Virtual reality offers an affordable and effective way of providing employees not only with technical skills, but also with 'soft' skills such as leadership or resilience. With the rise of technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse, now is the right time for many businesses to start or accelerate the use of VR. New opportunities are opening up for virtual reality-based enhancement and collaboration.
I- The challenge of upskilling
In this world of profound change, employers are faced with a major challenge: upskilling their employees, who need to acquire new skills on an ongoing basis while at the same time upgrading their existing skills. Today, upskilling appears to be "a sine qua non for stability and development" (Hopes and Fears 2022 study, PwC). However, the new reality of remote and hybrid working has made traditional face-to-face training more difficult. Online courses can fill some of the gaps, but not all.
So how can employers rise to the challenge of upskilling?
II- Virtual reality at the service of training
Virtual reality (VR) is now well established as a training tool for technical skills or realistic simulations, such as those used to train aircraft pilots or maintain technical equipment. With the development of the metaverse, the use of virtual reality, which is one of the ways of entering the metaverse, is also increasing. 42% of the companies questioned in the PwC 2022 US Metaverse Survey cited training as the main current or future benefit of using the metaverse, enabling them to develop and train their employees more effectively.
Less obviously but just as effectively, soft skills (leadership, resilience, risk and change management, etc.) can benefit from the advantages of virtual reality. It is often possible - and highly advantageous - to teach them through virtual reality experiences and in the metaverse.
At a time when training budgets are being squeezed and 100% face-to-face training is being called into question, how can we make the most of VR?
III- Virtual reality for soft skills: 4 major advantages
1. Virtual reality training is faster
While almost a third of French people have taken a training course in the last 12 months (Baromètre de la formation professionnelle 2022 BVA and Visiplus Academy), all or part digital training - accounting for half of them - has increased by 27 points since 2020. France is still less advanced than other OECD countries (32% of working people trained in France vs. 41% for the OECD as a whole before the COVID crisis - Source Future ready Adult Learning France, OECD) when it comes to the challenge represented by training. It is therefore crucial for employers, but also for the employees themselves (who are increasingly involved in their own training - 60% took part in training on their own initiative in 2021 - Baromètre de la formation professionnelle 2022 BVA), to ensure that the time devoted to training is used productively. Virtual reality can help in this respect. This is what the PwC VR Soft Skills Training Efficacity Study shows: for the same subject, learning time in the classroom is 4 times longer (2 hours) than in virtual reality (30 minutes). It is estimated that people taking VR courses can be trained up to four times faster.
The time spent travelling to classroom-based training is not included in the calculation, which further increases the time advantage for VR training.
2. VR training increases learner confidence
The study also shows that learners who have taken VR training have greater confidence in their ability to apply what they have learned in 'real' life. We know that when it comes to learning soft skills, confidence is a key factor in success. When it comes to giving negative feedback to an employee during a one-to-one interview, for example, or managing a conflict situation in a team, it's best to practise using case studies. Thanks to virtual reality, employees can carry out exercises in situations that are sometimes delicate, in safe and realistic environments.
Because it offers the possibility of practising in an immersive, low-stress environment, virtual reality-based training results in higher levels of confidence and a greater ability to apply what has been learned on the job.
Learners trained with virtual reality were up to 275% more confident in acting on what they had learned after training - 40% more than classroom training and 35% more than online training.
3. Learners are more emotionally connected to virtual reality content
Studies show that people connect, understand and remember things more deeply when their emotions are involved. A Stanford study, which immersed participants in a situation where they gradually became homeless, showed that the sample who followed the VR experience demonstrated greater empathy than those who followed the written or 2D experience. Technology can therefore be used to positively stimulate empathy. Learning based on simulation in VR gives people the opportunity to feel the emotions they would be confronted with in a real situation, reinforcing the impact of the experience, and therefore their ability to retain and apply what they have learned.
In the PwC study, VR learners felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than face-to-face learners and 2.3 times more connected than online learners.
4. Training in VR facilitates concentration
Learners in virtual reality are more focused. In our hyper-connected world, it's hard not to get distracted during training, whether online or face-to-face. For example, many learners will not watch a video in its entirety, and smartphones are a major cause of interruption and distraction.
With VR learning, users are much less distracted. Thanks to the virtual reality headset, simulations and immersive experiences command the individual's vision and attention. During a VR experience, there is no possibility of performing several tasks simultaneously, and concentration is greatly improved. Immersion in virtual reality makes the most of training and produces better results.
In our study, employees trained using virtual reality were up to four times more concentrated during training than their e-learning peers and 1.5 times more concentrated than their classroom colleagues.
IV- Blended learning as the key to success
It is unlikely that virtual reality will completely replace classroom training or e-learning courses any time soon. But as the metaverse gains momentum and remote working seems to be becoming "the new normal", it would be a shame for companies to miss out on VR applied to training. Virtual reality learning, within the metaverse or on its own, provides learners with a human-centred experience and is based on technology that boosts productivity without sacrificing quality. By taking advantage of the best that each training method has to offer, the quality of the training delivered will be improved and learning facilitated.