Long a favorite of sci-fi writers and more recently taken up by gamers, virtual reality technology has yet to find a market as a mainstream consumer product. However, it has begun to catch on as a way to train employees, as the Wall Street Journal’s Betsy Morris reported recently.
According to the Journal, “businesses are taking to it for training in industries from construction to medicine to sports,” with executives saying custom VR software can offer a cheaper, safer, and more effective way to train new employees by immersing them in real-life work scenarios.
One major company going all-in on this technology is Walmart, which the Journal reports is planning to expand VR training to all 200 of its training centers this year after a successful pilot project. Tom Ward, a Walmart vice president, tells Morris that the retail giant is using VR to let trainees practice spotting problems in digital re-creations of real stores, for example, or to give them a preview of what a busy rush – such as at Christmas – looks like.
Big Shifts on the Way
Learning and development (L&D) professionals in CEB’s networks increasingly see the potential of VR as a training vehicle, even though most firms are yet to capitalize on it. “Learning technology” is the channel in which L&D professionals plan to invest most in the future (compared to 13 other learning channels such as e-learning modules, mobile learning, and learning portals), according to CEB data, but L&D professionals also rank VR lowest in terms of how well it’s been adopted compared to other learning channels.
So many L&D functions may be planning big shifts in their approach to learning in the near future. Several are currently experimenting with VR in onboarding programs, leadership development, and sales training programs in a range of different ways, from “wowing” new hires with the amenities across their global offices, to using VR to create a game that trains leaders to handle different team and client challenges.
Both augmented reality and virtual reality present new opportunities for L&D professionals to train employees in a simulated and safe space that doesn’t risk client relationships, company revenue, or employees’ own personal welfare. For many L&D functions, the most challenging part of transitioning to VR training will be making the business case for moving in this direction to more traditional and skeptical colleagues.