It was April 2020, a month into the national lockdown in India. The first few months were difficult for me, not meeting friends or socializing with colleagues in the office. Deciding to use some of my newfound free time, I read up online on two relevant training courses and registered for them with a leading virtual training provider.

The course content was designed well with explanatory modules and case studies. However, just a few days into the course, I could feel something “missing.” I couldn’t immediately explain what it was, but I was surely not the most engaged learner. And around two months later, when I got an opportunity to use the fundamentals for a project, I soon realized the concepts had not stayed with me.

I could relate my situation with research I was conducting for a paper on immersive learning. Over 90% of the executives in our survey of over 300 believe existing training methods need to be more effective for their workforce. Over two-thirds agree that there is a much stronger need to gather relevant and data-driven feedback from learning programs today than ever before. This is because most companies have no direct evidence of the effectiveness of a training program nor a robust way to measure learning outcomes.

Learning is a two-way street

Thanks to extended reality (XR) technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), learning can now become more immersive and, thus, more effective. For example, a simulation-based experiential environment significantly improves the quality of learning and is proven to enhance effectiveness, such as retention and recall of concepts.

XR can facilitate three activities in an organization that contributes to better learning.

  1. Collaboration and knowledge sharing. Immersive environments make us feel like we are “there,” collaborating in person, turning our focus to the task at hand. For example:
  • Deep brainstorming and whiteboarding sessions
  • Design thinking workshops
  • Virtual x-team project collaboration
  1. Formal training. Fully immersive VR training enables practicing a situation in real-life scenarios through simulated activities without physical risks and associated consequences. Use cases include:
  • Training for hazardous jobs (e.g., firefighters)
  • Training for rapid skilling
  • New joiner orientations
  • Imparting human-skills values
  1. Work augmentation. Augmented reality overlays provide more information and situational awareness that help with more effective execution of tasks. Use cases include:
  • Complex assembly and manufacturing
  • Field service work management
  • Over-the-shoulder support and Q&A
  • Material handling and logistics

Using XR for these activities allows you to learn more deeply about your workforce. For example, we can capture data including actions, behaviors, responses, and even biometrics from immersive sessions. This data can help uncover insights about your people, helping you tailor your learning plan to meet the needs of employees or hit business KPIs.

So, while immersive learning will equip your employees to learn better, the deep insights you gather from these programs on your human capital will enable you to make more informed business decisions.

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64% of executives in our survey agree that assessing paricipant performance by capturing new forms of data such as behaviour, facial expressions and eye movement could be more effective than traditional feedback. 

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This bidirectional synergy of learning outcomes makes XR-based learning unique and forward-looking—a vision more and more businesses will seek to realize. According to the Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance, 93% of companies using VR and 88% of companies using AR and MR see a positive effect on their business.

But this new style of learning can be daunting if you’re new to these technologies. During my research, I learnt three practices companies can implement to realize the powerful benefits XR promises.

  1. Integrate XR into the DNA of the organization

Business leaders I spoke to agreed that establishing a strong business case is the first and foremost requirement to the success of an immersive learning initiative. Equally important is for departments across the company to collaborate and contribute to the initiative’s success. This is because XR learning is a Learning & Development initiative and a technology initiative. And it impacts the finance organization as much as it affects human resources. A well-defined x-function strategy that aims to advance the overall employee development goals of the company should be the first starting point.

How does this look in real life? It could be upgrading the IT interface and making XR device procurement and management as smooth as PCs and laptops. This would also mean redefining hardware policies to lay out device eligibility across levels and teams. Integration with other relevant enterprise software such as existing learning management systems, product lifecycle management, etc., will be very beneficial.

Consider safety management training for a firefighter

A stand-alone VR simulation training introduced to firefighters would surely help them learn their tasks better. However, your company might not be able to track robust KPIs, which could have been possible had the solution been integrated into a central enterprise learning, operations or risk management system.

On the other hand, an integrated learning program will deliver deep insights. How well did the firefighters perform vis-à-vis others? Where were the standard observable gaps in learning? How best to benchmark performance against actual business KPIs? Finally, it could help you assess tangible benefits by answering questions such as: is this technology enhancing their overall training program? Are learners achieving desired learning outcomes? Is there a completely unexpected pattern emerging that needs to be addressed? 

  1. Partner with the experts

Seventy-six percent of the executives in our survey agree that it is much faster and easier to scale XR implementation efforts in their organizations if they partner with experts in the area.

We should treat XR as a digital transformation initiative instead of a mere “innovation” solution to address an immediate business requirement. Your company needs a holistic technology, business and strategic vision and the right technology solutions for a scaled and effective deployment.

An enterprise-grade solution from a digital transformation partner will encompass maintenance, support, security, procurement and management services outside the purview of point solutions. Companies, therefore, need to build an ecosystem to drive XR implementation, with their digital transformation partner at the center.

  1. Focus on employee experience

Before implementing any new technology, learning or otherwise, you need to thoroughly consider the people using it. First, develop and adopt a well-thought-out security and risk governance framework before XR solutions are operational. For example, people need to know what data is being collected, where and how long it’s being stored and what the ramifications are.

Explain to your people how XR may affect their health and mental wellbeing. Be conscious from the start to account for the possible unwanted outcomes, and plan mitigation strategies right from the conception and design stage.

New ways to learn equals new opportunities

XR presents many new opportunities for employee learning and new ways for companies to gather feedback. These technologies will not only change the way we learn, but also what we learn. When done right, it has the potential to solve one of the biggest missing links in the way learning is imparted and tracked in most companies today. And that is the missing feedback loop between learning programs and a measure of their effectiveness. A clear thought process and a smart activation strategy will help companies fully realize the powerful benefits immersive learning has to offer.

Shruti Shalini

Thought Leadership Senior Principal – Accenture Research

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