Even after the threat of COVID-19 passes, your teams will shift from learning in the classroom to learning virtually. A virtual reality (VR) learning environment can make it better than the real thing.
At the time of writing this, organizations are faced with the immediate challenge of shifting their workforces to working remotely. In the first 11 business days of March, users of Cisco’s web conferencing systems spent 5.5 billion minutes in virtual meetings. This was more than double the normal traffic volume for the same time period.
While some regard a remote workforce as a temporary measure, the truth is that more employers are acknowledging that remote teams are the future of work. Over the last five years, remote work has increased 44 percent. Thirty percent of workers work remotely full time, while 70 percent work remotely at least once per week.
Companies are using flexible work environments to recruit and retain top talent. In one survey, 80 percent of employees said they would turn down a job that doesn’t have flexible work arrangements. And companies that allow remote work have 25 percent less turnover than those that don’t. Remote options also help a company’s bottom line. According to one study, each employee that telecommutes rather than coming into the office saves a company’s $11,315. Remote workers are also more productive.
This data shows a clear trend for the future of work. Companies must adjust to keep their businesses one step ahead of the trend. This adjustment doesn’t just mean rethinking meetings. All aspects of the business must adapt to the changing landscape—including learning and development.
Next generation of VR: multi-user
VR is already changing the learning and development landscape. Walmart and other Fortune 500 companies are launching VR-focused training programs. DDI is using VR to transform leaders. The next technological step for VR is developing virtual spaces where not just one person goes through an experience, but multiple people can interact together.
For training and development, you can use a VR learning environment to connect learners for impactful learning. A unique feature of virtual reality is feeling the presence of the other people in the space. Each person is equipped with their own VR headset and set of controllers. With this technology, you can see and interact with others in the virtual space in an immersive, realistic way.
Unlike conference calls, in which every person speaks at the same volume, communicating in VR relies on spatial audio. This means as you move toward or away from another person their voice will get louder or softer. If somebody is standing to your left, you can tell from which direction they are speaking.
Fifty-five percent of human communication is body language. When video conferencing, especially with a large group, coworkers are reduced to small talking heads. In virtual reality nobody is minimized. The latest VR headsets and controllers will track a person’s head and hands with an extremely high degree of accuracy. The other learners will make eye contact, turn to face you when speaking, and use gestures as they talk. These details make the interactions feel natural and simulate you being in the same space together, even if you are thousands of miles apart.
VR removes limits for facilitators
A good facilitator knows teaching isn’t about telling. A good facilitator needs to form connections with the learners, offer opportunities to practice, and create a safe environment. Some of these aspects are easier to manage in an in-person classroom session. Some aspects are easier in a virtual classroom, which is currently the best alternative to traditional classroom training. VR can offer the best of both worlds.
A VR learning environment can bring in the characteristics of an in-person classroom session that are hard to duplicate through a web-conferencing service. The facilitator can provide activities that get people out of their chairs and moving around. Activities such as a gallery walk offer opportunities for learners to get their blood flowing. Learners can move around the space to form breakout groups. The facilitator can check-in on these groups and offer insights just by walking around the environment. The facilitator can also ensure they have the learner’s undivided attention. It’s nearly impossible for a learner to multitask while wearing a VR headset.
On the flip side, there are aspects of virtual classroom with which a VR learning environment can be incorporated seamlessly. Since VR is rooted in technology, all it takes is a little programming. The software can be used to poll learners to check for understanding and collect anonymous questions from the class. The technology also allows the facilitator greater control over the environment. Once a breakout session ends and a presentation is about to start, the facilitator can bring everyone back together with the touch of a button.
Learn anywhere and practice anything
Using a VR learning environment is not about duplicating a classroom experience. It’s about building upon traditional classroom experiences and virtual classroom sessions to create something uniquely impactful.
For example, an average in-person classroom session takes place in a conference room. A virtual classroom experience can combine presentation slides, breakout rooms, digital whiteboards, and other tools. With VR you can set your training anywhere and customize the space to exactly fit learners’ needs. A facilitator can increase the impact of the subject matter by choosing a realistic setting.
New surgeons could be taught in a hospital room. Teams of construction workers could be trained inside a digital version of their jobsite. The environment also could be used to knock the learners out of their comfortable zone. Imagine a trainer teaching a course on innovation. They could “deliver” the course on the surface of an alien planet to spark creativity!
We know that practice is a key component of learning. In a VR learning environment, there is no limit to the practice activities that can be deployed. With the level of realism implemented by a VR headset and controllers, learners can weld an assembly, refuel submarines, or perform surgery in a safe environment. These tasks would normally require a dedicated learning center, significant equipment, or extensive travel.
The main benefit to the flexible environments and activities available isn’t just that they are available. The benefit is that learners could explore and learn using all these assets within the span of a few hours. A learner could go through a presentation in an outdoor amphitheater and then transfer to a factory floor for hands-on training in a matter of seconds.
And these examples are just the start of what a VR learning environment can do for remote learning opportunities. With the flexibility of virtual reality, learning and development could truly be taken to the next dimension.
Learn more about DDI's virtual reality experience for inclusion training.