VR Training Works. Here's a Bunch of Proof
I work at a VR/AR company, the Glimpse Group, with over 45 people dedicated to making VR for everything from healthcare to marketing to corporate training, which is the unit I lead. We have all invested heavily in the prospect that VR is the best thing since bread was sliced, especially for training, and we are not the only ones.
According to ABI Research, the enterprise VR training market will grow annually by 140% in the next five years to generate $6.3 billion. What makes VR training so compelling? Andy Mathis, Oculus’ head of business partnerships, says it makes “costly, difficult, or otherwise-impossible scenarios and simulations become not only possible, but immediately within reach.”
But is that enough for Farmers Insurance to invest $400,000 in VR training software and hardware within 10 months? In fact we get asked about VR training effectiveness all the time. Does it really work?
Yes, it does. And there's more and more proof to show when it works, and how.
First, let’s start with the question of whether VR works. There are a lot of ways we can measure what it means for something to ‘work,’ so we’ll group studies into what improvements were reported, as presumably the authors of these studies reported the results that were in line with what they wanted to achieve.
At the end of the day, more than any Kirkpatrick approach, what matters is whether the tactic achieved your goals.
We’ll look at four goals, in order of likely ROI: engagement, testing & retention, time to competency, and direct performance. VR has helped in all of these.
Virtual Reality is almost by definition more engaging than what it replaces. Unlike video, audio or reading, with VR you are the protagonist. The experience happens to you, not someone you’re watching. Learners have direct agency within the task or skill being performed, vs. just clicking buttons about the content. That matters enormously, and we see this in studies of engagement.
Walmart has been a pioneer in using VR training at scale, and in their 2017 pilots using the Oculus Go, they found that learners were 30% more satisfied than with regular training.
When Tyson chose to use VR simulations on the Oculus Go to train their workers in machine and food handling, they found it not only improved performance, but made workers feel more prepared.
Testing & Retention
Next on the list of what we care about when we train is whether learners actually learned. Here again we find that VR outperforms other media for certain types of skills and information, and that’s a key caveat – VR isn’t going to solve every problem, but for those problems where it is appropriate, it is usually significantly better than other methods, as these cases show:
In addition to the store manager training that has received so much press, Walmart is using the Oculus Go to deliver VR training associates, and has seen great results in core retention & test measures.
Employees who trained in VR on the Oculus Go did better on their learning evaluation exams than the group that did not use VR. These results prompted Walmart to send headsets to all its stores.
UPS used HTC Vive VR headsets to help drivers spot potential hazards when ‘driving’ down a virtual road. This training exercise previously involved a touchscreen, which resulted in bad driving habits. Since incorporating VR training, retention rates have been climbing.
Time to competence
It is very often the case that the ROI of VR training comes not from better trained workers, but workers who attain the needed competence faster, usually much faster. As Laura Collings, training manager at UPS, put it, “You can train people faster, and people learn faster in a VR environment.”
This is a cross section of studies, including Walmart and others.
ABI Research, a leader in emerging technology intelligence, has found that Fortune 500 companies, such as Boeing, UPS and Walmart, who deploy VR based training programs are seeing significant reductions in the time it takes to train employees.
A specific study of United Rentals’ salesperson training showed they were ready to work in 40% less time than standard training.
Finally, the most important and usually hardest to quantify are measures of performance improvement. In higher volume processes, these can often be found in reductions in costs, accidents and injuries.
VR does better in these metrics because “It allows you to learn by doing,” says Honeywell’s Connected Plant program director, Youssef Mestari. “You’re completely immersed in a real environment situation, but you’re learning without putting the plant performance or yourself at risk.”
Using the Oculus Go, Tyson was aiming to improve performance by reducing illnesses and injuries by 15%. After Using VR training, they exceeded their goal with a 20% improvement in actual performance.
Honeywell used the Windows Mixed Reality headsets to train onshore and offshore teams in VR, and saw impressive results. They were able to reduce the number of people on board to just one person, reducing the cost of the deployment.
Training, especially for geographically dispersed businesses like insurance, can have huge travel costs associated with it. While not always touted as a benefit of VR, reducing the need for expensive travel can be a significant one.
Using VR to train staff helped to standardize and raise quality overall. The hotel chain was able to see the results of improved performance almost instantly.
Unlike most training outcomes, this one has a direct economic impact, as Best Western reports that every increase in NPS leads to improved revenue across the year.
As this long, and growing, list of results shows, whether your training goal is retention, speed to competence, or performance, Virtual Reality has shown great promise and will continue to as the industry rolls out more and more training content and experiences.
In a separate post, we’ll review some of the reasons why VR is better than other approaches, and set some boundary conditions by defining when VR is better, and when it might not be.
Contact me for more or to discuss how VR is changing how we train our teams: email@example.com, or just call at 203-524-9539.