Will VR revolutionise Learning & Development?
While VR may have experienced a slow start, more firms are considering how to introduce it into their own training programmes…
“Fly over Mars! Take a trek though a prehistoric jungle! Tour a house that has not yet been built!” The TV presenter talks over a montage of blocky, computer-generated images, all seen from a first-person point-of-view. “It’s called virtual reality,” she says. “Will real life ever be the same?”
These were the words of TV anchor Sylvia Chase, introducing an episode of American news magazine show ABC Primetime a full 27 years ago. The reporting subject: Virtual Reality. This 1991 instalment was designed to give viewers a glimpse of how life might be in years to come. The world she described is certainly out there – bold, alluring, expansive – yet, despite this, virtual reality hasn’t totally been wielded in the way that Chase imagined. Certainly, this immersive technology has hardly become synonymous with corporate learning.
Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin is the Head of the Department of Technology Enhanced Learning at the Cork Institute of Technology. He remembers these early forays into VR – including the Nintendo Virtual Boy released in 1995. Unfortunately, they were famed for causing headaches and dizziness. “The technology of the day couldn't deliver, and everyone eventually moved on,” he said. However, more and more organisations are starting to take an increasingly serious look at VR, asking what benefits it might bring to their company. MTR Crossrail are one such firm, having started to use VR to train staff on customer interactions.
“While train companies often use train simulators to help prepare drivers and test various scenarios on the railway, traditionally it has not been possible to re-create potentially dangerous or risky situations in a real-life station environment to help train station staff,” Andy King, MTR Crossrail’s Finance Director explained. “Looking to address this, last year, our L&D team developed a new industry-leading virtual training platform designed to excite and involve the station teams - which could be used to supplement the ongoing classroom-based training programme.”
The programme is fully immersive and allows the user to physically walk around as well as see and touch things in a station environment along the new Elizabeth line route (which is operated by MTR Crossrail). Users can experience more than 50 different scenarios, testing their skills in safety, security and meeting the quality targets set for stations. “The scenarios range from reporting faults on station equipment, applying safety protocols for unattended luggage and dealing with a potential safety hazard such as a broken window,” adds King. “In the programme, the user navigates the environment and makes decisions using a gesture-controlled system.”
As more adoptions of this tech occur, Súilleabháin believes that we could be on the verge of seeing it take off once and for all. “It is still coming out of another peak of inflated expectation,” he says. “But, as it gets cheaper, more immersive and more social, the affordances it offers as an educational technology are going to become harder and harder to ignore.” And MTR Crossrail would also be interested in expanding their VR offerings, too. “It has certainly generated a lot of excitement across the business,” King said. “We are currently working with developers to see where we could deploy this type of training to other areas of the business.
King concludes: “As an FD, people always ask about the commercial payback, but it’s not about that - it’s about creating an innovative, high quality training experience that excites and engages people and which therefore enables us to deliver a safe, reliable and enjoyable railway for our customers.”