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Man wearing Pico Neo 3 in a warehouse using vr for training

What is VR training?

Posted; May 25, 2022

VR training replaces traditional in-person or online training with immersive digital experiences. Virtual reality headsets are used to provide a fully immersive, safe, interactive environment for active learning and training.

This guide to immersive learning has been created to inform managers, innovators, and strategists about its potential, practical applications, barriers to adoption, and impact. We’ll also examine how users interact within an immersive training environment.

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Is now the time to adopt VR training? [Ebook]

Evaluate if virtual reality training could deliver value for your organisation. Technology overview, benefits, barriers, and practical applications.

What's in this guide to immersive learning

The future of training is in immersive learning

Humans learn best by doing. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them”. Since then, his point has been proved time and again: “active learning” helps people learn faster, retain information for longer, and fail less often.

Today, virtual environments are providing firms worldwide with a safe, interactive place for active learning and training. The technology required is tried, tested, and affordable.

Learners can interact within a 3D virtual environment, and learn procedural tasks or simulate interactions almost as naturally as they would on the job. This helps people to learn faster and remember for longer. Trainers are no longer restricted by location (a big benefit during the pandemic), environment, or risk. In addition, people can learn safely from their mistakes.

Thanks to the technology that’s powering virtual and mixed reality, Aristotle’s paradox – the idea that we can only really learn to do something by actually doing it ourselves – has finally become achievable.

Woman and man wearing VR headset using hand tracking to interact with a holographic jet engine
In virtual reality training, you can learn procedural tasks or simulate interactions almost as naturally as you would on the job. This helps you to learn faster and remember for longer.

Creating VR training - Headsets explained

We’ll start with an overview of the tech. Most people are aware of VR headsets, but AR and MR (augmented and mixed reality) headsets also offer significant potential for immersive learning. When the term VR is used in this blog, you can generally assume that AR or MR headsets might also be used.

  • Virtual reality (VR) is a 3D, entirely digital environment. With a VR headset the user is completely immersed in a virtual world. VR headsets are currently the most widely available and affordable option.
  • Augmented reality (AR) puts the user in the real world, but overlays digital elements onto it. Most people are familiar with AR on mobile phones, but specialized AR headsets can be very effective for immersive learning.
  • Mixed reality (MR) blends fully virtual, augmented, and real world elements. This is achieved via video “pass-through” technology, which uses cameras to digitize the world in real time, and combines that data with virtual content.
  • Extended reality (XR) is simply the umbrella term to describe all of the above. Extended reality is also closely related to the concept of the metaverse – the idea of a world where immersive digital content is pervasive.
Man wearing lynx vr headset
An example of a mixed-reality (MR) headset – the Lynx-R1. The first standalone mixed-reality headset, the Lynx-R1 can handle both virtual and augmented reality, and switch easily between real, augmented, and fully virtual environments. In practical terms, this makes actions like talking to a trainer during a session easier. 

Creating VR training - Beyond the headset

Interaction is at the core of the VR experience. This means that effective virtual training requires a lot more than just a headset. Users need to be able to engage easily with and respond to the world they’re immersed in.

There are multiple interaction options available, and the choice of which to use is as important as the choice of headset. It’s particularly critical in immersive learning, where users may be inexperienced or technology-anxious, quick onboarding is key, and training outcomes often depend on effectively mapping virtual interactions to real-world ones.

Interaction options in VR include:

  • Controllers: Hand-held devices with buttons and joysticks, similar to gaming controllers.
  • Hand tracking: Cameras embedded in or attached to headsets that capture users’ hand movements. 
  • Eye tracking: Technology inside a headset that captures where you are looking.
  • Voice control: Similar to Alexa, but in VR. Currently accuracy remains a challenge.
  • Body tracking: Tracks the position of a user’s whole body. Currently largely experimental. 

Why now is the time for VR training

What does it take to send an emerging technology into the mainstream? Academic theory suggests that for widespread adoption, VR training needs to clearly demonstrate real-world impact, and reduce both the real and perceived effort of learning to use a new technology. 

Both of these areas are close to being solved by VR training, putting it on the cusp of mainstream adoption at scale.

Diagram showing tech readiness, ROI and hybrid working
Mainstream adoption of VR training is being driven by technology readiness, convincing ROI data from early adopters, and hybrid working becoming the new normal.

1. The tech is ready

Immersive technology was once only suitable for ultra-high-end and time-intensive training programs such as flight simulators. But it’s now within reach of businesses of every shape and size.

Headsets that were once cumbersome and expensive are now smaller, faster, and cheaper. A wide variety of headsets are available – from high-performance options like the Varjo XR-3, to more affordable and often all-in-one headsets such as the Lynx-R1 or Pico Neo 3 Pro.

