Virtual Reality technology is rapidly changing the landscape of developing and implementing professional training programs. This post explains virtual reality and its increasingly important role in training programs world-wide.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is defined as “a realistic and immersive simulation of a three-dimensional environment, created using interactive software and hardware, and experience or controlled by movement of the body.”
WOW! Seems like a lot. After reading this definition, most people interested in VR would probably run away, QUICK! The majority of the world thinks that virtual reality means putting a headset on to play a 3D game. Think Ready Player One.
However, VR can be used for so much more than gaming, and in fact we see some of the most exciting uses of VR occuring in non-gaming applications. From NASA space stations to Exxon-Mobile’s oceanic rigs, VR can realistically simulate even the most complex environments and scenarios, enabling high-level VR training and assessments for any industry.
Since its inception during the 1960s, Virtual reality has come a long way, and in our opinion, the definition of VR can be written in a simpler manner. Our definition: VR is a computer-generated 3D environment that simulates real life by providing users with a full range of digital sensory experiences.
Types of Virtual Reality
There are two types of VR hardware that you should understand the difference between, Mobile VR and Immersive VR.
Mobile VR is precisely as it sounds – portable, wireless, and simple. Most of the world is walking around with a ‘headset’ in their pocket right now. The smartphones of today can quickly transform into a VR system with the use of their magnetometers, accelerometers, and gyroscopes. Load up a VR experience, throw that phone into a Google Cardboard, and you’re ready to go! These systems allow for “three degrees of freedom” in which a user can rotate their point of view left and right (1), up and down (2), and side to side (3). Today’s mobile VR technology grounds a user in their place and usually allows for “point-and-click” functionality. In 2018, the VR market has witnessed the release of the first “standalone headsets” (no phone or computer required) such as the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage. The controllers that come with these headsets allow for more, but still limited interactions within the virtual environment. VR evangelists are hopeful that the release of these inexpensive standalone headsets will bring VR to the everyday consumer in an accessible fashion.
Immersive VR systems have become the flagship devices for the VR industry. Most notable of which are the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. These devices employ hand controllers and sensors for room scale, leading to “six degrees of freedom.” The six degrees takes things a step further by allowing the aforementioned head rotation (3) coupled with forward/backward (4), left/right (5), and up/down (6) movements in real-world space. Their controllers work to simulate human hands and allow you to interact with the virtual environment intuitively. They operate with higher processing power, fidelity, and frame rates than their mobile cousins. To account for this need in graphical and processing power, these headsets must be tethered to powerful computers that can accommodate such needs. As a result, they have a higher price tag than their mobile cousins.
Benefits of Virtual Reality in Training Applications
The idea that VR is solely for gaming is tough to shake. Many people fail to realize VR can be used as a tool across a variety of disciplines, most notably in the education space. Some companies are paying attention, however: In 2017, UPS launched VR training for over 100,000 employees in the United States.
VR’s unprecedented realism and user engagement permits users to hone their skills by fully engaging their senses and can allow a trainee to form muscle memories. We’re quickly seeing the rise of VR as a resource for professional training, commerce, art, and healthcare.
Companies around the world are incorporating VR training into their education programs, especially in high consequence industries where they can enable their employees to learn and practice high priority experiences without building expensive or dangerous physical simulations.
Just think of it, digital natives will make up 50% of our workforce by the year 2015.  This generation has grown up with VR at their fingertips. It only makes sense for digital natives to experience training in virtual reality.
VR Delivers Highly Effective Training
Virtual reality has been proven to be more effective and efficient than other forms of training.
- VR is immersive and delivers a realistic, distraction-free experience that helps learners prepare for real world scenarios
- VR is interactive, directly engaging learners and delivering a rich experience
- VR is memorable, resulting in improved knowledge, skill, and muscle memory retention
- VR training courses can be easily scaled to deliver consistent training to any number of learners, regardless of their location.
Trainees using VR can also experience and practice with complex or dangerous simulations while companies avoid building physical replicas, travel, and other costly expenses.
Higher ROI and Reduced Costs with VR training
Virtual reality training directly benefits companies by reducing costs and improving training results. Virtual reality consistently delivers a high return on investment by eliminating the need for physical facilities or equipment, improving job and safety performance, and can reduce recruitment and on-boarding costs.
VR is enabling industries to improve the quality of their training while also reducing the cost. By replacing expensive training mannequins with VR simulations, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles estimates they will save $430,000 in annual expenses. 
VR training can make the on-boarding process smoother by providing new employees with memorable training that builds a solid knowledge foundation as they move forward with onsite training in the field. Attracting and retaining workers with VR is also easier. When the US Navy incorporated VR simulations into a recruiting event, they experienced a 126 percent increase in their recruitment leads.
