When we deliver training or content to employees, we often do not know whether they will be able to apply that knowledge into practice. We hope that when the moment of truth occurs, employees can put learning into action.
The lack of real-time data
In reality, we do not have feasible ways of determining whether employees grasp the concepts they are being taught in training until it is too late. This is especially the case for leadership or safety training. Therefore, if we put poorly trained leaders back to work after training, we are also responsible for the bad financial period that awaits the company. In the case of safety training, people’s lives.
It is well-known in L&D that we always struggle to find numbers that validate the effect of training ROI. While surveys are great tools, they cannot measure whether staff apply the learnings from training. Even though L&D departments across the world do fantastic work, we consistently struggle to get numbers that quantify our contribution to the organisation.
A major issue is it's not ethical or feasible to track employee performance in real-time. To do this, employees would have to be under continuous surveillance while working. Which we can all agree is a bad idea. However, without observing how employees confront challenges on the job, it is difficult to evaluate whether they apply learning from training into practice. In the book, "The 6Ds of Breakthrough Learning", they refer to this as the moment of truth. This is when employees can choose to either perform a task in a new way from their learning in training or do it the old way they have always done.
What is VR?
Before I delve into the value Virtual Reality (VR ) will bring to learning and development; it is essential to define what it is not. Wait. What! So, why not just explain what VR is? 🤔 My fear with doing that is, you may still confuse VR with another competing technology called Augmented Reality (AR). I've seen enough people fall into this trap, and I too was a victim of it when first discovering this tech.
Some possible reasons for the confusion: They both sound similar and received mainstream attention around the same time. Numerous posts, papers, etc. frequently write about them in the same pieces.
However, these are different technologies, each offering their unique benefits. While this article focuses on VR, I felt I would still define both technologies. I hope this will clarify the differences and not add to the confusion.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated simulation or replacement of one's environment. For example, when you put on a VR headset it blocks out the physical world and substitutes it with a digital world that is designed to fool your senses. From your brains perspective, you are somewhere else, almost like a form of mental teleportation. The use of VR has gained most of its traction in the medical field and gaming but is now being used in other domains such as learning and development.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Unlike VR, which is used to block out the physical environment from the digital, Augmented Reality is an enhancement of the real world. These enhancements exist as virtual objects that can be placed in the physical world, which we can interact with. The most famous example of this technology is the game Pokemon Go. In this game, virtual objects known as Pokemon balls are placed in the real world where players can collect them at various real-world locations.
What’s ROI got to do with this?
We may never know whether Tina Turner found out “what’s love got to do with it”, but we may be closer to the answer when it comes to VRs impact on training ROI.
So, how do we know whether employees are using the knowledge they are taught in training when they get back to work? Well, we immerse them in situations they encounter on the job and observe them. This is a somewhat simplified scientific approach used in a variety of clinical studies. We place a subject in a controlled environment, and slowly introduce disturbances to the environment and see how the subject reacts.
Therefore, we could use VR to run virtual simulations which generate scenarios employees will face on the job and see how they apply their learning in practice. The benefits of these simulations are:
- their safe,
- relatively cheap,
- don't invade employees privacy,
- have no material costs,
- can be personalised and
- allow trainers to give feedback to trainees relatively fast.
The purpose of these simulations should be seen as practice and not a pass or fail. The benefits and use cases for VR are endless. After all, this technology has brought us well-trained pilots that allow us to feel confident when we get on a plane. Without flight simulators, it would be unfeasible to have trained pilots and a well-functioning aviation system.