Despite the fact that the virtual and augmented reality are relatively new technologies, the interest of enterprises in using them in the everyday practice is growing rapidly. While the domain of AR remains in the production area, VR is mostly used in the employee training domain. Such training could apply to hard skills (i.e. job training), as well as soft competencies such as communication or team management. Virtual reality is now becoming a very helpful tool in supporting employee learning processes.
Main implementation areas
The greatest advantages of VR and AR in the context of employee training are the safety of use and immersive, realistic experience of created scenarios. Simulations in virtual reality have an advantage over other training tools, creating highly realistic experiences. It’s worth mentioning that people learn best by performing the activities themselves (which help them to remember up to 90% of performed activities in sharp contrast to only 30% of activities that they’ve heard or seen).
Augmented reality is a perfect solution for connecting real and virtual environment – giving a layer of additional information or instructions over what we see. Therefore, both technologies have already a very wide range of training applications.
According to the labor code, the employer is obliged to provide the employee with OH&S instruction and conduct periodic training. Initial training usually includes general and worksite instructions and should take place before the employee is assigned to work. Virtual reality can support both types of training, in particular, job-related instruction.
VR is extremely useful if the work to be performed by a new employee is to take place in a hazardous place, such as high-voltage switch gears or large constructions sites. It does also apply to service companies, where onboarding is the common practice. The aim of such activity is to introduce a person to the company, its values, culture or just familiarize them with superiors and other employees. This helps them to adapt quickly and achieve the highest possible level of efficiency.
Onboarding process should provide knowledge at the strategic, operational and procedural level, explaining communication in the company or organization structure – as well as personal tasks (focusing on the scope of responsibilities). A large part of this information can be reflected in the virtual reality, in which it is possible to learn about individual departments of the company, their scope, responsibility, or spend some time on the implementation of the first “virtual” tasks.
VR onboarding works particularly well in large companies, where the structure is complex, the scope of responsibility of individual branches is diverse and the location of the organization is in several places. Virtual transfer between individual departments or organizational units of the company facilitates the process of learning the structure and scope of duties.
Training on machinery and equipment
Virtual reality can speed up preparation for work in a job post by helping to understand the nature of work, responsibilities and real (though reflected in VR) machines or devices that an employee will use in his future work. It’s highly effective while our new employee had little or no experience with similar machines. Virtual familiarization with the work station, checking the capabilities of individual devices, starting the machine or device, performing basic tasks and operations will allow a better understanding of the nature of work at a given position.
In this context, an interesting VR in training app may be useful to simulate work in the situation of ongoing changes. Think about a situation in which, for example, a new model of a car engine comes into production, and employees must become familiar with the specifics of production and servicing a new model. The virtual model gives here the opportunity to pre-study the new process and see the final (yet not existing) part.
VR accelerates and supports the improvement of employees’ qualifications by giving a realistic reflection of the work station, control and service parameters. Similar simulations may apply to new industrial installations or production lines. It is basically a matter of imagination to create a virtual factory that would serve the training purposes of employees.
A noteworthy example of using VR in a company is verification of employees’ skills and abilities to work at a given position, already at the recruitment stage. This applies in particular to industries that face high employee turnover. It is not difficult to imagine training in VR, which would allow verifying not only the qualifications but also the predisposition to work in a given position. An example here is the work in the sorting or logistics company. At the recruitment stage, it is difficult to verify the actual ability of an employee to work in such difficult conditions, as well as his ability to react and make quick decisions – especially when employees are from abroad.
Of course, this is just one of the examples where at the recruitment stage we are able to simulate the real work environment and workload. It is true that it is difficult to simulate in VR phenomena such as air pollution or warm air (i.e. in the work of a coal mine miner or work in a paint and varnish plant), but the visualization itself may suggest the nature of the work and may give clues to both parties of the recruitment process.
Another and probably one of the most common applications of virtual reality in companies is its use for broadly understood OHS-related training. VR is an indispensable tool for the safety area (i.e operation of machines, technological lines, moving around the workplace). It brings also value to the area of strengthening habits related to safe behavior in the workplace, which applies not only to production companies but also to service companies, e.g. in the logistics industry already mentioned.
In the case of a production plant, security is strongly associated with the habits of employees. The application of augmented reality will avoid dangerous situations in the production hall and help identify potential threats and dangers. This is very important in the case of industries in which the level of risk is high – for example in the power or construction industry.