Fast, Flexible Prototyping in Virtual Reality
Virtual reality development can be an expensive undertaking, but with recent breakthroughs in the prototyping process, development has become more efficient. Prototyping any VR application is a challenge, especially when you’re trying to get feedback from those who are less familiar with VR. No 2D sketch or storyboard can convey the look, feel, and even depth of a 3D environment. And when creating a complex prototype, how do you know where to start? We are talking about creating a new reality, after all.
Using systems and techniques borrowed from the Google Ventures ‘Design Sprint’ method, we have been able to implement efficient collaboration methods that bring together project managers, developers, and subject matter experts (SMEs). These sprints allow everyone to share ideas on a project and ensure everyone is aligned toward a common goal. Then the fun begins, we start creating a prototype in Sketchbox , a VR design and storyboarding tool that lets us quickly create environments and user flows.
Storyboarding in VR – Enter Sketchbox
IDEO is famous for saying “If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings” and that couldn’t be more true for VR applications. With Sketchbox, we can quickly create a rough prototype of a training simulation without writing any code or the need for a developer. When the prototype is finished it acts like a living storyboard and anyone can put on a VR headset and start walking around, just like they would in the actual VR training simulation.
The prototypes we create with Sketchbox are rough which is a real advantage when we’re collecting feedback from various stakeholders since it lets us focus on what’s important. Instead of having a discussion about what shade of grey the concrete should be, we can talk about the position and height of the building.
Sketchbox runs on immersive hardware and lets everyone get a sense of what the finished experience will feel like before development work starts.
Why Use Sketchbox?
VR technology is still too new and expensive to code a fully functional experience as part of the prototyping stage and it might never be. A custom-built, immersive VR simulation can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to create and take months. Before starting on such an expensive development project, it’s critical that the development team knows exactly what they’re building, and knows that it will be created to the satisfaction of the SMEs. After a Sketchbox prototype has been approved the file can be handed over directly to a developer, and they can start layering code on top of it. Which means all of the design decisions, like the position of a building, and the size of an object will be remembered.
You can get started with a free trial of Sketchbox at https://www.Sketchbox3d.com/
Catching the “Ah Ha” Moment
When running a client through a VR storyboard, it’s important to give them an “ah ha” moment – the moment where they feel like they’re really IN the virtual environment. As soon as they have that ‘aha’ moment, they’ll understand the power of a VR training simulation, and the value of the rough Sketchbox prototype. One of our favorite ah ha moments is when we put a client in a Sketchbox prototype and get them to walk out on the roof of a ten story building, and look down at the ground. Despite a rough prototype, with a low poly count, a ten-story drop off still feels exactly like a ten-story drop off should – terrifying. If done correctly, an “ah ha” moment can quickly turn into an “OH #%&@” moment when the client’s brain begins to believe that this virtual environment is real.
Presenting the Prototype
Is your prototype finished? Did you get the approval of an SME? Are you ready to show it to the stakeholders? No matter who you talk to, it’s essential you guide them as they go through the VR storyboard presentation. If they’re brand new to VR, it’ll be best if you compliment the walk-through of the prototype with a demonstration of a finished VR application that depicts the expected look and feel that will come later. This way, they can better imagine what the prototype will look like when it’s finished. Walk them through the scenes in Sketchbox, tell them what they’re seeing, answer their questions, reassure them that realism is coming, and since it is a training prototype, ensure that all learning objectives will be met.
Selling Modern Training to Digital Immigrants
Large corporations with are waking up and realizing “that VR thing” will be necessary to offer their employees top-notch training, stay competitive, and cut back on inefficiencies. With that being said, the folks at the top needed to green light a VR project are often too busy and not always tech savvy. If they made time to see your demonstration, then you best exceed their expectations if you want the project to move forward. But when the presentation of a VR prototype goes well, it’s thrilling to watch these board members walk into a room with stern expressions and leave laughing. VR transcends age and technical competency. They’ll see its potential immediately, and you’ll see their wheels start turning. Give them the “AH HA” moment and watch onlooking coworkers laugh at the inevitable reactions. You WILL make their day better. Once they begrudgingly leave, you can be sure they’ll be talking with their friends, family, and colleagues about the meeting.
As growing numbers of companies look to virtual reality as the solution to their ever-present training challenges, the value of VR in training becomes increasingly apparent. To decide if VR training is for your company, evaluate the currently provided training as well as future training needs. Do you need to modernize your training? Does your training development follow proper Instructional Design models? Are you currently using eLearning? You may need a turn-key solution to meet all of you and your company’s training needs.
Founded in 2004, Elite CEU has provided digital-training solutions across the country to tens of thousands of students. We believe VR training and assessments are the future of professional education. Our best-in-class team works to create VR simulations that follow instructional design practices so maximize user skill enhancement.