Virtual reality: just another buzzword, or a revolution in training? We take a look at the substance behind the hype and discuss the reality of introducing VR into your training program.
Virtual reality (VR) is an exciting technology. VR-based training (or just VR training) involves the use of specialized software and hardware to create an artificial, computer-generated reality in which to train users through interactive, immersive training programs.
It’s not to be confused with augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (AR) training, which have some similarities but are still significantly different. The defining trait of virtual reality in contrast to these other training types is that VR is entirely digital and usually viewed through a headset or other screen, whereas the other methods rely to varying degrees on real, physical objects as interactive mediums. VR is completely separate from real life.
As such, VR has a significant number of applications in the training arena. When you don’t need to worry about physical assets or risks, and you have available budget, all you need is the right program - and platform.
Virtual reality, like other types of fully digital simulation, allows training to include high-risk scenarios without the actual risk: pixels can’t hurt the learner or those around them if they get something wrong. This allows learners to try and retry tricky maneuvers while still remaining safe until they have the confidence to use their skills in the real world.
On that note, there is one significant downside to virtual reality: in a physical classroom environment, or when using web-based simulations, learners only have to worry about transferring their skills to outside the classroom; VR learners have to deal with transferring them to the entirety of reality.
This is why it is critical that any VR training is highly accurate and as analogous as possible to the real world. Otherwise, the skills may not make the leap.
Creating virtual realities isn’t easy---doubly so when creating educational programs.
You need to have the knowledge and skillset to transfer any instructional skillset you already have to the virtual world; while VR tries to be as analogous as it is possible to be to reality, it isn’t always possible to transfer everything over exactly as-is.
VR software development is highly specialized. Developing a program from scratch requires high levels of expertise, and combining that with the required rigors of training program creation means that it can take a huge amount of time, money and revisions to perfect such a program.
|Engaging, immersive||Complex and costly to create|
|Effective||Potential to be unrealistic|
|Safe, risk-free environment||Disparity between real life and reality|
|Hands-on||Inaccessible without VR hardware|
|No distractions||Cost of the VR hardware|
|Flexibility in content production||VR hardware not transferable to other VR platforms|
|Can be self-directed||Learner disconnected from real-life surroundings|
|Potential health and safety risks from above, e.g. unseen hazards in the room|
|Potential for "cybersickness" (similar to motion sickness)|
|Time required to re-adjust to real life after using VR extensively|
|Effective||Might not appeal to all learning styles|
|Time efficient||Not completely immersive like VR|
|Safe, risk-free environment|
|Accessible for anyone with an internet connection|
|Can be customizable|
|No additional hardware required|
While VR may remain a tempting option, many trainers choose a computer-based eLearning platform as a digital solution instead. Rather than using a "virtual world" to deliver instruction, eLearning uses immersive content delivered via the internet, usually in the form of mixed media and guided tutorials.
This has the benefit of circumventing one of the primary drawbacks of VR: its inflexibility. It is inherently tied to its interface: there will be times when the hardware or software of the program simply cannot replicate reality accurately enough.
eLearning is more customizable, being able to use text, video, images, interactive modules and other systems to replicate practically anything. This makes it more suitable for a wider range of industries and training scenarios.
VR and computer-based simulation both occupy similar but different spaces within the training context. Both use technology to deliver effective, engaging educational experiences, and both rely on a level of learner immersion for success. While VR might seem more "exciting" due to media hype and exposure, computer-based simulation - particularly with an easy-to-use product like SimTutor Author - offers a more practical, customizable and value-added method that delivers many of the same benefits, without many of the drawbacks.
More importantly, the bottom line is always simple: what is the desired training outcome? And what is the most effective way for the teacher to achieve that outcome?
If the outcome can be achieved with easy-to-access computer-based simulators, then that would be the obvious choice.