Is virtual reality the way of the future, or is it an expensive and ineffective trend?
The feedback from learners is confusing at best. Fifty-seven percent of employees interviewed in a 2016 global workplace technology study by Penn Schoen Berland said that at the moment, they prefer face-to-face exchanges with their colleagues. But when those employees were asked to predict the future of workplace communication, 51 percent said that better communications technology will soon render those face-to-face interactions obsolete.
With hazy research on employee perceptions and limited industry case studies, the decision to begin using virtual reality to train workers can be viewed as a bit of a gamble.
“No one wants to start investing in VR just for the sake of doing VR,” says Keisha Raines, ASSP e-learning manager. “At the same time, employees expect that you are taking advantage of the opportunities technology provides and are serious about improving – particularly in safety, when improvement could mean saving a life.”
That’s why starting with a goal and clearly understanding the upfront costs can dramatically mitigate the risk, Raines continues. It can also help safety professionals convince high-level stakeholders and learners that VR has a significant role to play outside of entertainment.
“When people think about and see virtual reality right now, they primarily associate it with gaming,” says Jeremiah Bentley, vice president of marketing and engagement at Texas Mutual Insurance. But based on his experiences launching “Safety in a Box,” Texas Mutual’s construction safety VR app, Bentley says people should know it also has meaningful implications for the workplace.
“It’s not just a one-off gimmick.”
Still on the fence about whether virtual reality training is right for your team? Here are seven reasons why investing in VR isn’t as scary as you think.
1. Investing in VR saves money long-term.
The ability to put safety initiatives in financial terms is critical for professionals who need the buy-in of C-suite executives. Virtual reality training could reduce the travel costs for trainers and workers and the expenses associated with hosting large training events.
“Our members – especially those who work for large companies – have told us time and time again that they need a training solution that lets safety leaders be in 10 places at once,” Raines says. “Virtual reality is a cost-effective way to do that, and the results are easier to measure because the training is consistent.”
2. Engaging visuals and immersive experiences help retention.
“Construction safety training using immersive virtual reality,” a study published in a 2013 issue of Construction Management and Economics, examined the use of virtual reality in helping construction workers identify and assess risks on job sites. Researchers Ronen Barak, Amotz Perlman and Rafael Sacks tested participants’ safety knowledge before, immediately following and one month after training to gauge retention. They found that compared with the visual aids traditionally used in classrooms, VR yielded more effective results over time, especially when it came to maintaining trainees’ attention and concentration.
According to Stephen Nielsen, director of risk management for agribusiness at Nationwide who helped develop the company’s “Hazard Spotter” grain safety application, the best part of VR training is that it’s visual.
“Most studies we’ve seen indicate that around 65 percent of the general population are visual learners,” he says, “so a lecture or passive presentation will miss the mark with over half of the intended audience.”
3. Users can make low-stakes mistakes.
There’s a reason virtual reality has been so readily embraced by the medical and transportation fields, and why it’s a hot topic in safety. When you build a virtual world without life-or-death consequences, it’s easier for trainers and workers to experiment, explore boundaries and attempt complex maneuvers.
“If you want to be a heart surgeon, you can practice heart surgery a thousand times with VR,” Bentley says. He believes it’s the same concept with safety.
“You can only fall off a building once in the real world.”
4. Customized education is priceless.
Every work site is unique. Training methods that are effective for one company in one location could be useless for another. VR provides endless opportunities for personalization, from adding audio tracks in multiple languages to featuring specific personal protective equipment (PPE) to creating weather and environmental conditions that match each worker’s native environment.
According to Bentley, small changes can go a long way in making a training experience more immersive.
“The people in our app look like construction people and they talk like construction people,” he says. “We wanted it to feel as organic as possible, so people didn’t feel like they were getting actors talking to them in actor voices on a sound stage.”
5. The tools are better and more accessible than ever.
It’s no surprise that the world of technology moves quickly, and that the digital training tools available today are more powerful and less expensive than the tools that were available even a year ago. But for some perspective, consider that so-called “virtual reality,” a term popularized in the 1980s, came out of ideas popularized in the 19th century and is projected to have 171 million active users by the end of this year. A wide variety of VR headsets are available for between $40 and $3,000, depending on the quality, brand and accessories. Some companies and individuals opt instead for Google Cardboard viewers, which work with smartphones and cost between $6 and $70.
“The ASSP VR Fall Protection Experience works with the Oculus Rift, which costs about $400,” Raines says. “We chose this product because it provides a high-quality user experience at a price employers can afford. For less than $1,000, people can really feel like they’re inside the environment we’ve created.”
6. Many of the world’s most established companies are on board.
From Walmart to UPS to KFC and the NFL, large brands have recognized the potential of VR and use it to enhance the training and service they provide. Other companies, including insurers and large auto manufacturers like Ford, have developed VR offerings to educate and inspire customers and prospects.
“People have eaten up these products because they’re eager to apply this technology to the workplace,” Bentley says. “We get requests once or twice a week from safety managers who want us to cover more topics or provide more information for them to share with their folks.”
7. Cutting-edge technology could keep your employees around.
Forty-two percent of millennial workers (ages 18 to 34 in 2016) told Penn Schoen Berland they are more likely to quit a job with substandard technology. Forty-four percent of workers across age levels told the researchers they feel their workplace isn’t “smart” enough. In a tight labor market, companies who invest in the latest, most useful and most intriguing tech could have an edge.
“Workers want to grow with companies that are trying new things,” Raines says. “When the technology they have at home is ahead of the technology they have at work, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.”
Learn more about ASSP’s VR Fall Protection Experience.
Using Virtual Reality as a Fall Protection Training Tool
The Top 10 Fall Protection Misuses and What to Do About Them
Technical Q&A: What A10 Standards Apply to Construction and Demolition Safety Management?