Virtual Reality – The Future of Management Training?

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An online blogger across the world can share a 2-day travel diary on a 3 minute Instagram story, 5 second memories can be shared over Snapchat, and people have access to 24/7 news updates from mainstream media. We live in a cyber culture where digital technology is a push-button click away. Many of us even take it for granted – whipping out our cell phone to check Google maps when we’re lost or quickly researching a delicious restaurant located nearby. It’s apparent technology has impacted almost every aspect of daily life, and the management training space is no exception. 

For decades, management training has been dominated by classroom learning, Power Point presentations and slide-by-slide online learning, which often fail to resonate with today’s learners.  Recent technological advances present exciting opportunities to align training delivery with our industry’s ever-evolving understanding of skill development.

Some scenarios on the job are impossible to realistically recreate in training. For instance, a brain surgeon can read numerous text books on how to remove a blood clot but nothing can compare to the actual experience of being in surgery and performing the task. The most effective learning occurs hands on, preferably where mistakes can happen and not adversely affect others. But how can you replicate the experience of performing brain surgery without actually doing it? Virtual reality training programs are beginning to make this possibility a reality.


What is Virtual Reality? 

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Virtual reality means simulating a scenario or a place, using high-performance computers, and sensory equipment so we can experience it, without actually being there. This technology can generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user's physical presence in a virtual or imaginary environment. This is commonly done by use of VR headsets that have head-mounted goggles with a screen in front of the user’s eyes.

Virtual reality also refers to remote communication environments that provide a virtual presence for users through telepresence, meaning it can virtually transport you to a cozy Italian restaurant  or to the hospital operating table in a matter of seconds. This creates a life-like experience for the user, putting them in actual situations without “actually” being there. Let’s take a closer look at this immersive approach and how it can benefit management training.


The "Learning by Doing" Approach

Learning by doing, is an active, hands on, engaging approach to learning new skills. It’s the act of completing a task and thinking about it simultaneously. Most things we know how to do are taught to us in this manner. Remember at a young age learning how to bake cookies with your mother in the kitchen; you actually experienced the task of adding eggs and flour to the mixture, turning the oven on, while someone walked you through each step. Professor Sian Beilock, author of the book, How the Body Knows It’s Mind states, “In many situations, when we allow our bodies to become part of the learning process, we understand better. Reading about a concept in a textbook or even seeing a demonstration in class is not the same as physically experiencing what you are learning about.”

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that people learn about 70% of their jobs informally through experience, 20% through relationships, and 10% through formal training methods. Thus, proving hands-on learning is the most effective way to teach new managers. So how do you teach hands on management training without actually throwing new managers on the job and just hoping they will learn how to delegate, communicate effectively or resolve conflicts without any major repercussions?


Virtual Reality Immersive Training 

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 12.17.36 PM.pngVR technology has already been proven useful in both the industrial and healthcare spaces. In 2014, oilcompanies started using VR to train oil rig workers. On-the-job safety used to be taught in the classroom, with lecture and bulleted presentations. Now, some of these learners are starting to be transported into real-life situations with VR to prepare them for on-site complications or scenarios. Healthcare soon followed, and hospitals started using VR to guide physicians through procedures. Both of these industries used VR training to teach employees essential skills without putting someone’s life at risk.

Hong Kong-based Gammon Construction
and San Francisco-based Bechtel are both using VR to train their employees. Bechtel works with wearable technology company Human Condition Safety to improve site safety, prevent injuries and make training more fun for construction workers. According to Chris Bunk, HCS Chief Operating Officer; they are using VR training modules to cover topics like hazard identification, forklift training, scaffolding training and iron worker training. Bunk goes on to say, “We give them the opportunity to get acclimated to that environment beforehand.”

Companies like UPS and Walmart are both starting to integrate Virtual Reality into training new employees and new managers. According to Walmart, VR technology is allowing their employees to experience real life scenarios, preparing them for situations like dealing with difficult customers, holiday rush crowds or cleaning up a mess in an aisle.

Outside of job safety and life and death situations; virtual reality can also be used to put new managers in real life on the job scenarios, teaching them how to communicate, lead, involve team members, and manage complaints. While many effective management skills are thought to be intuitive and simple, the execution of these skills can be quite difficult. Learning these skills without structure and guidance is often a recipe for bad habits. Virtual Reality is a great way to immerse new managers in realistic situations, teaching them valuable essential management skills! With immersive tutorials, lessons and professional experiences, VR will make future management training more effective, more hands-on and much safer.


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