Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the way many organisations work and learn has changed. Many organisations have adopted a more flexible approach such as hybrid working, with some employees working both remotely and at work premises.
The nature of training has changed, too. Social distancing and working from home have accelerated the move from traditional classroom training. In recent years, organisations have increasingly adopted digital learning and eLearning systems and approaches that allow consistent training to employees. It’s an effective, measurable way to train employees and meet development and compliance obligations.
Remote access, fast broadband, and virtual and augmented technologies are increasingly playing a role in eLearning, moving training from screen-based to utilising immersive training technologies to enrich learning and development.
What is immersive learning?
Immersive learning is a technique that uses technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to simulate engaging real-world scenarios to help train employees safely and effectively. Each type of immersive technology brings its specific benefits to a training situation and unlocks a range of approaches to learning that are not possible in either the classroom or interacting with a 2D screen.
Immersive learning is particularly useful in a variety of scenarios, such as health and safety training. By virtually recreating physical environments and situations that would otherwise be too dangerous to expose employees to, it can help employees learn to control outcomes in a regulated setting.
Technologies used in immersive learning include:
- Virtual Reality (VR) – Using a headset, trainees are immersed in virtual 3D scenarios that seek to recreate real-world situations in a lifelike manner. VR allows participants to interact with 3D environments in a similar way to the physical world, with objects and environments having depth and interactivity.
- Augmented Reality (AR) – Unlike VR, which blocks out the real world, augmented reality blends the physical world with digital content, such as overlaying a view with information or 3D models. Augmented reality technology is increasingly a feature of modern smartphones and tablets, allowing a 3D route and objects of interest to be highlighted digitally as a person views the physical world through their device.
- Mixed Reality (MR) – MR technology makes virtual interactions more life-like. It enables the physical world to more seamlessly interact with the digital, with a combination of augmented and virtual reality.
- 3D immersive learning (3D) – This learning technique uses 3D visualisations and simulations to promote in-depth learning and to provide an immersive experience.
- Extended reality (XR) – An umbrella term encapsulating augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and everything in between.
What are the benefits of immersive learning
Immersive learning has many benefits over traditional classroom teaching.
1. A safe learning environment
Immersive learning provides a safe space for individuals to learn. Many real-world situations are simply too dangerous for employees to experience, such as a fire in a commercial kitchen, dealing with a chemical spill or working at height.
Using an immersive technology such as virtual reality can place them in a realistic but digital environment to teach them how to cope with hazards without causing harm to themselves, others and property. Training this way will help them prepare for potential risks should they experience a similar incident in the physical world.
2. A distraction-free environment
The days of staring out of the window during instructor-led training or watching the clock hands tick slowly by, have long gone, thanks to the use of more engaging XR technology, and immersive learning amplifies this.
Virtual reality and augmented reality training takes this a step further, allowing employees to better block out distractions that can contribute to lower training retention rates. Research has shown that the brain experiences VR in a similar way to real-world experiences – known as embodied simulations – so employees feel as though they are really in an environment. Blocking out the distractions of real-life, immersive training captures an employee’s full attention and they experience it as if it was reality.
3. Physical practice
Studies show that practice helps individuals recall more information, making it an effective tool for learning. While theory is vital, experiencing the physical elements of training is beneficial as it can change perceptions and builds muscle and reactive memory, helping learners refine specific techniques, such as dealing with hazardous chemicals. Immersive training provides the repetition and exploration of different outcomes safely with complex or costly staging and set-ups.
4. Knowledge retention
Retention rates increase significantly with immersive training. Studies show that after a year of VR training, retention rates rise to 80%, compared to 20% with traditional learning. The excitement of VR engages employees far more than traditional learning and higher engagement leads to higher retention rates. Immersive training also helps individuals to retain information for longer.
Digital learning and XR technologies enable employers to edit immersive environments to reflect and mimic their physical environments and processes more closely – allowing for employees to gain familiarity with their surroundings, tools and controls. Information retained is then directly relatable to physical, real-life situations and environments.
5. Measurable insights
Measuring performance is key to upskilling a workforce and meeting compliance obligations through training. Immersive learning offers the ability to collect performance data and provide feedback, which means you can assess individual performance. As with eLearning, you can use this feedback to edit and update existing training to suit individual employees, monitor their targets and results, and individual target areas of development.
6. Self-driven and self-paced
Immersive learning and XR technologies is always accessible and on-demand using readily available equipment. Unlike traditional classroom learning, individuals can access training when they feel most motivated, which helps them retain more information. Self-driven and self-paced training creates a reduced amount of pressure due to the lack of time restraints and peer interference.
The removal of peers enables the individual to train more confidently and benefit from practising multiple times at their own pace. Virtual reality can be tailored to meet individual learning techniques and styles, improving the confidence and retention of the employee.