An explosion in demand for virtual reality e-learning and training programs is already well underway. In the run-up to 2027, it’s expected that we’ll see VR learning show around a 42% growth rate. The technology allows trainers to create a 3D environment that’s sufficiently realistic to give learners a real sense of the environment and challenges they might encounter in real-world applications of their training.
VR technology is surprisingly old – the basic concepts were laid out in the 60s and there have been examples on the market for several decades, such as the Sega VR.
Naturally, things are much more sophisticated these days. Virtual reality has certainly been embraced by the gaming industry, which has been responsible for many of the commercial applications of the technology. There are many more applications besides gaming but there’s been a lot of work on the technology thanks to the gaming industry.
Virtual reality has been used before in training applications but these have tended to be rather exclusive in nature. The, historically, high cost of creating and delivering virtual reality e-learning and training programs means that it’s mostly been reserved for a small number of uses, such as training pilots and astronauts.
But the standard rule of technology is that costs drop over time. VR is now emerging as a cost-effective training tool with a much broader range of applications, meaning it’s as feasible to use it to train apprentice plumbers as a handpicked elite of astronauts.
Of course, this means there’s huge value being added to the VR learning market. Globally it’s thought around $340bn of worth could be added to this market over the next 7 years. Major players with deep pockets are involved, meaning the scale of investment is likely to be colossal.
Those competing in this space include Google, Oculus VR and others that perhaps aren’t yet household names – such as Zspace, Curiscope and Nearpod.
Although people usually emphasise how beneficial it is to safely recreate real-world challenges that allow people to learn in as realistic an environment as possible, there’s one further benefit of virtual reality e-learning that’s rarely discussed. VR training is highly effective at removing distractions from the learning environment, which really helps learners focus.
It’s particularly valuable if people are meant to be learning a complex skill, as the technology should help them focus distraction-free and reduce self-consciousness as they learn.
E-learning has hugely taken off worldwide, particularly in business environments. Businesses have tended to embrace e-learning because it creates a worker-to-training environment at their desks, without taking them out of the workplace and into a classroom-type environment.
It’s less disruptive to the business but it does carry the disadvantage that workers are more likely to be distracted as they train. Workers carrying out e-learning at their desks face all the interruptions of their typical working day, including ringing phones and interruptive clients and colleagues. VR helps block out distractions that aren’t associated with being in a classroom environment.
It’s going to be easier to disseminate training in the student’s own language. Students that don’t have fluency in the dominant local language can find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to practical immersive training and can mean they’re left with a more limited range of options for training in their own language.
If virtual reality technology is geared toward multiple language options, it could help students get the most out of training by offering them content in their own language.
There’s often a lot of hand wringing about the impact of technology on society and working life. Technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence are pre-emptively accused of destroying jobs and preventing healthy human-to-human interactions from occurring.
But there’s evidence that these technologies could support and enhance job creation and the way we interact with one another, rather than place more distance between us.
For starters, virtual reality e-learning is probably going to reduce the cost of training for key jobs, particularly much-needed technical ones such as piloting, electrical engineering and HVAC engineering. It’s going to make it easier to study for these types of roles by making training provision much more flexible.
Students won’t need to commit to attending technical training sessions run by learning centres at set times if they can instead complete the practicalities in a virtual environment.
Arguably they may also get better quality training if they can choose how many technical sessions they want to practice – unlike in a real-world classroom environment when time is much more limited. VR can also expose students to situations that they would rarely, if ever, encounter in real life.
The classic example of this would be an emergency landing for an aircraft – something very few pilots ever experience in real life but all pilots need to be trained in. The technology can also be used to recreate hazardous scenarios repeatedly until the learner has the skills to manage them safely.
But VR doesn’t just offer opportunities to improve technical training. There’s evidence that it’s also useful to help promote empathy and make brands better at engaging with their real customers.
Businesses have already applied this type of virtual reality technology to train customer service agents to be more empathetic and manage a range of customer personalities. It’s also been used to improve the working environment by modelling sexual harassment scenarios and help workers understand how to handle these scenarios more empathetically.
We’re probably only just started to explore the applications of virtual reality e-learning. As technology improves and costs reduce, it’s likely that VR is going to become a much larger part of the learning offering students in all walks of life encounter. And with huge expansion predicted in a short few years, we’re essentially looking at a revolution of activity in this field.