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How and When to Use VR, AR, and Game Technology for Training

Apr 26, 2018 12:26:52 PM



Do you want to add immersive learning technologies to your training solutions? These technologies are not one-size-fits-all, and it’s not always clear what is practical and effective for specific learning goals. Here’s a fun little exercise to illustrate the differences. Ready?

The Challenge

Let’s consider two very different training situations where we can decide if virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or game technology is a good fit.

1) Deepwater Oil Rig: Train a new division of technicians to troubleshoot and repair equipment on deepwater oil rigs all over the world.

2) Sales Training: Train sales reps to make better decisions during sales calls at customer sites, to increase close rates.

We can use the following criteria to evaluate the technology options.

Budget. Its innovative, so you’ll have an unlimited budget. Just kidding! Scratch that. Each solution needs to be cost-effective with a promising ROI.

Effectiveness. The solution addresses specific practice gaps and the innovation must allow you to close these gaps more effectively than the alternatives.

Our goal is to first focus on what needs to be learned and applied in the real world, then evaluate the training technology to get there.

Now, let’s consider our technology options…

Virtual Reality (VR)

Here, we’re talking about a trainee putting on a headset connected to either a phone (low resolution) or a high-end computer with a robust graphics card for high resolution. Would you explore virtual reality technology to meet your learning goals for each one?

Deepwater Oil Rig: Training someone on site would obviously be hugely expensive and potentially dangerous. Therefore, remote training makes sense. A low-tech training solution with videos and interactive training manual would not allow for realistic practice. The cost savings must be weighed against the risk of failures in the field.

Creating a virtual reality environment for users to see and work with the equipment makes sense. You could use interactive game software with VR headsets in a land-based facility to do the training with higher-end computers. Though more expensive to develop, one would expect the ROI to be positive year-over-year, and the solution would scale well. Here is a terrific video showing what can be built.

Sales Training: Since we’re talking about VR here, what in the physical world is important for us to virtualize in order to meet the learning goals? Most likely, a few things about the environment could be easily communicated and understood.

How about the prospect’s body language? This could drive us to want to provide examples in video. Would capturing an actor in a 360-degree environment help achieve those goals of detecting subtle body language cues? Not really, since the learner only needs to look at them from the front. How about interacting with a realistic android powered by a fully-developed artificial intelligence like on West World? Oh wait, we have a limited budget and it’s not 2025 yet.

So, if the physical environment is not important for this learning objective, what is? In order to become better at sales, one needs to have the opportunity to interact within realistic conversations, and then practice making decisions in multiple situations, receiving mentoring to internalize positive outcomes. Conversation and responsive mentoring are not strengths of VR.

Benefits of VR Technology for Learning: It’s fantastic at immersing a learner in a physical environment that may be too far away, too large, too small, or even unsafe to experience in person. If the physical environment is not critical to the learning goals, a defendable ROI is difficult to achieve.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Here we are talking about overlaying the physical world with additional information through special glasses like Microsoft’s HoloLens or new versions of Google Glass. Would you consider AR for these training situations?

Deepwater Oil Rig: This is a common application for AR. Imagine looking at a complex piece of equipment. The AR software detects the component parts and shows how to take it apart in a virtual overlay, step by step. Now the learner can emulate the steps and do it themselves, all in real time. Here is a great video of AR in action.

Sales Training: It might be a bit creepy to use AR during a real sales call! Since AR is visual, it would be of no help with decision-making during a conversation. Voice-enabled augmented intelligence may someday help with conversations; for now, it’s limited to tasked-based augmentation, where interpretation of emotion and creativity are not needed.

Benefits of AR Technology for Learning: AR is a great fit for just-in-time training, in a specific location, where assessment of the physical environment or equipment is critical to the learning gap.

Game Technology

Game technology can immerse learners in 3D worlds and situations where they control the experience. While VR utilizes game software, what we are considering here is the use of game technology on modern laptops, tablets, or phones. Which training situations would use game technology?

Deepwater Oil Rig: This would be nearly identical to the VR example. The technology is the same, only without the headset. Many VR applications are designed to also run on desktops and laptops, where the user views the experience on a flat screen. If your objective is to allow remote training or reinforce the in-house VR training in the field, using game technology without the VR headset is a great option. The cost will be driven by the interactivity required, so the ROI will be similar with or without VR functionality.

Sales Training: Modern game technology can place a learner in realistic situations where they can engage with conversational virtual humans, powered by software. Trainees experience optimal and not so optimal decisions, and receive expert virtual coaching, while their organization receives analytics on learner performance. This same approach could be used to train in other areas of situational decision-making, such as leadership training or employee management. Choosing a web-based platform can provide a cost-effective way to enable rapid deployment at scale, on any modern device.

Benefits of Game Technology for Learning: Is this about building a game for learning? Not really. “Learning Games” have rarely been effective at addressing specific knowledge gaps. And it’s also not only about gamification.

What we’re talking about is more evolved: A training platform that combines the immersive qualities of sophisticated game technology, with adult learning methodologies and brain science to allow learners to practice in responsive virtual situations and receive expert coaching.

Final Thoughts on Applying Immersive Learning Technologies to Training

There are many immersive learning technology options available for training today. We touched on just a few examples. They are all engaging and exciting! In a practical sense, each has its strengths and if the learning objectives match the technology’s strength, it can be highly effective with a great ROI.

Hopefully, this exercise provided a framework to help you evaluate what immersive learning technology is best to meet your learning objectives and wow your audiences.


About Syandus: Virtual immersive learning technology that transforms knowledge into real-world performance. We immerse participants in realistic virtual situations with one-on-one expert coaching that gives them experience making optimal decisions. Syandus Learning Modules combine cognitive science principles, the realism of game technology, and our customer’s proprietary content, to deliver rapid skill acquisition. Modules are cloud-based for easy deployment, fully trackable with embedded analytics, and can be used on any web-enabled device.

Douglas Seifert, PhD

Written by Douglas Seifert, PhD

Doug leads a team at Syandus that combines cognitive science with virtual game technology to create rapid skill acquisition. The company has won several awards from the National Science Foundation’s Education Division.