Founder of Hence, Repeat, RCCL, Mesmerise and Marsfields.
Virtual reality is an immersive experience that has countless potential applications within the world of business. Through the use of an integrated headset, it’s possible to travel around the globe and engage in countless pre-rendered scenarios. But is virtual reality ready to aid the onboarding process for companies and enable employees to train in a more immersive and valuable way? There may still be some hurdles for the technology and business decision-makers to overcome.
There’s little doubting that the VR industry is expected to grow exponentially over the course of the decade, with the technology generating more use cases and headset adoption over time.
(Image: Maximize Market Research)
As the chart above shows, the growth of the VR market will be most profound in the Asia Pacific region and Europe over the coming years, with global growth expected.
But what does this growth mean for training? The feasibility of VR training is largely dependent on the type of training that your business is aiming to deliver. Some subjects have a blend of characteristics which makes VR an ideal fit. Maybe you’re planning on training smaller teams within a single location, making access to headsets and usage much more straightforward.
For instance, an oil company could potentially fly engineers to a location to conduct in-depth training simulations in a controlled virtual environment while using advanced VR equipment. This particular use for VR training can be especially important when hands-on training is either too risky or too expensive to conduct.
However, for other organisations, there can be some tricky barriers to overcome in utilising virtual reality training successfully. Let’s explore them in more detail along with how companies can successfully overcome them.
Particularly in the early days of VR technology adoption, the implementation of a virtual reality training project can cost a significant sum of money when being built from scratch - with figures ranging between $20,000 and $155,000. Organisations can incur higher upfront costs with VR when compared to other training methods.
Some business decision-makers may be somewhat naive as to the full process that goes into creating a VR training program. Typically this process involves the instructional design, programming, video production, VR headsets, and XRS platforms to run successfully.
These upfront figures represent a significant hurdle, especially for small businesses, however, there’s evidence that these numbers are rectified by the long-term ROI of VR adoption for training.
According to PwC findings, virtual reality training reached cost parity with classroom training at 375 learners, and at 1,950 learners in online environments - indicating that, at scale, VR training could in fact become cost-effective.
It’s also worth noting that the upfront costs of VR training can be mitigated in a number of ways, including through the use of cardboard VR headsets that are much cheaper to make than traditional headsets, and furthermore, they’re capable of being fully branded to suit your business - only they’re much more limited in terms of features.
Be sure to also run virtual reality training pilot schemes to gain a more comprehensive idea of the costs, hardware, and scale needed before diving both feet first into VR.
It seems strange to talk of virtual reality as an emerging technology. After all, we’ve long known about VR and have grown up with interpretations of it in the realm of science fiction for decades now. However, there’s still a novelty factor with VR technology that can inhibit its use in terms of practical training.
The wide use of virtual reality across various industries began relatively recently, and this has only been in a limited way up to today due to the scarcity and drawbacks of available hardware on the market. There is still an early novelty factor that’s seeing companies shoehorn VR into training programs that fail to resonate with employees who are more interested in using the technology than actually learning from it.
However, this hurdle will be naturally overcome as adoption grows and the wow factor dissipates among users and employees. If your business is looking into utilising VR for training, it may be worth including gamification in your programs to ensure that employees remain engaged and motivated to learn beyond the initial novelty of the headsets.
Another significant hurdle comes in the form of space. It’s important to have a vastly open environment if you’re using VR headsets for training purposes. This means that small offices simply won’t do for businesses looking to adopt virtual reality.
With the inability to see physical surroundings, immersive tutorials in enclosed spaces can be interrupted by trainees bumping into walls and obstacles. For this reason, it’s vital that businesses take the time to consider whether they have an environment that can be easily adapted to accommodate VR training. Perhaps meeting rooms can be removed from furniture to create an open training space? Maybe your office canteen has a large open space? Practicality is a key consideration when it comes to adopting VR.
For a fully immersive virtual reality training experience, it’s essential that your trainees have constant access to 360-degree views that can seamlessly render and provide seamless interactions for users.
However, this level of in-depth training requires a significant level of internet connectivity along with low latency and high connectivity. Depending on your geographical location and quality of internet service provider, a VR training experience may be interrupted by a poor quality level of internet connection.
Fortunately, this is another case of a barrier that time will naturally resolve. As 5G technology becomes more widespread, the barrier of network connectivity will be resolved - although it’s worth noting that your business may need to be prepared for extra premiums associated with utilising VR devices on 5G networks.
For the benefit of leveraging fully immersive VR experiences, it’s key for headsets to provide a comprehensive field of view (FOV) that mimics the human eye. However, most current headsets on the market are unable to provide this level of technical intricacy.
While it’s likely that such drawbacks will be addressed in future devices, it could be a while before untethered VR and AR access is available for businesses - meaning that the current training programs that you’re aiming to deliver to virtual reality trainees may have fundamentally changed by the time you can get your hands on devices with an improved FOV.
The solution relies on adapting your virtual reality applications to account for current device limitations in terms of FOV and to look for ways of leveraging immersive experiences before the technology catches up with accurately replicating the human field of view.
Although it’s clear that there are some issues that are still limiting the development of VR for training purposes on a more widespread scale, virtual reality visualisations of complex tasks are still making waves in complex industries like engineering, healthcare, and manufacturing where there is very little margin for error in hands-on training.
Although the technology will become more advanced and widespread for businesses across a range of industries in the future, virtual reality training remains an excellent and immersive way of aiding the development of employees and interns alike, and it will certainly be here to stay.