Virtually Possible – A New Frontier for Skills Training

Imagine walking up to a Porsche 911 and knowing exactly how to take apart and reassemble its engine – even if you’re not a mechanic, and it’s the first time you’ve ever seen the car. Or operating an MRI machine to scan a patient. Or conducting a surgical procedure. Or checking an entire power plant for malfunctions. Think it’s something out of the realm of science fiction? Well, think again.

Virtual Reality can make every one of the above scenarios, and many more, possible to learn from anywhere in the world. It has long been agreed upon that the most reinforcing form of education is learning by doing. Its advantages over traditional educational methods such as text, pictures and videos are numerous, allowing dexterity and spatial awareness to supplement visual and audio cues. In fact, a recent research study at the Miami Children’s Hospital concluded that when using Virtual Reality based simulations, students remembered up to 80% of transmitted information. When compared to the modest 20% recall from traditional learning, the implications for not only education, but any sort of skills training, are staggering.

A talent shortage survey of over a thousand US employers revealed that 39% face difficulties in finding staff with the requisite skills for the job, and nearly half reported that such shortages adversely affected their ability to carry out their functions satisfactorily. Training is expensive, though, and there was no way to get around it. Until now.

Virtual Reality (VR) is all about the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with. This virtual world is designed in such a way that users find it difficult to tell the difference from what is real and what is not. Augmented Reality (AR) is the blending of virtual reality and real life. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two.

A US navy study found that student pilots who used Microsoft Flight Simulator were 54% more likely to attain better scores in real life flights, as compared to students who did not use the game. The advent of VR in the workplace took place when simulated welding training using VR was widely adopted as far back as 2014. Now, there is little doubt anymore that VR/AR vastly speeds up the learning process, imparting vital skills faster and at lower cost.

An ever larger number of employers are turning to VR and AR to fill the employability skills gap, and early results all indicate that they are correct in doing so. VR/AR provides realistic environments for trainees to practice and hone their skills repeatedly before ever applying them to the real world where, as often happens, the costs and/or hazards encountered may be significant. High-risk and high-stress situations particularly benefit, as trainees gain greater liberty to make snap decisions without provoking unpleasant consequences if wrong. Safety-critical tasks such as emergency plant shutdowns are perfect examples of such scenarios, and trainees can repeat simulations as many times as necessary to gain the confidence to ensure that such processes minimize the endangerment to anyone involved. Not to mention significant time and cost savings to boot.

It’s a great time for the workforce to embrace VR to learn new skills, as well as to keep existing ones recurrent – positioning men and women at the forefront of industry, healthcare, education, and various other fields, to stay eminently employable and ready to supercharge their career graphs without a moment’s hesitation.