Virtual and Augmented Reality March Into the Learning Mainstream

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Feb 5, 2020

For most HR professionals, training using virtual and augmented reality has been an interesting topic; not something they’d be putting in next quarter’s budget. That’s beginning to change. The cost of the hardware (such as VR headsets or AR glasses) and the cost of producing a VR or AR learning program have plummeted. We’re at the point where a custom VR or AR application may not cost much more than a custom eLearning solution.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to the adoption of AR/VR training is our imagination. We are not used to thinking in terms of providing training through VR or AR.  I asked Leo Blankenship from Conduent’s HR Services for some pragmatic examples of what is being done.

Blankenship says virtual reality training can be used successfully in sales. The sales rep puts on the headset and it takes them through scenarios where they make choices on how to respond to a client.  You could put the same content in a traditional eLearning module, but you can imagine how much more visceral a VR application is.

The use of augmented reality in training is even more interesting. Augmented reality is where you use your phone camera, or special glasses, to look at something in the world, and the computer superimposes information on top (Pokémon Go is AR). Anthony DiRado at Conduent points out that an AR application can help with medical self-care such as taking blood.  You can point an AR app at your arm and see instructions or information (such as the position of veins) to help you correctly perform the procedure.

Another AR app helps workers who fill grocery boxes for customers shopping online.  The AR can show them what an unfamiliar product (such as a rambutan) looks likes, where to find it, and the difference between a ripe and an unripe one.  A new employee doesn’t need training per se, they can just start the job and the AR will guide them through the tasks they need to do.

We are just crossing the threshold where VR and AR go from being exotic ideas to one of the everyday tools used in training.

What’s interesting

  • It’s always interesting how fast the transition can be from exotic to everyday. Five years ago, few people had even heard of smart speakers like Alexa, now one-quarter of US homes have one. We can expect something similar with VR and AR.

What’s really important

  • For the worker being guided through picking items for online grocery, it doesn’t feel like training at all. It’s hard to overstate how important this is. When you are using an AR app in real time, is it learning or just a helpful productivity tool?  Our idea of what learning is has to change.  It used to be separated from the action (you need to do the task next week, so we’ll give you training now), increasingly training can be delivered as you are doing a task.
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