The learning technologies business is an interesting one. The arrival of CD-ROMs – hard on the heels of laser discs – in the mid-1990s transformed what had been known as CBT (computer-based training) into media-rich, engaging content for learners. Then we wrestled to make headway with what is now known as e-learning, as the Internet and corporate intranets slowly evolved to eventually offer us a platform capable of matching the multimedia learning of the 90s, - and the scope to take the live classroom experience online. E-learning has now entered the mainstream, and although there were then great predications for mobile learning, I’m not sure we’re seeing as greater uptake of that as we first thought. The real surprise now appears to be virtual reality, as clearly shown by the latest Kallidus survey. L&D departments are eager to focus on this exciting immersive technology.
Although only around a third of those surveyed had any hands-on experience of VR – and that was often just limited to the occasional short demonstration – there is clear excitement about the potential to add something very special to the learning channels mix. Only a tiny minority thought VR was hype, most believing VR would enhance learning and development, and over a third had plans to roll it out within the next three years. Most of the remainder had plans to implement VR at some stage, but didn’t yet have a timeframe in mind. Well over half of those surveyed had VR at the top of their list for the next technology they would look at, ahead of virtual classrooms, mobile learning, games-based learning and social learning.
The research suggests that VR is the latest in transformational learning technology. But why is there such a keen interest across the L&D community? Whilst the legacy use of VR in our field has been firmly positioned in the areas of military, medical and technical skills training (making training that would otherwise be impossible or difficult to stage, possible), L&D professionals are thinking far beyond those areas, opening up the potential to use VR to support interpersonal skills, operational skills, onboarding and orientation, leadership development and customer service and sales. For example, providers are already working on VR solutions for diversity awareness and presentation skills training.
The profession is also giving a clear indication that VR will help their organisations become more innovative and, at last, will provide L&D teams with something truly innovative to offer learners at a time when internal corporate functions often find themselves playing catch-up with consumer-grade technologies.
L&D also recognise that VR can create a more engaging learning experience. With employee engagement remaining at the top of the agenda, it’s exciting that L&D can play a role here in increasing participation.
There is also an acknowledgement that VR will enable L&D to enhance learning by making it more realistic. In VR-speak, when you get it spot-on and your learner is “transported” somewhere else, or “becomes” someone else, you achieve a state of “presence.” “Presence” in learning delivers an extremely powerful learning experience.
Finally, there is the majority view that VR will support learning itself, and early studies are already pointing to the learning benefits of using VR technology.
Will there be challenges? Yes, there always are, but a deeper analysis of the survey data shows that these are not deterring L&D teams, and aside from the top three challenges reported by respondents in the Kallidus VR report, all other challenges appear to be much less of a barrier.
The perceived cost of VR equipment and content creation continues to fall all the time. For example, the Google Cardboard headset means that VR can be delivered quickly and inexpensively to large groups of learners, and you can guarantee that an ever-increasing number of consumer-grade 3D/360-degree cameras will feature on many a Christmas present list this year.
Momentum is building in terms of a need to further explore VR’s role in the workplace, so L&D teams will have to work hard to close the gaps they have in their knowledge. Cultural factors often pose challenges when introducing any new technology, but it appears that these are being addressed, particularly by those who already have more concrete plans to use VR in the short to medium term. Anecdotal evidence already suggests that exposing people to VR first-hand is exciting to even the most sceptical of audiences.
It’s clear that in 2016, the vast majority of L&D professionals are excited about the potential of VR. Might this be one of those rarer moments where a new learning approach sees a faster adoption than others? Only time will tell, but the outlook is very promising.