The excitement of virtual reality (VR) has hit learning and development organizations. VR was once considered only for companies with big budgets that were also technology savvy. But now VR experiences can be developed quicker and easier than ever before.
The promise of VR is that people can experience the work environment in a safe and risk-free setting. But before we go down the road of investing and building interactive VR experiences, we should stop and ask, does a VR experience make an impact on performance? Does using VR for training result in learning transfer to the workplace?
Yes, VR experiences can make a difference, when they are well designed and part of a complete learning experience.
If a VR experience is a tour or a visit, then there will be less transfer to the workplace because the learner did not get to practice a task and receive feedback on how they did. For example, if the VR experience is a tour of a nuclear power plant control room, the learner would become familiar with the environment, but we would be unsure if they could read and react to important settings and controls.
The VR experience should be designed so that learner experiences and practices tasks in the environment. The benefit of VR is that the learner can practice tasks in a safe way without jeopardizing the company or customers. For example, you can design a VR experience to assess the learner on the steps to replace a broken electrical switch. The VR experience prevents the learner from shocking themselves or turning off the power to thousands of customers.
Another best practice to designing a VR experience that results in transfer is ensuring that you are also providing other learning supports and elements. There should be eLearning, classroom training, job aids, and videos to show the learner the expected task and behaviors. VR by itself will make little impact on performance.
Another issue in using VR for training is that the learner only practices one task and does not get a variety of scenarios. Will Thalheimer, an expert on learning transfer, believes this problem can be overcome by asking learners to brainstorm other relevant scenarios and then plan for actions in those contexts.
So, in choosing when to use VR, remember that VR will be just one part of the overall learning experience and that learners need to think about other scenarios not included in the VR experience. The right design, using the right technology, leads to the best outcomes.
Way back when I was a newspaper photographer, I really wanted to know the who, what, when, where, and why about the story I was assigned to. I loved to find out more information so I could be in the right place at the right time in order to get the best photograph. The more information I had, along with personal experience, prepared me to take an impactful photograph. My journey to learning analytics follows the same path of asking questions and finding the right tools.
When I started working in Learning and Development as an instructional designer, I always was curious about what the learners were going to do with the training on the job. Oftentimes, I would get a response from the SME that the new knowledge would just change behavior on the job. I guess I am a little cynical about the magic of training. Just wave the magic wand, attend the training, view the WBT, and your problems will be solved. I did not know the questions to ask to ensure that the training would be applied on the job, but my leaders noticed that I was curious and liked to ask questions. They asked me whether I would you like to be a performance consultant. After telling me what a performance consultant does, I said that it sounded great. Who wouldn’t want to solve business and performance problems with a series of interventions?
It was my time as a performance consultant that I learned about the right questions to ask to get to outcomes and, in turn, I became fascinated with metrics. My favorite questions are still as follows: Can you tell me more about the problem? What have you have already tried to solve the problem? What would it look like after this problem is solved? What metrics or data do you have that show there is a problem?
I became data driven to find the causes of problems and then track the solutions to see if we were moving the needle. The tools to find the root cause of a problem are the same tools to see whether the training is being applied on the job. I use interviews, focus groups, observations, checklists, and surveys to find out what is causing a problem, and then I use the same tools to find out what is happening after training and, in turn, making an impact on business outcomes.
I would say that learning analytics and photography are similar in that you need to plan with the end in mind to collect the right information in order to tell a story and make an impact.
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