Benefits and Barriers to VR Today

Are you thinking about the next investment for your organization’s learning and development team? Maybe it’s time to add virtual reality (VR) to your list after looking at the benefits and barriers to VR! 

When evaluating new alternatives to create impactful and effective learning experiences, there are barriers and benefits to consider with all types of learning technologies. When exploring an immersive solution like VR there is an added layer of scrutiny and apprehension. I’m not saying this is a bad practice, but I would rather we consistently asserted the same level of thought and attention before embracing other learning technology choices.  

Solutions need to be effective and affordable, and your team or vendor must have the skills and capability to develop them within the time and budget allotted. Here are my thoughts around a few of the barriers and benefits of VR that learning professionals are faced with today and how we can navigate through them.

Benefits and barriers to VR: Uncertainty during COVID-19

One relevant barrier is the uncertainty of using VR in the current COVID-19 environment. This is a very important consideration to make in light of social distancing and disinfecting guidelines put in place by health experts. With all of the suggested safety precautions, the idea of placing a device on your face in any way and sharing it with a co-worker elicits pause. This is a valid concern that puts the brakes on considering VR as a potential learning and development approach. 

One very effective way to overcome this barrier would be to provide a VR headset to each of the learners. With the current stand-alone (not attached to the computer during use) wearable options, you are looking at a hardware investment of approximately $400 USD per learner. However, this expense is not trivial by any means; keep in mind the overall return on that investment in skill improvement or acquisition.

Headsets can be purchased, loaded with content, and deployed to the users completely contact-free. Content can be pushed out by a vendor or IT, or you could train your users to load the content themselves. This is an added challenge when users are at a distance, but you may find it a feasible option for your workforce.

If a stand-alone headset is not scalable for your training, consider some add-on safety measures for a shared device. Start with antibacterial wipes to wipe down the headset after each use. Silicone covers can be purchased for most headsets on the market today for about $15 USD, giving each employee their own cover to use and clean. This would prevent direct face-to-device contact.

Other safe and affordable options are available with a simple Google search. Solutions are available for a wide variety of situations. Much like the precautions we are using in other aspects of our daily life, there are effective ways to protect the user. Do the research and take the precautions necessary to enhance VR as a potential delivery medium. 

Benefits and barriers to VR: Failing safely

One relevant benefit is the ability to create a safe, educational, effective, and affordable space for people to fail and grow. Providing learners a realistic simulation of a task or conversation provides a space where learners feel free to try, fail, adjust, and try again without any potential negative influence on safety or cost. VR provides an environment where anyone –  in fact, everyone –  can fail in a safe and educational space.

Imagine a surgeon who is faced with a procedure they have never performed. Using VR to learn and practice assures no repercussions to making a wrong diagnosis, incision, or performing an incorrect procedure. Rather, the user experiences a real-time environment that guides them properly or identifies errors in real-time for immediate feedback and application. 

Imagine someone is operating a forklift for the first time. In VR, if the user overturns a bottle cart or runs into a wall, the organization has no lost revenue, no corporate liability, and no potential for user harm. The learner has the opportunity to rewatch the correct control movement and practice again. These are just a few examples that highlight the process of hands-on experiential training in a controlled learning environment. The goal is to remove the stress of a high-stakes skill that is being experienced for the first few times. 

Benefits and barriers to VR: Time and cost savings

VR shines in situations where people cannot travel to a location for training or where the skill being taught would require putting the learner in a dangerous or expensive simulation. Healthcare, heavy-machinery operation, or any safety training is a perfect use case for VR. It’s important to consider that, with the lions’ share of our potential learners at a distance by choice or by safety requirements, VR offers the ability to develop, maintain, and finely tune valuable skills to ensure the longevity and well-being of your organization and workforce.

Benefits and barriers to VR: Interpersonal skill training

VR also provides an opportunity for learners to gain valuable interpersonal skills. The emotional cost associated with failed social interactions in leadership, clients, or inclusion and diversity can be damaging for everyone involved. In a VR environment, users practice their effective interactions in a variety of situations with various audiences without consequences

When it comes to getting organizations on board with VR, there are always challenges. With the current pandemic, there is some additional resistance to wearable devices. The good news is that with some research and forethought about safety precautions, you can alleviate some of the concerns and focus on the most impactful benefit to a VR solution: a safe learning environment. 

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Destery Hildenbrand

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