When Tank plugged Neo into his first training module aboard the Nebuchadnezzar in “The Matrix,” Neo scoffed “Jiu jitsu?  I’m going to learn jiu jitsu?” 

A few seconds later he knew everything about that martial art and was moving on to something else.  And he wanted more.

No, your next employer isn’t going to fit you with an input device at the base of your skull (not quite yet, at least)  but they will probably use some form of virtual reality or augmented reality system as part of your new employee training.

AR/VR Expanding from the Gaming World

AR and VR have been exciting additions to the gaming world for a while now.   And some high-tech industries like aviation have been using VR for years.  To quickly define the two technologies, AR (augmented reality) overlays computer generated images on the real world, while VR (Virtual Reality) creates its own separate simulated, immersive experience. More and more mid-tech and low tech employers are beginning to implement these kinds of training programs.  Which means you are likely going to be spending at least some of your days in a virtual work environment, learning your real job.  Why are employers turning to this kind of training?

Well, for one, it helps with information retention.  Turns out, nearly two-thirds of people are primarily visual or spatial learners, which means they learn more easily from seeing and visualizing information than from simply reading it.  Immersive systems are especially good at embedding information. This may explain why you can remember every trick to leveling up in Dark Souls 3, but can’t remember some important but boring piece of information for a test or a presentation that you tried to memorize from a list.

And yes, this kind of training has more upfront costs.  But the advantages can be significant.  For example, in industries like construction, industrial manufacturing, or other hazardous fields, VR training can give new employees a chance to do the wrong thing without, well, dying or going to the hospital because they made a mistake.  It also allows these new employees a chance to learn how to properly use equipment, like forklifts, via virtual engagement before ever touching the real thing.  This can save companies a significant amount of money and lower the risk of injury or accidents caused by new, undertrained workers.  It can also help teach workers to deal with difficult situations.  Verizon uses several different VR training modules to teach retail employees how to deal with a potential armed robbery and to teach technicians how to deal with the possible claustrophobia that may accompany working in tight, underground tunnels. 

Better, Less Expensive Technology

Part of this revolution is also due to changes in technology.  New products are coming on to the market faster than ever that allow for immersion into a virtual world.  This includes items like data gloves with smart fabric sensor technology that allow the wearer to feel, interact, and move objects within a virtual world.   VR headsets from companies like Oculus and Quest are also improving in quality and decreasing in price, bringing them within reach for more companies like Chipotle, which uses the technology to teach new employees how to handle a busy lunch hour without getting flustered.   Who knew the virtual world was improving your wait time at lunch?

A Glitch in the Wal-Mart Matrix

My favorite use of virtual reality for training, however, is Wal-Mart’s program to train their employees for the Black Friday rush.   Starting with 200 training academies and expanding to their 4,700 US stores, this program is the largest single corporate investment in VR training thus far.   The thing I love about Wal-Mart’s program, besides the fact it is designed to teach employees how to deal with the crazy wave of humanity that descends on Wal-Marts every year on that particular Friday, is that–like the Matrix–once the simulation notices the wearer of the headset, it is designed to treat them as an outlier, causing passing customers to constantly cast glances in their direction.  It is a calculated move by the simulation’s creators to get employees used to feeling “on the spot” just as they will on the real Black Friday.

That particular creepiness aside, most companies see VR training as a talent recruiting tool, especially for younger workers.  VR training is seen by many employees as more fun, more interesting, and more forward-thinking than traditional text-based training.  It also tends to produce employees who feel more competent and confident in their jobs, which leads to overall better performance and less turnover.   This kind of win/win, coupled with the decreasing cost of the technology, means more companies will be adding this type of training to their rosters. 

Just don’t expect to download entire modules of martial arts to your cerebrum yet.


About the author

Technology writer Marla Keene works for AXControl.com.  In her free time, Marla hikes with her dog Otis or spends time searching for old cameras to add to her ever-growing collection.

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