Corporate Training Is the Killer App for Virtual Reality

By Josh Bersin12.04.2017

Like many of you, I love to play with new technology. But after 30 years of futzing with new stuff, I’ve learned to be skeptical of fancy new tools and often now wait until they’re “proven” until I recommend them to others.

This is the way I felt about virtual reality. While I’ve used it many times, in most cases it was slow, the graphics were kind of cartoonish, the headset was uncomfortable and I often felt sick to my stomach halfway through the process.

In 2014, Facebook announced an investment to purchase Oculus, a maker of VR headsets and gear. Even Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said he believed the market to be years away. So it all seemed like a brilliant idea but one that could take a long time to mature.

I’m here to say it has arrived much faster than we thought. And the killer app? Corporate training.

I recently spent time with a company called Strivr Labs that develops VR software to help sports teams and athletes improve football performance. The company, which is only a few years old, builds software that simulates real-world play on the field and teaches players to respond to different plays and competitor activities. It creates a realistic environment that allows them to watch, make plays and slow down, stop and replay their movements.

According to Strivr, the software can improve player learning by 30 percent over traditional training applications. And if you look at the videos on the company’s website, you’ll see it can be used for initial training, refresher training and just about every other scenario a player needs. And, of course, there’s no need for a real-world scrimmage to put a training activity in place.

I visited Strivr, put on the headset and experienced the software first hand. It blew me away. The experience is as real as it gets with 3-D visuals, sound and high definition imagery in 360 degrees. It was amazingly fun and the system captures your eye movements and activity during the session.

Then they showed me corporate training applications. Walmart, for example, has been using Strivr for almost a year and has applications to demonstrate how to manage customers effectively, what employees should do on Black Friday, and sessions that teach safety conditions, merchandising, theft reduction and just about every possible event that can happen in a store. In one of the simulations, you stand behind a deli counter and observe precisely how to serve customers (or not serve them) and see where glitches occur.

Applications for this technology are vast: safety training for jobs in hazardous conditions where you can go to an oil well or a construction site virtually, simulations of job interviews to identify bias and discrimination, and applications in retail, hospitality and other customer-facing situations where employees need to see and feel the real world to really know what to do. Walmart and Strivr also use cohort sessions to let other employees see what the participant sees and give real-time feedback.

There are hundreds of training situations where the real-world environment is complex, threatening, dangerous or just very hard to simulate. Many of these can now be addressed by VR and there is no content development required. This particular company provides a high resolution 3-D camera that records the real-world environment so companies like Walmart can create new programs in a few hours and constantly give employees up-to-date training on new situations, new store layouts, or changes in product, process or pricing strategy. New VR training companies like VirtaMed and SilVR Thread are also entering this market.

Given that this market is brand new we can expect it to take off rapidly in the next few years. Today, it costs less than $20,000 to equip a single training center at Walmart and that price will likely go down. Augmented reality is on the market at a generally affordable rate, as well.

The world of training technology is always exciting and fascinating to watch. VR training is just starting to explode. I suggest you start checking it out as soon as you can.

Josh Bersin is founder of Bersin by Deloitte and a principal with Deloitte Consulting. Reprinted with permission from Chief Learning Officer, a multimedia publication focused on the importance, benefits and advancements of a properly trained workforce.