VR Learning

Training Employees Using Virtual Worlds

Jennifer FritzDaniel SotzkoSaarbrücken (GER), June 2018(by Jennifer Fritz and Daniel Sotzko, IMC AG) The simulation of the reactor appears deceptively real through the glasses. Four young technicians are training simultaneously for an emergency situation. A serious incident is being simulated in which failures occur in individual machines, a situation that, even when simulated, results in high levels of stress for the participants. Each movement made by a training participant must be exact, as their movements in the room are tracked by sensors and transferred into the virtual world.

Using this method, the procedures they follow are visible to the other participants, and they can work virtually on taking immediate safety steps as a team, and in individual cases on administering first aid. In this scenario, the learning is entirely virtual, which means that the real world has been completely masked out and replaced by a digital equivalent (virtual reality).

The advantages are obvious: the exercise creates an authentic sense of an "extreme situation" requiring high levels of concentration, decision-making skills, and teamwork amongst the participants – exactly as it would be in a real worst-case scenario. This approach gives the technicians the possibility to train the movements and cooperation they’d have to call upon immediately in case of a serious incident. Even if such a “Maximum Credible Accident” never occurs, employees must be prepared for one physically and mentally.

There is currently considerably more scope for the use of VR, and in the learning realm particularly. Many start-ups are developing the first prototypes in virtual reality. Established businesses, too, are beginning to use VR applications for training internal and external target groups or for marketing purposes. And even traditional textbook publishers are venturing into the territory in order to discover what VR learning could do for them.

Learners not only engage more willingly with training content provided in a VR format, but after the training, they remember better, and for longer, what they have learnt through the intensity, authenticity and emotionality of the training experience.

Meanwhile, with high quality VR glasses, the technology required for VR learning is not only now available but also mature and affordable. Back in the 1990s, attempts were made to make VR marketable, but neither the displays nor the sensors had reached the technical standards necessary, and PC processing power was not yet strong enough.

Driven by the rapid developments in processing power and 3D renderers for image synthesis or, more specifically, graphic cards, these technologies are very useable today. In the meantime, diverse sensors that register acceleration or line of vision have been built into most VR setups. Highly developed tracking systems register the user’s body movements, such as bending forwards or to the side, or hand gripping movements, and transfer these to the virtual world.

The more precise the tracking, the more authentic the VR experience is for the guest from the real world.

The assumption is that the greatest steps in development in the next few years will come in the area of tracking, as the technology available today is still in its early stages. But how can VR learning be integrated best into a company’s further education architecture?

Corporate training scenarios for VR learning are naturally different from company to company. However, a handful of implementation steps already exist that will serve to orient any company during the implementation of VR learning.

As a first step, the organisation should examine whether the intended training scenario is suitable for VR learning. This should be done with a VR expert, a training service provider with experience in VR, or a consulting company that will implement and look after the VR concept. It could be that in talking to an expert, an augmented reality format is found to be more suitable and, often, cheaper.

Should the scenario be suitable for VR, the processes to be trained should be analysed precisely and possibly filmed (e.g. machine processes) so that later, in the virtual world, they can be presented as close to reality as possible.

In step two, the training concept is developed. In doing so, it is vital to include somebody from the company who is very familiar with the processes, as well as a second person who is well versed in the learning technology itself.

In an ideal world, there would also be a third person from the company to manage the project and to intervene should there be any misunderstandings between the technical experts and the training professionals. If there are no experts available internally, a suitable person should be found who can be trained in them. Later on, this VR expert will be able to coordinate the training programme or train users in their use of the technology.

Before the first users test the training programme, the VR expert or the future training manager should run through all modules and get to know the technology better and to understand the structure of the training programme. Should this individual discover either errors or weaknesses, these can be ironed out at this stage.

In many companies, there will be participants who are not familiar with the technology. To prevent the lack of familiarity becoming a barrier to training, introductory workshops should be offered to VR beginners in which the technology and how it is being applied for training are explained.

VR "cardboard", through which a 360° trailer can be shown, can be distributed at a small cost to staff; they insert their own smartphones into the device and use the VR technology with other applications. Communications to staff should identify VR "champions" within each department, a peer who is experienced with the technology and can assist their less-experienced colleagues with the technology and explain to them the added value of training using VR.

The training will now be implemented. After the first users have tested it, a user feedback survey is conducted to discover how they found the training and to identify the skills they now feel they have mastered.

Shortly after it has been implemented, the training should be evaluated using a test group to ascertain the extent to which participants still possess the skills they learnt during the training. Questionnaires can be used to request suggestions for improvement that can be considered when planning the next training programme.