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Why Virtual-Reality Training for Employees Is Catching On

Two people wearing virtual reality glasses in an office.

Editor's Note: SHRM has partnered with the Association for Talent Development (ATD) to bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies.

We learn by doing, so simulations that let us experience scenarios help us learn and remember better. Enter virtual reality training.

Imagine sitting in the cockpit of a Bombardier Q-400 on its final descent before landing, only to discover that your retractable nose gear is stuck. Fortunately, you've made a belly landing dozens of times. Like always, you touch the runway with your back wheels first, then drop the nose onto the tarmac. The landing is unremarkable, and you aren't even shaken. You've handled this maneuver multiple times, without ever leaving the ground. You learned how to respond to equipment failure from the controls of a flight simulator.

Similar scenarios take place every day in training environments. They share one common element: participants walk away safely at the end of every session. 

Industry Adoption

The goal of Virtual Reality-enhanced training is to create realistic workplace experiences and allow employees to take risks while working in demanding environments.

Virtual reality training companies like VirTra and immersive learning companies, such as STRIVR and MPATHIC, use simulators, gaming PCs and Oculus Rift headsets in specially designed training environments. And virtual reality hardware and setup costs are becoming negligible compared to traditional training expenses. In fact, VR-ready laptops can be found at around $1,000 or even less should you decide to get a used laptop.

Not surprisingly, some of the first industries that committed to using virtual reality for job training include healthcare and aviation, but VR is branching out into retail, hospitality and other industries. Let's take a look at some current examples:


Immersive technology allows for on-the-job training without downtime for the company or danger to the employee and co-workers. As critical as it is to business success, job training can be costly regarding production and manpower, and some scenarios are impossible to replicate without immersive virtual reality.

Technology can provide the simulated experience of an event like Black Friday. Walmart uses immersive VR technology to prep employees for dealing with the frenzied holiday shopping experience. Simulations show Walmart associates how the crowds will respond to sale items. Immersive reality users can gauge traffic flow throughout the store, respond to confrontations and learn how to manage big crowds of rushed shoppers.

Replicating the same live scenario in any Walmart store would be cost-prohibitive and far less likely to improve employee skill.

Pima County Sheriff's Department

In some situations, immersive reality can mean the difference between life and death. Immersive reality training for law enforcement provides the experience they need without the danger of injury—to themselves or the people they protect.

Case in point: the Pima County Sheriff's Department in Arizona relies on MILO (multiple interaction learning option) for its training. MILO is an immersive simulation designed to help law enforcement practice their reactions in potentially volatile situations.

Large flat-screen panels surround the officers, giving them a 300-degree view of a scenario requiring various levels of intervention. The virtual reality simulations offer multiple scenarios that last only a minute. To make the training even more effective, deputies and their supervisors debrief with each other after each exercise and before starting the next one.


Businesses such as Honeywell are combining virtual reality and augmented reality to deliver hybrid instruction designed to increase the working knowledge at a single operations plant.

Honeywell has designed a completely connected plant by introducing Intelligent Wearables for use in industrial plants. The wearables are outfitted with safety monitoring devices and alerts. They also serve as a virtual library of documents, including videos and narratives, that a worker may need access to in the course of performing job duties.

The intelligent wearables also allow for communication between the worker in the field and office support. There's no down time searching for information or getting in contact with subject matter experts who can resolve small issues before they become large enough to stop production.

Combining experiential learning with business data not only enhances instruction, but also expands employee knowledge. Employees analyze authentic data during their simulated experiences. They also are able to collaborate with their co-workers and trainers during the simulation for improved communication.

Job training is becoming better because of virtual reality. Simulation programs that provide authentic and safe experiences not only help prepare employees for their jobs, but they also free up workers who would have to provide the training. In addition, learners can immerse themselves in a situation repeatedly, making sure they have mastered the skills needed for job success.

Virtual reality offers companies a training option that is as effective as live training at a fraction of the cost. According to STRIVR, learners retain 75 percent of what they are taught, compared to a 10 percent retention rate from reading or listening to a presentation. The immersive technology provides hands-on experiences that allow for better learning outcomes.

Davor Gasparevic is the editor and writer for several tech news sites. He has been active in the gaming industry and Esports scene for more than a decade and is a passionate player of PUBG and Fortnite.

This article is excerpted from with permission from ATD. ©2018 ATD. All rights reserved.


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