The VR industry is also moving beyond relying on gaming controllers for interaction. Hand tracking and eye tracking are now widely available, allowing users to interact more naturally within the virtual environment. This improves training outcomes, reduces the effort of adoption, and makes VR training applications more accessible.

Finally, the development of scalable enterprise content creation and management platforms has made deploying VR training easier than ever before. 

2. Hybrid working is the new normal

More than 80% of firms now operate hybrid working as standard, according to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Management. Training in virtual environments makes location far less of a barrier. 

Anyone can be trained from anywhere in the world, while still interacting naturally with colleagues and trainers. 

3. ROI data from early adopters is convincing

We know VR training works. Businesses worldwide are already implementing VR for training and have shared the results. 

Strategic business decisions are being taken today based on the data VR training produces. It’s no longer the preserve of early adopters.

We'll dive more into the data showing effectiveness of VR training in the next section.

"We forecast a compound annual growth rate of 37% on shipments of VR devices to enterprise through to 2025, with... customizable and powerful new tools playing a key role in driving demand.”
Leo Gebbie, Principal Analyst - CCS Insight

Is VR training effective?

Indications are that VR training can offer significant benefits over in-person or online learning across a range of measures.

Of course, this depends on your particular training scenario. Training a barista is very different to training a fighter pilot. But early data strongly supports the principle that VR training can offer significant benefits in cost saving, knowledge retention, and improved productivity.

Infographic showing statistics on VR adoption in enterprise
The VR training market is growing rapidly, fuelled by convincing ROI data from early adopters.

VR training benefits

Making a business case for VR would typically rest on some (or all) of the following benefits, depending on your particular industry and training scenario.

  • Saves time: Immersive training experiences help people learn faster. A 2020 study from PWC found that VR learners completed training four times faster than in a classroom, and 1.5 times faster than online training. 
  • Saves money: Training can be rolled out to multiple locations and, unlike live training, can easily scale and repeat. A study into the use of VR for training neonatal intensive care workers showed a 50% reduction in training costs over 3 years compared to traditional training. 
  • Increases engagement: A realistic environment is vital for soft skills and procedural training. PWC found that learners were 3.75 times more emotionally connected with training content when it was delivered within a virtual environment. 
  • Improves recall: When learners are fully engaged physically and emotionally, they retain more information, for longer. Dr. Narendra Kini from the Miami Children’s Health System found that retention levels a year after a virtual training session can be as much as 80%, compared to 20% just a week after classroom-based training.  
  • Improves safety: Training onsite is a challenge for industries where locations can be difficult or dangerous to access. If you’re training wind turbine engineers or submariners, an immersive, virtual environment is a much safer place for people to learn. In addition, people can repeat procedures as often as they like, learning from their mistakes with zero risk.
  • Improves analysis: The digital nature of VR training captures data in real time. This can provide in-the-moment feedback to trainees, as well as large-scale impact analysis, which quickly proves results to boards and senior stakeholders.
"VR and XR training unlock an unmatched level of realism that keeps learners fully immersed and engaged. The impact of learning while totally immersed in a virtual world has been proven, and now is the time to reap the benefits.”
Seppo Aaltonen, Chief Commercial Officer - Varjo

Training, not gaming: The barriers to adoption of VR

The opportunities for VR training are huge and the benefits have been proved. But within organisations there are still significant barriers forward-thinking managers and innovators need to overcome before broad acceptance. 

The decision makers within a business are often time poor, and risk averse. They might feel understandably sceptical about investing in technology that has historically been associated with gaming, which they might in turn have to defend to the CEO or Board. 

Trainees themselves can be nervous and similarly sceptical in advance of their first VR training session – although they often become strong advocates straight afterwards. 

Graphic showing barriers to adoption of vr training
Barriers to adoption of VR training in enterprises, based on the Adapted Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology Model (Algharibi & Arvantis, 2011)

4 ways hand tracking helps overcome barriers to adoption of VR training

Historically, immersive training has relied on using controllers in conjunction with VR headsets. But those controllers were built for gaming, not training. Trainees are more diverse than gamers, and don’t have time to learn how to operate a new technology before they can start learning. 

While it’s not the only factor, hand tracking plays an important part in overcoming barriers to adoption of VR training. 

Lady wearing wearing Varjo XR-3 headsets
Ultraleap hand tracking embedded in the Varjo XR-3 mixed reality headset. Hand tracking creates a real-time digital model of the user’s hands, enabling them to see their hands in immersive environments and use them naturally.

1. Reduces onboarding time

Hand tracking reduces onboarding time. With a well-designed launcher powered by hand tracking, users can put on a headset and start immediately, with instructions incorporated into the training application itself. 

2. Reduces perceived effort

Many trainees will not have much prior experience or even interest in VR. Hand tracking technology reduces friction and makes immersive learning accessible, regardless of age or experience. 