Training simulations may include the necessity of wearing protective equipment (i.e. safety harness, hook, goggles, etc.) and showing the consequences of a lack of security for an employee in the event of a dangerous situation or accident. They may also include an explanation of how to move around the workplace, transport materials, or operate certain machines and devices if they are related to employee safety. Virtual reality gives the opportunity to recreate events dangerous to human life or health, impossible to simulate in real conditions (i.e. explosion or fire).
Such a virtual dangerous situation or a virtual accident effect the future behavior of the employee rather than a book or even a movie (which both are the common practice during health and safety training). Finally, simulating accidents during work and the consequences of accidents leaves a lasting impression in the employee’s psyche and can permanently affect the change in human behavior.
Training in management and communication in teams
An interesting form of using VR is training conducted by David Marquet who was the commander of the submarine Santa Fe. In virtual reality, a submarine was mapped for him, constituting the background of his training in leadership and communication as well as the management of large human teams. Crisis situations, which happen in many industries and concern particularly managers of every branch of the economy, requires the acquisition of skills not only in accordance with the instructions or rules, but also the ability to respond to unpredictable behavior of other people, caring for safety and sometimes the lives of others (as in the case of many types of services).
Simulating events that require reactions in different situations allows you to practice these variants and prevent their negative consequences when they actually occur. Simulations give participants the opportunity to practice their skills of control over themselves and others and the ability to practice many scenarios of crisis events.
A possible area of virtual reality applications is also language training, which gives the possibility of free conversation with avatars, simulation of various situations requiring the use of specialist language and enforce the necessity of communicating in a foreign language. Virtual reality gives here a wide spectrum of possibilities, both by creating simulations supporting knowledge and memory, as well as creating simulations supporting communication skills, i.e. conversations.
VR supports active language learning. At this point, it is also worth mentioning that open public VR platforms such as AltspaceVR, where each of us can talk to users of this platform (and more precisely, users’ avatars) from around the world, are using virtual reality glasses and practicing their language skills at the same time.
Industry sectors using virtual and augmented reality
It is difficult to indicate the industry leader in VR; simulations are carried out by companies in the automotive, energy, financial and logistics industries, followed by companies involved in the production of machinery and equipment. Large enterprises around the world tend to use these technologies. However, medium and small companies are also increasingly turning to VR / AR solutions and applications.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the technologies of virtual and augmented reality are relatively new. Currently, there are many producers of VR and AR spectacles on the market that differ not only in image quality but also in functionalities (i.e. way of moving in space, the range of use of controllers). The type of technology we use will also depend on the training context, i.e. whether we choose to use glasses that work independently of the computer (standalone) or use glasses that work with a computer (desktop or laptop). In turn, the selection of peripheral equipment will depend on the type of spectacles. What’s important – most of the virtual reality platforms work in a multiplayer environment.
The usage of AR/VR in training provides a wide spectrum of benefits. Consider it as a perfect tool for reduction of costs related to conducting training in the company – by limiting the need to exclude machines and equipment from operating activities for the duration of training. They can also help prevent avoiding dangerous situations as a tool supporting the safety of workplaces.
Both technologies support the broadly understood effectiveness by shortening the time of employee training – thanks to the simulation we learn faster, we also remember better. This applies to competence in the form of knowledge, as well as skills and attitudes. VR and AR provide the opportunity to learn by simulating real situations, including dangerous ones, with greater employee involvement resulting in the higher attractiveness of this type of solutions. It does also give the opportunity to use gamification and freedom of choice, time and place of training. As a result, we save time and lower the costs of training. The advantages here can be demonstrated by the fact that Volkswagen announced that in 2018 more than 10,000 employees will be trained using VR/AR. It is worth mentioning that the following technologies are suitable for different styles of learning thanks to the ability to affect many human senses.
New technologies tend to attract innovators, but when planning to implement a VR or AR training, you should consider what value they have for the organization and whether their use will bring the expected results. The novelty of these technologies is obviously attractive from the point of view of any company that wants to be modern. It’s important to obtain actual results which should determine the decision to implement. It may also be helpful to look at external consultants or people who have implemented these technologies in their companies. In the end, you always have to consider the cost-effectiveness of the change. The profit and potential risk will determine the implementation of new technology.