VR Makes Learning Authentic, Memorable
Virtual learning comes to corporate training By Josh Bersin

Josh Bersin is an industry analyst and founder of Bersin by Deloitte.


’m always a little skeptical about new tools. Virtual reality is no exception.

A while ago, I paid my first visit to STRIVR, a company founded by Stanford football players to teach quarterbacks situational awareness on the field using VR. With great skepticism, I put on the glasses and headset to see what the company had done for corporate training. I was blown away.

First, the STRIVR team put me into a simulation of a Walmart store during Black Friday. The scenario was designed to help an employee understand how to serve customers in very difficult situations. I felt like I was actually in a store, working in a pressured situation. As I went through tasks, the system coached me on what and what not to do.

In the next simulation, I was at a deli counter with people in a queue waiting to be served. I got nervous trying to figure out who to serve first. When I made a mistake or forgot something, the simulation coached me on where to direct my attention to get service right.

The third simulation required me to fire an employee who did not want to leave. I had to listen to the employee argue with me and quickly respond with comments that would not exacerbate the situation. To tell you the truth, I did pretty poorly. I could feel my palms sweat as I tried to remain calm and say the right things.

In the last simulation, I was at a JetBlue hangar to inspect a plane. I tried to find all the problems in the engine, but sure enough, I missed many things and had to go back several times to get it right.

Each of these situations was real, memorable and emotional. Each created “muscle memory” in my mind that no classroom, e-learning or instructor-led training could ever create.

Over the past year, I’ve talked with leaders from JetBlue, Walmart and Verizon, all of which are now using VR as part of their training. I’ve seen examples from Chipotle, United Rentals, Fidelity and Intel. Uses range from how to properly inspect planes to working safely on construction sites to teaching customer service skills.

New vendors like Vantage Point and Tailspin offer off-the-shelf content for soft skills. Companies such as Warp Industries and CenarioVR are developing lower-cost tools. Consulting firms like GP Strategies and Accenture are building these solutions as custom offerings. 

The best use of VR is for learning that requires authentic practice.

The best use of VR is for learning that requires authentic practice in order to truly master. Often referred to as immersive learning, this form of real-world practice allows employees to learn by doing, without putting them into dangerous, difficult or potentially costly situations. Typically, these kinds of training don’t scale well, but with VR they do. Every store employee can live through a simulation of a crazy Black Friday sale. Every airplane mechanic can learn how to reliably inspect an airplane engine. Every manager can learn how to diffuse a situation involving an extremely disgruntled employee.

While implementing VR-based programs can be expensive — some estimate around $75,000 as the starting cost — these investments can be quickly recouped when programs run over time and benefit large numbers of employees.

But how do you get started with VR? How do you identify where such an investment will best pay off?

My research shows that the highest performing companies allocate up to 40 percent of their training spending for programs that drive competitive advantage for your company or may prevent a loss that dramatically impacts business performance. These would include business-critical skills, competencies and processes. Programs such as IT training, desktop skills, general management skills, project management, and customer service and sales techniques can be purchased off the shelf.

Based on the research I’ve seen from VR companies, most VR-based training programs will be 30 percent to 40 percent more effective, measured by retention and actual job performance, than classroom or e-learning. Consider: What are the problems in your organization where such an ROI will give the greatest benefit?

Employees today want more and better learning offerings. What better way to get your employees to engage with your company than to give them a state-of-the-art learning experience — one they will enjoy and remember, and one that will truly give them new skills? VR will only get better over time, so now is the time to consider investing.