Virtual Reality Training; Better, faster, safer, and at less cost
In this week's post we
VR technology can enable more effective learning at a lower cost and in less time than many traditional learning methods. This is because VR can allow for more training repetitions, especially when dealing with costly, rare, or dangerous environments.
For example, the skills of aviation maintenance personnel can degrade when budget constraints limit flying hours; if jets are not in the air, there is nothing to be fixed. But without that practice, critical maintenance skills can slip, leading to increased accidents.
VR can allow maintenance staffers to keep up their skills by learning from experience, at a fraction of the cost of putting an actual jet in the sky.
VR is not just about saving money, it can provide better outcomes than many traditional learning methods. Most research examining the technology’s effectiveness have found that it reduces the time taken to learn, decreases the number of trainee errors, increases the amount learned, and helps learners retain knowledge longer than traditional methods. 1*
These effects apply to the general population as well as specialists training for unique tasks. One experiment compared how prepared airline passengers were for an emergency from reading the ubiquitous seatback safety card versus completing a brief immersive game. Passengers who used the game seemed to learn more and retain their knowledge longer than those who merely read the safety card.
These better outcomes are almost certainly linked to the fact that the game was more successful than the card at engaging passengers and arousing fear, both incentivising participants to learn and providing the neurological surprise to support that learning.
Beyond simply improving how well learners retain information, VR-based training can help learners when they get it wrong. The ability to track all of a trainee’s actions and inputs as he or she moves through a scenario can reduce the cost of providing individual feedback and giving tailored feedback. Experts need not sift through all the data and tell a trainee where he or she went wrong, instead a system like VRTUOSA can help determine likely causes of error and the best strategies for avoiding those errors in the future.
All of these capabilities mean that VR can be a valuable learning tool for a variety of tasks in any industry and some real-world applications are already catching up to predictions that academic research has suggested:
Some major retailers, such as Walmart in the US, have begun training workers using VR simulations. Staff are able to repeatedly take on new tasks such as managing the produce department or annual challenges such as dealing with the rush of customers on Black Friday. Working through these challenges is designed to help people directly see the impact of their actions on customer experience and therefore alter their behaviour.
VR simulations can even allow staff to virtually travel to other stores, to observe how operations are managed there, spreading good ideas and offering paths to improvement. As a result, some companies have found that not only do people seem to retain more, compared to traditional methods, they appear to learn more as well.
In 2017, KFC debuted a VR training simulation to help trainees learn the chain’s “secret recipe” for preparing chicken. Using the simulation, trainees were able to master the five steps of making fried chicken in 10 minutes, compared with 25 minutes for conventional instruction.
Studies have proven that we learn best through simulation and it makes sense. Reading something and then trying to apply what we've read to a real life scenario takes a great deal more brain power than simply experiencing the knowledge. Creating muscle memory is a powerful way to embed information within the part of our brains that helps with information retention. Learning becomes effortless as the act of "doing" helps us store information.
Linde’s experience with VR-based training illustrates the technology’s potential benefits. One of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial gases, Linde delivers hazardous chemicals to thousands of locations daily, meaning that truck drivers must handle materials that may be explosive or, at -160° C, cold enough to instantly freeze hands solid. When one slip-up can mean injury or death, how can new drivers build their skills and expertise?
For Linde, VR-based training provides an answer. In the virtual environment, new drivers can get dozens of repetitions, building safe habits before stepping out on their first delivery. VR can even give drivers an X-ray view of what is happening inside the tanks as they work. Not only are drivers practicing the right skills, they are learning the underlying concepts of why they are the right skills. That is what can create expertise, allowing drivers to react to unexpected situations quickly and with confidence.
Linde is experimenting with more ambitious VR training environments as well. The company used CAD files for a plant currently under construction to create an immersive VR environment, aiming to train the operators who will eventually manage that plant. As with the earlier oil-refinery example, operators can practice emergency procedures or dangerous tasks, but they can also explore the environment, understand how all systems fit together, and even peek inside operating machinery to have a better view of the plant for which they will soon be responsible.
It is the combination of faster, safer and better retained learning that has the combined effect of reducing costs for a company.
By offering improved productivity, training and job site safety through the hands-on and real-time nature of VR, the impact and reach of the technologies are significant for the workforce and their bottom line.
1* J. D. Fletcher et al., "Effectiveness of virtual & augmented reality", presented at MODSIM World 2017 Conference.