3. Makes VR procedural training more effective

Muscle memory is an important factor in helping procedural learners commit tasks to long-term memory. Using hand tracking means users are learning, and retaining, how to do something almost exactly as they would have to do it in the real world.

4. Makes VR soft skills training more effective

Every culture gestures with their hands while they talk. Hand tracking enables richer and more lifelike communication in virtual environments. This in turn creates more realistic virtual soft skills training. 

Evaluate if VR training could deliver value for your organisation

Virtual reality and training in practice

From its early roots in flight simulators, virtual and mixed reality technology is now training people right across the workforce. In particular, VR’s application for both procedural training and, separately, soft skills training is proving to be highly effective.

In practice: Virtual reality industrial and retail training

VR is highly effective for procedural training in retail or industrial settings. Examples include learning a production line process, or training retail staff such as baristas. 

It means learners can experiment safely, learn from their mistakes, and repeat tasks as often as necessary to develop muscle memory for long-term recall. 

Man wearing Pico Neo 3 in a warehouse using vr for training
VR training in logistics gets new members of staff up to speed as quickly as possible.

In practice: VR in medical training

The immersive nature of VR is being used as an “empathy machine” by companies such as Embodied Labs. Their award-winning VR 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 and macular degeneration.

VR is also used for procedural training in surgery and CPR. TetraSignum’s VR CPR training puts learners in a situation that feels like an actual emergency, improving their ability to respond in a real situation. And by using an AR/MR headset, physical surgery training environments can be enriched with virtual contextual guidance.

Group using vr for training for medical
VR has multiple applications in medical training, from empathy to technical and procedural training.
“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.”
Carrie Shaw, Founder - Embodied Labs

In practice: VR soft skills training

Empathy and effective communication are vital for HR and other corporate professionals, who regularly face challenging conversations and interactions.

VR is used to literally put learners in other people’s shoes, and provide opportunities to practise challenging scenarios in a safe space. It’s also been shown to be effective for employee onboarding programs.   

Two men holding Varjo XR3 headsets
VR creates memorable, impactful soft skills training — without the risk of real-world consequences.

In practice: VR aviation training

The airline industry has been quick to embrace VR, building on its roots in pilot training and flight simulators. 

Airlines such as Lufthansa are now training flight attendants using immersive technology. A major benefit is that there is no need to ground operational craft or create full-size dummy aircraft for training.  

“Developing with hand tracking made it possible for us to deliver a VR experience that went beyond gaming. We successfully solved a real business need for an established, traditional industry.”
Sebastian Demmerle, CEO - NMY Mixed Reality Studio

Ultraleap hand tracking in virtual reality training solutions

For virtual or mixed reality training to be effective at scale, the technology involved has to “just work”. There isn’t any room for VR tech that requires ongoing, significant technical support, or works only for some users and in some environments. 

At Ultraleap, we have the technology stack and product expertise to transform VR training into a seamless experience, controlled via natural hand gestures that reinforce learning.

Two people wearing Varjo headsets
With hand tracking, interaction in VR training becomes seamless. Grabbing, swiping, pushing, pinching…  all become as effortless as they are in the real world.
  • Robust: Our technology matches the position of a trainee’s virtual hands more closely to their real hands than any other solution.
  • Works for everyone: Our solution adapts to different hand anatomy, regardless of size or shape.
  • Flexible: Our tech works in a variety of environments and lighting conditions, so it can scale beyond controlled training environments and into back-room warehouses, offices, or even trainees’ homes.
  • Non-proprietary: Our customers can use whichever headset is right for them. Unlike some other hand tracking solutions, we’re not tied to any specific headset range. We have a range of hardware solutions, from headsets with fully integrated tracking (e.g. Varjo VR-3/XR-3 and Lynx-R1) through to using peripherals (e.g. hand tracking accessory for Pico Neo 3 Pro, Leap Motion Controller).
  • Easy development: We have the most widely deployed and advanced hand tracking tooling. Our Unity and Unreal Engine plugins mean that developers can build creatively without adjusting the way they already work.
  • More than just hardware and software: Ultraleap is a key player in the VR ecosystem. We can support with technology integration, proof of concepts, interaction design, or even full design and development of scalable VR training experiences.
“Ultraleap hand tracking is best in class in the market today. We evaluated other companies but the precision and latency of Ultraleap was the best we could find.”
Stan Larroque, CEO - Lynx

Conclusion: The potential of training with VR

The employee learning experience is critical to engagement, development, and ultimately commercial success. But with average spend on training standing at $1,678 per year, it's also essential that training demonstrates effective ROI.

VR training has been shown to reduce training time and save money, and improve outcomes across a range of measures. Welcome to the future of workplace learning.

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Explore more in our VR training ebook

Evaluate if virtual reality training could deliver value for your organisation. Technology overview, benefits, barriers, and practical applications.