While virtual reality technology has yet to find a market as a mainstream consumer product, it has begun to catch on as an enterprise learning tool, the Wall Street Journal’s Betsy Morris reported last week. 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 recreations of real stores, for example, or to give them a preview of what a holiday rush looks like.
At CEB (now Gartner), we have also found that learning and development professionals are increasingly seeing the potential of VR as a training vehicle. Our latest research on learning technology finds that it is the top learning channel where 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). This data is particularly interesting since L&D professionals ranked VR lowest on adoption compared to other learning channels. CEB Learning & Development Leadership Council members can read the full research in our 2016 L&D Innovations Bullseye.
Our findings suggest that many L&D functions may be planning big shifts in their approach to learning in the near future. We have seen several organizations 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 stakeholders.