Disclaimer: VR training is already providing enormous value in its current form. Based on personal experience in the ecosystem, the following article explores the factors limiting its further exponential growth and massive adoption.
First and foremost, what do I mean by “taken off”? Here is some context to illustrate it. People and businesses of all sizes aren’t using virtual reality headsets for training on a large or consistent scale. When a company implements virtual reality training, it usually makes the news (as opposed to other learning and development methods).
Working in VR/AR and workforce training for the last 5 years, I’ve spoken with and demoed VR training content to thousands of users, and the majority agree that “this is the future” and the potential for education is enormous. Nonetheless, they refer to VR training as “future” rather than “present.” This is an extremely important hint.
Why, if most people agree that VR training is one of the best learning and development methods, hasn’t it taken off? Why isn’t it being used more widely by businesses, individuals, and institutions?
Based on my personal experience in hundreds of meetings with companies and people, as well as implementing real-life VR training uses cases at various levels, I’ve identified some key factors I can synthesize into the following points: Headsets, User Experience, and Content
Even though virtual reality headsets have made tremendous progress in the last decade, they aren’t “there” yet. Though it is difficult to define “there”, I would argue that it revolves primarily around comfort, and it requires significant improvements.
Extremely comfortable and portable headsets that are lightweight, have a long battery life, and provide comfortable vision may be what allows VR to be used for long periods of time and on a regular basis. Current headsets stress user’s faces, eyes and ergonomics.
Meta recently announced that they are focusing on solving the ‘visual Turing test’, whereas John Carmack prefers lighter, cheaper, and faster headsets in order to reach a larger market. All things considered, I believe virtual reality already provides enough immersion and ‘wow’ factor for most users with its current visual fidelity. As a result, efforts should be focused on comfort, such as “varifocal” technology, which allows for clearer and more comfortable vision.
This is directly related to VR training, as having a 30-minute limit before discomfort becomes unbearable is a significant barrier to continuous and consistent use, as well as a direct factor in its growth and utility (not all VR content should be 15 minute high-impact pills).
To justify acquiring a headset and all its associated processes today, virtual reality training must be significantly better than traditional training (there are use cases where this is already true, such as safety or soft skills training). Once virtual reality headsets have reached mass adoption, acquiring a headset ceases to be an issue. Until then, the value of the use case must be significantly greater than the cost of purchasing a headset and implementing new processes.
The ‘wow’ factor that most people experience when trying virtual reality for the first time, is quickly eclipsed by the number of steps required to begin enjoying content (the effort is worth it for the first few times). Turning on the device, configuring the guardian, navigating the unintuitive UI and constant prompts, opening an application, and lengthy loading times and tutorials are just a few of the many stumbling blocks before you can finally get down to business.
There are simply too many steps and friction points between putting on the headset and the magical moment & utility. Even more relevant today, due to the advancements in mobile phones and PCs, users are now used to an incredibly fast and responsive user experience. This translates into one of the most important factors for consistent and daily use: convenience.
Without content, no matter how amazing the headsets and user experience become, virtual reality is just a showcase of amazing technology with no use or application. It is necessary to create engaging content that effectively leverages the technology’s specific attributes.
Creating VR content today requires significant time and resources while trial and error develops best practices, tools, and systems to improve and optimize the creation pipeline. The current balance of VR content production is heavily skewed toward programming (as opposed to other “traditional” mediums), but this will gradually shift to design as authoring tools and content creators lower the barrier for content creators and pave the way for a content “boom.”
Expensive and labor-intensive content creation isn’t as important in games and entertainment, which can have a long playtime, high replay value, or reach a wide audience. By leveraging the unique capabilities of VR, a good game can be experienced by a large number of people, making it a worthwhile endeavor. Training must either hit the same nail, as in safety or soft skills training, or be produced on a large scale. There is already a massive amount of educational content available that does not require VR to be experienced (videos, books, games, classes, and many others). How does virtual reality training compete with this? It must leverage its unique capabilities, but doing so is expensive today.
There is excellent content available today, but the rate at which it takes to transform 2D knowledge into immersive 3D knowledge must improve in the long run if the medium is to eventually replace the others or reach mass adoption.
Is the future bright? Of course it is. Hardware has been consistently getting better over the years (at impressive rates) and hopefully, sooner rather than later, headsets will be light and comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
Using a headset will become natural as the user experience improves and unnecessary friction is removed, allowing three steps to start learning (unlock, select, and start or “a click away” link to access content via WebXR). Many companies and platforms are actively working to reduce friction points (such as Kiosk mode, which is a small step forward, or MDMs such as ManageXR).
Simultaneously, content becomes less expensive and faster to produce, transforming current 2D knowledge into immersive 3D at a scalable rate, allowing for vast content libraries (the Immerse Marketplace is a great example of a pioneer in this).
While these factors improve over time, there is still plenty of room for many companies and startups to solve these and related issues and, hopefully, integrate them into a single, elegant solution. Check all those boxes, and virtual reality training is unstoppable.