Fun isn’t a dirty word: Why VR training works

15 Jul, 2016

“This is going to be so much fun!” In the training world, it’s hard to think of a sentence guaranteed to make your heart sink faster. It’s no secret that people occasionally struggle to find the enthusiasm for new tech developments, especially when every week seems to throw up the next big thing. So here comes VR: “Groundbreaking”, people say. “It will change the world”, say others. The weary cynic in you might balk, having seen it all before. You might think it’s a gimmick, that it’s good for games and nothing else. But VR is game changing, for learning and beyond. It offers a new kind of fun – the key to its effectiveness. Play to learn A hundred years ago, Maria Montessori developed a completely new way of teaching children. Based on observing them at play, she recognised the importance of children making their own choices, and mastering their own worlds. Her Montessori schools placed an emphasis on discovery and learning by doing, making and manipulating things. They put ‘playing’ at the heart of their ethos. The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, were all Montessori-educated. As we reach adulthood, we still need to play, especially when learning new things. From the playground to the boardroom, playing around with things is the best way to gain hands-on experience and mastery of any given subject. Most of us know this anecdotally, but as a learning practise it was formalised in the 70s by the renowned US learning theorist David Kolb when he developed his four-stage experiential learning theory. He wrote: “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” As Kolb proved, the key to successful modern learning is experience. And VR offers an immersive experience which can transform an organisation’s learning methodology. “Do things as if they were real” In the past, ‘gamified’ learning meant encouraging students to score points against each other to complete a learning goal. There may have been medals or team points involved, but ultimately, gamification was a fairly clumsy attempt to make traditional learning fun. It was the workplace-equivalent of a parent serving up chocolate-covered broccoli for their children. Learning itself would still be done in a classroom, requiring students to stare at a board and absorb information passively from an instructor. Such methods have failed to achieve widespread adoption. With VR learning, there is no need to overlay gamification in a flawed attempt at ‘fun’. Virtual reality offers the chance for learners to become fully immersed within a world, from airplanes to jungles, towns to virtual operating tables. The learning process itself is exciting, novel, and completely immersive; a very different kind of ‘fun’ to that encouraged by gamification. Importantly, VR education is also non-abstract: unlike traditional computer-training, VR taps directly into learners’ consciousness, enabling them to learn skills without having to interpret a video or other type of media. It’s the difference between moving a car around a Monopoly board and driving the car around the Monopoly board. VR learning puts the learner firmly in control of their own learning. Plus – and this is key – mistakes can still be made, but safely, with no risk. Distraction-free learning gets results There’s nothing quite as counterproductive when trying to learn – or teach – as a distraction. And unfortunately most training videos, workshops or traditional texts all present a multitude of distractions. Students have to get used to a presenter’s manner, understand the language of a textbook, or feel comfortable in a workshop, before they can learn properly. With today’s learners, there’s also the additional problem of their own attention span; the New York Times reported that a third of people in one poll said they frequently check email during business meetings. And as this article on Game Based Learning warns: “Lectures, manuals, workbooks, videos, and online, click-through reading material can quickly “lose” their preoccupied target audiences.” Added to that is the question of interpretation. The aforementioned platforms can be questioned and argued with to some extent. VR removes this barrier by presenting your brain with the facts and realities of any given scenario. With a fully immersive experience, you can put a learner firmly within a personalised and deeply immersive learning environment, where they can focus on set learning goals, whether that’s the plane they have to learn to fly or the vital medical procedures they need to learn their way around. One of the key benefits of VR learning is that it can offer flexible reporting models, allowing organisations to gain instant and targeted insight into learner performance from session to session. Highly specific learning objectives can be programmed into a VR experience, removing the need for a trainer to evaluate and assess. The key message here is that VR adds a new dimension to the word fun. It’s a new medium offering a different take on well-established training techniques. When we’re immersed, engaged and enjoying something, we’re more open to learning than at any other time. VR makes this happen – whatever the lesson to be taught. Check out our case studies and discover why other companies are turning to VR with Immerse.