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.