VR at Work: Learning and Training

This is the first in a three-part blog series exploring how virtual reality is changing the future of work.

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology with lots of promise, but a sense of untapped potential. Gaming has dominated the discussion in the consumer market, and there’s often a sense that new uses are needed to broaden the appeal of the technology and encourage new adopters.

But what about at work? It’s one of the less talked-about uses for VR, but our research already shows plenty of interest. In our VR user survey last year, we found that almost 90% of people who already own a VR headset would be willing to use one at work if asked, and about three-quarters of our other respondents — technology enthusiasts who own lots of other devices other than VR headsets — also agreed. Furthermore, our Senior Leadership IT Investment Survey, 2022 found that just under 80% of businesses have explored some sort of investment in extended reality.

So it’s important to take VR seriously as a tool for work — both businesses and individuals believe that this is a technology that can work for getting things done. In this three-part blog series, I’ll be exploring three examples of how VR is already making an impact in the workplace for learning and training; creativity and design; and meetings and collaboration.

Training is one of the most powerful ways that I’ve seen VR used in the workplace. An immensely useful element of VR is its ability to provide educational experiences that are customizable, repeatable and scalable.

One of the most impressive VR training experiences that I’ve tried was Fundamental Surgery from FundamentalVR — check out my original blog post for more details. The platform allows trainee surgeons to sharpen their skills by practising procedures on virtual patients rather than cadavers, which are expensive, difficult to transport and can only be used once. In addition, Fundamental Surgery can also provide feedback on the accuracy of a procedure and allow hospitals and universities to track the progress of learners.

Medicine is a great example of VR solving problems associated with real-world training needs, but it doesn’t end there. Another popular use is recreating hazardous environments for training, particularly valuable in sectors like heavy industry. This allows learners to practise skills in a safe environment without any real-world risks.

One such example comes from Vodafone, which collaborated with studio Make Real to develop Working at Height, an app designed to train engineers working on mobile masts. The tool walks people through selecting safety equipment and completing risk assessments before climbing to a rooftop mast to make repairs — all without needing to step foot on a genuinely hazardous site. The same features and benefits can apply to even more extreme situations, such as firefighting or working on an oil rig.

Not all uses are dangerous, though. A more everyday example comes from airline Lufthansa, which has used VR to train its cabin crew, noting that this has been more affordable and efficient than taking staff to a dummy aircraft or halting a live plane. Over 20,000 staff so far have been educated in preparing a cabin for flight using the technology, gaining approval from the German Aviation Authority thanks to the hand-tracking function.

These examples have mostly been for hard skills so far — things you might do with your hands — but I’ve also seen some interesting uses for VR training focussed on soft skills, such as people management. For example, Walmart was an early adopter of VR headsets with software from Strivr, using them to prepare staff for intense periods such as Black Friday sales. Allowing staff to practise their customer service skills in VR has helped to boost confidence and knowledge retention, leading to a better experience for customers. Walmart estimates that over 1 million employees have now been trained in this way.

It’s worth noting that in all these examples, there are many benefits to the businesses and organizations. Through its very nature, VR totally immerses and absorbs a user, meaning that they’re fully engaged with the learning exercise at hand — users can’t scroll on their phones or check their e-mails in the middle of a session. As a result, knowledge retention for VR training is usually high.

It also removes the need to transport people to a specific site, which has several benefits. Instead of spending time and money getting to a dedicated location, the training can be brought to people no matter where they are. This also brings environmental benefits to businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

It’s easy to see why training is one of the most popular uses for VR at work already. After all, our survey of IT decision-makers found that training was the joint most popular potential use for the technology, with over half of businesses saying they could see it being used in their company. Training in VR can solve multiple problems at the same time, helping businesses be more efficient and their people to work better — not a bad reward.

The second and third parts of this blog series are available now.