people at a high cost. Traditional training methods for a large number of employees means duplicating potentially expensive training scenarios multiple times and could involve travel costs to an external training site. Immersive training allows you to repeat a training session with multiple different scenarios for any number of employees without increasing the cost and adds convenience by letting you hold training at your own facility.
- You would like to collect data during the training — but have a hard time doing so. There’s no standardized way to gather performance data from live-session trainings that involve human instructors. Immersive training can collect both hard and soft metrics that go beyond a typical pass/fail system to translate into more personalized trainings. For example, it can capture metrics like eye and hand movements to make sure a pilot checked the proper controls.
- You cannot easily access the facilities or equipment that would make the training come to life. Immersive training lets trainees interact with realistic environments independent of weather, events or geographical limits without tying up in-service equipment or requiring travel to an off-site training facility. Imagine a police department emergency response training that involves vehicles, a life-size model city block and dozens of trainees. Instead of running this expensive production once a year and requiring employees to travel to an external site, you could develop the whole scenario (and many different scenarios) in VR and run the training more often and for less cost.
- Your organization has many user groups that require tailored training experiences. The U.S. Department of Defense regularly trains medics across different branches of the military on how to triage a patient in the battlefield. While the core training is the same, the tasks it trains medics to perform might be different if they are a large team near a medivac or a small team in a remote location. With immersive training, you can use the same core training environment and tailor the content to apply to specific groups.
- You would like to update your training frequently. Because immersive training scenarios are software-based, they can be updated more easily than live-session type training that may require new equipment or facilities. Immersive technology also lets you accurately gather metrics like attendance, completions and employee improvement that can inform how you update and improve your training program.
- You have advocates, adopters and access to user testing for immersive training. You’ll need buy-in from stakeholders across your organization who can serve as advocates for immersive training: senior leadership to approve funding, IT for technical support, HR to raise awareness of the training as well as employees who will be adopting the new technology. You’ll also need a group to organize, oversee and report on a pilot to test the program.
Scale to meet your needs
Immersive training offers clear advantages over outdated training approaches — scalability, repeatability, individualization, measurement and user engagement are just a few. It also represents a significant investment of time, buy-in and financing, and an immersive training program may seem intimidating to set up and adapt to.
The good news is that you can start small. If you decide that immersive training is right for your organization, you don’t have to jump in with a huge investment from the beginning. You can start with a pilot program that lets you test the technology and determine its value and then use those insights to inform a larger immersive training integration strategy when your organization is ready.
At a time when many find themselves removed from the equipment and machinery needed to train and keep their skills sharp, it’s never been more important to provide virtual skills-based training to stay current. Don’t let indecision stand in your way to making the switch to immersive. If these technologies are right for you, an investment today can revolutionize learning within your organization for years to come.