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VR Soft Skills Training: How to Deploy It

Academic research results and case studies have firmly established VR as a powerful tool to accelerate behavioral change. In the past 6 months, the conversation around the use of immersive technologies for soft skills training has therefore moved from “Why” to “How”.

Now, with the COVID-19 crisis impacting the L&D landscape, the pace of change has dramatically accelerated. In an increasingly decentralised and automated world, soft skills training is a strategic imperative to guarantee operational efficiency. But in this uncertain economic context, soft skills training budgets are likely to shrink and shift. Organisations are looking to move away from costly, carbon-hungry and potentially unsafe face-to-face approaches and instead develop new ways to deliver remote learning whilst justifying every penny spent by measurable results.

In this new world, VR becomes the best medium to deliver immersive learning experiences remotely. But how can organisations deploy VR, cost-efficiently and at scale? What’s the safest path from pilot to integration?

Based on several conversations with end-clients and learning providers alike, the following article looks at different ways of deploying VR and what they entail in terms of hardware costs and ownership, content, staff training...etc.

Deploying VR in your organisation

 

vr deployment

 
 
Although most heavy industries are now using VR for their HSE and technical training, the equipment levels remain very low when it comes to VR headsets dedicated to soft skills training. The 3 following approaches reflect different VR-maturity levels.

Model #1 - Dedicated Events

 

Headsets: non-owned

Content: off-the-shelf or POC

Facilitation: third-party partner

Maturity Level: validation phase

This is the initial model for organisations looking to trial immersive learning with limited financial, logistical or programme-redesign investment. Typically, the organisation picks an off-the-shelf simulation from an immersive learning vendor or commissions a new proof-of-concept level piece. The vendor would then deliver training events, on-site or remotely, centered on the VR experience, to a limited audience. At this stage there is limited learning design integration with existing learning programmes as the primary objective is to measure engagement and learning performance to generate buy-in.

Model #2 - VR Room

 

Headsets: owned

Content: multiple solutions sourced from different partners, off-the-shelf or bespoke

Facilitation: full-time dedicated staff

Maturity Level: integration phase, mutualisation of use cases

This approach is adopted by large organisations who tend to deliver their learning programmes in owned, specialised training centers. The VR Room is essentially a permanent dedicated space equipped with multiple VR headsets and managed by trained facilitators. It offers an ever-expanding library of content sourced from multiple vendors. Once enough pilots have been successful, this is the best strategy to mutualise hardware costs and integrate immersive experiences into existing on-site training programmes with minimum logistical disruption. Early adopters of this strategy are universities and large organisations with dedicated training campuses.

At this stage, it’s worth noting that the VR Room and Dedicated Events models often co-exist, for example to serve different audiences (remote and on-site) or different learning programmes.

Model #3 - Shared Inventories

 

Headsets: owned

Content: multiple solutions sourced from different partners, off-the-shelf or bespoke

Facilitation: employees have been trained, remote ad-hoc support from trainers

Maturity Level: Optimised L&D strategy, systematic deployment when justified

This is the model the industry is naturally moving towards. Once employees have all been introduced to the technology and technical facilitation is no longer required, L&D departments will own and manage inventories of VR headsets. The average level of equipment is likely to increase drastically so as to make headsets available to be integrated into any new initiative at scale.

The majority of programmes will be designed from the ground-up to incorporate VR experiences and headsets will be made available to the trainers or shipped directly to learners working from home. The initial cost of hardware purchase and logistical adjustment will be recouped rapidly by delivering shorter and more impactful sessions less often and reducing travel and accommodation costs.

Ultimately, the long-term adoption of VR as a medium of choice to deliver soft skills training will not depend on lowering technological or logistical barriers. Instead, it is by developing content rooted in learning science, using the technology only when relevant and systematically measuring learning performance that VR will find its place in this new landscape.

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