Virtual reality learning experiences have become a billion-dollar business.
People learn best from experiences. This is something that educators have understood for ages. Lectures and readings can convey information just fine, but the human brain is not always great at retaining these sorts of theoretical information dumps.
This is why good educators and trainers look for ways to provide hands-on learning experiences. A second grade teacher might take his class to a farm to learn about agriculture. Apprentice welders, meanwhile, learn the trade by picking up tools under supervision from an experienced professional.
Unfortunately, in many cases this type of experiential learning is not viable due to distance, cost or any number of factors. This could change very quickly. Virtual reality (VR) technology is increasingly accessible, and the industry is beginning to unlock its potential in the workplace and in the classroom.
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Today’s school teachers can’t take their students on a tour of the bottom of the ocean, and modern training methods for emergency responders can only get so realistic without massive expense and real danger, but virtual reality developers are working on experiences that allow students and trainees to experience these things without ever leaving the classroom.
What seemed like science fiction just a few years ago is now a very real industry with strong potential for growth. Employers across a range of sectors have already brought VR tech into their training programs. According to a report from ABI Research, the market for enterprise VR is expected to bring in US$6.3 billion in 2022. Meanwhile, VR in the education sector is expected to grow by 59.14 percent by 2022.
VR goes to work
Effective employee training has always been tricky, and one of the main reasons is simple: it’s boring. Any retail employee who has had to sit through a multi-hour training seminar or has been tasked with sitting in the employee break room reading through a massive binder of policies and protocol can attest that these methods inevitably result in tuning out. It’s hard to blame them.
Companies recognize that effective employee training is essential to a healthy company, and so millions of dollars are being spent on employee training that will hopefully stick. According to Strivr, a company specializing in developing VR training programs, knowledge retention on these standard employee training methods can be as low as 10 percent.
Learning on the job via on-site training is a more effective means of experiential learning, but it can often disrupt day-to-day operations, and in some workplaces, such as those involving heavy machinery, it can pose safety risks. VR offers a practical solution for these problems. VR is inherently engaging. It’s easy to tune out of a video depiction of an on-the-job scenario, but VR puts you into that scenario. Strivr data suggests that knowledge retention after VR training could be as high as 75 percent.
VR allows trainees to experience the realities of situations they could face on the job in a way that is consequence free to both employees and the workplace. A prospective crane operator can see how a small mistake can have catastrophic results without doing any real damage, or a retail employee can be exposed to a difficult customer service situation without holding up a lineup of real customers.
VR employee training has moved well beyond the conceptual phase. Sectors with high-risk jobs have been early adopters of the technology for obvious reasons. Companies whose employees can be put at risk during the training process have jumped on tech that allows employees to learn in a risk-free virtual environment. Forklift certification company CertifyMe now offers forklift training that can be carried out via virtual reality. The retail and service industries have been early adopters as well, with major companies like Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Chipotle (NYSE:CMG) implementing virtual reality components into their employee training.
VR goes to school
The same principle that makes VR effective for employee training also applies to general education. At the elementary school level, VR can be used to give kids educational experiences straight out of the Magic School Bus.
Google has designed one such educational VR program using the company’s Google Cardboard platform. Google Expeditions and other VR programs like it allow students to go on field trips to explore the coral reefs, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the human bloodstream, the International Space Station and just about anything else. As an early education tool, VR is a stimulating tool for unlocking kids’ intellectual curiosity.
VR has strong potential in higher education as well. Though universities have perhaps not been as quick to embrace the technology as they could have been, applications for virtual and augmented reality are being used to provide students with a new perspective on complex concepts.
Case Western Reserve University is using Microsoft’s HoloLens platform to provide med students with interactive, real-time, accurate models of anatomical structures, allowing them to view these structures from angles never before possible.
Educational experiences using virtual reality are gaining traction with both teachers and industry. Virtual reality company YDreams Global (TSXV:YD) recently signed a deal with one of the largest energy companies in the world to create a VR game that teaches about energy conservation and sustainability. The project is aimed at children and young adults and will find its way into classrooms as well as events as part of the energy company’s education campaign.
“Virtual reality changes the way people learn, because it’s an immersive way of learning. Once you live the experience, the message is delivered in a more efficient way and becomes a memory,” says YDreams CEO Daniel Japiassu.
Virtual reality is more than a novelty. Industries and educational institutions alike are discovering the power of virtual reality to deliver experiential learning experiences that are safe, effective and comparatively inexpensive. As a result, the technology is likely to become a mainstay in the worlds of training and education.