Virtual Reality flight simulator training with hand pressing button

Will VR Controllers Hinder Adoption of VR for Training?

VR controllers were built for gaming. As VR training spreads its wings, will an over-reliance on devices designed for a different use case hold it back? Matt Tullis, Director, Spatial Computing, on how hand tracking has an essential role to play in taking VR for training mainstream.

VR for training is proliferating. It’s already demonstrated significant early wins in cost and training time reduction. Not only that, it’s becoming clear that in some sectors VR could not merely match but exceed real-life training.

Simulation of processes too risky or expensive to create in real life, giving learners almost unlimited opportunity to repeat procedures, or enabling you to step into another person’s perspective – these are all examples where VR promises to create next-generation training.

Nonetheless, the reality is that VR training as a proportion of total e-learning is still tiny. The window of opportunity may have opened, but the industry still has a chasm to cross to achieve mainstream adoption.

Metrics and statistics on vr for training performance infographic
We’ve adapted this diagram to be specific to VR for training, but it’s based on the widely accepted Adapted Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology.  A 2018 paper by Varjo and Lappeenranta University of Technology identified this as suitable for evaluating adoption of VR in enterprise use cases.

The theory of technology adoption tells us that mainstream adoption of VR training requires not just improvements to training outcomes. We also have to overcome the effort of adopting VR, and broaden the appeal beyond tech early adopters to more diverse users.

Solving this will require effort from all sectors of the industry. In this blog, I’m going to look at one element in particular: the impact of how we interact in VR.  

The differences between VR for gaming and VR for training

VR controllers were built for gaming. But there are fundamental differences between VR gaming and VR training applications.

Examples of vr for training applications in a table

VR controllers were designed to make immersive gaming enjoyable, not drive real-world behaviour change. And they were built for dedicated gamers with time to spare, not inexperienced users with limited time to learn button pushes.

On the one hand, controllers increase the effort of learning how to use a VR training system (effort expectancy), and the time needed for onboarding (facilitating conditions).

On the other, in many scenarios VR controllers negatively impact training outcomes (performance expectancy). VR for training, unlike VR gaming, has as its end goal improving performance in the real world. And the bottom line is that in the real world we don’t go around carrying a pair of VR controllers.

Hand tracking as an alternative to controllers in VR for training

What almost all of us do go around carrying, though, is our hands ­– a universal interface device we’ve been training to use since birth. Designing hand tracking into VR training as an alternative or supplement to controllers leverages this instinctive, near-universal expertise. It allows you to create simulations that are both more realistic and easier to use.

Hand tracking enables learners in VR for training to interact without VR controllers.

Let’s dig into three specific examples of hand tracking in VR training at work.

1. Effort expectancy – How hand tracking reduces friction in VR training

76% of Americans have never tried a VR headset. And for some industries the percentage of employees who’ve never used VR will be far higher. A GlobalWebIndex survey suggested 30% of men had used a VR headset, but only 16% of women. Positivity about VR is also clustered in younger age groups.

Embodied Labs’ VR training platform is aimed squarely at a demographic much less likely to have tried VR. Their award-winning experiences give healthcare workers a first-person look inside what it’s like to live with common conditions that affect seniors – such as Alzheimer’s.

“When we show one of our experiences to someone, it’s often their first time ever using VR. We need to get them up and going as quickly as possible. Using hand tracking instead of controllers is more realistic and lowers the learning curve. They can reach out and start engaging and interacting immediately.”
Carrie Shaw, Founder - Embodied Labs

To reduce friction and improve accessibility, they chose hand tracking, rather than VR controllers.

2.  Performance expectancy – How hand tracking enhances VR training outcomes

When learners are being situationally trained to interact with their hands, the loss of realism caused by having to interact using VR controllers has a negative impact on training outcomes.

If you use VR controllers to train flight attendants to close overhead lockers, it builds muscle memory not of the actions they’ll do in the real world, but of an abstract set of button pushes. In contrast, hand tracking enables flight attendants to perform actions closely mimicking the ones they would do in reality.

Find out more about Ultraleap’s core hand tracking technology and tooling for Unity, Unreal, OpenXR and MRTK

3. Facilitating conditions – How hand tracking reduces VR training onboarding time

In any training scenario, onboarding time is lost time. Using hand tracking, rather than (or perhaps as well as) VR controllers streamlines onboarding for VR training.

Every user has a lifetime of familiarity interacting with physical objects using their hands. When virtual objects appear and behave similarly to physical counterparts, little or no instruction is required about how to interact.

With a well-designed launcher powered by hand tracking, users can put on a headset and start interacting immediately. Objects can look like they can be picked up, virtual buttons can look like they need to be pushed. Any necessary instruction can be incorporated into the VR training itself, with little need for in-person support.

Cat Explorer
When virtual objects feel physical, and their appearance clearly conveys their use, interactions may require little or no instructional information. (This example is from our Cat Explorer demo.)

Enabling mainstream adoption of VR for training

Everyone in the industry wants VR training to achieve mainstream success, and there are many reasons to be optimistic. All-in-one headsets are a game-changer when it comes to ease of setup. The development of scalable enterprise content creation and management platforms (from the likes of,, TXT Group and Strivr) is also key.

Hand tracking alone isn’t a magic bullet to achieve mainstream adoption. But it’s an essential part of the puzzle we need, collectively, to solve.

Matt Tullis is Director, Spatial Computing at Ultraleap. He has almost 20 years of experience in the consumer electronics industry and has worked in the XR ecosystem at both Tobii and Immersion.

Hand tracking in VR

World-leading hand tracking for VR 

Ultraleap’s advanced and robust hand tracking enables transformational VR training experiences. Our developer tools include Unity/Unreal plugins, an OpenXR API layer and MRTK integration.