Blog: Benefits of Staff Development using Virtual Reality (VR)

Throughout the history of time, there have been many manuals, pamphlets, training courses, and PowerPoints created on the subject of how best to train your team. Every year, more and more resources are released with the objective of helping managers and business owners upskill their teams. Different businesses prioritise different skills, but what are we missing? And can VR help us find it? What will take staff development to that next level?

Industries are waking up to the fact that virtual reality can help us with training. Surgeons and combat teams are being trained using VR because it’s the best way to create a near to real experience in specific environments, where skills can be practised and honed. Much of the interest in VR centres around training and learning. Can this medium better engage the brain in learning? Can it be used to teach specific skills? Can it impact memory retention?

VR as a training tool

You may have already inferred this from the above – if the military and the medical professions are happy to use VR as a training tool, it must be a pretty good training tool. And it is. Recreating unique environments or situations is something VR offers that nothing else can really get close to. But it’s also a really brilliant way of developing employees’ soft skills, such as conflict resolution, teamwork and leadership. These skills are vital, but have become harder to train people in since the pandemic began and subsequent lockdowns. How do you deliver in person training and education that relies on having a group of people in front of you? You can’t. Or you couldn’t, until VR filled in the gap.

Using VR, you can offer employees immersive memorable experiences without running any real world risks. This video illustrates some sample VR conflict resolution training, where an avatar allows the employee to practice leadership skills and conflict resolution. VR can also be a cost effective way of managing your training needs and it cuts through the logistical challenges of organising in person training. VR programmes are often more engaging than other alternatives and therefore have a quicker completion rate. A PwC study conducted in 2020 found that employees completed VR trainings four times faster than in person equivalents. Not only were they faster, they felt significantly higher levels of emotional connection to the content. This study demonstrates the positive impact that VR can make. An immersive experience helps people stay focused, providing truly effective staff development. 

Can VR better engage the brain in learning?

The brain naturally encodes information that it receives and converts this into constructs which it then decides to store either in the long or short term memory. Boundless Psychology says this is like, “hitting “Save” on a computer file”. In order to avoid us becoming completely overwhelmed, our brains constantly filter, process and organise information into short or long term memory.

The key to remembering and recalling information is getting our brains to save it in our long term memory. This is done by strengthening our neural pathways through repetition, and the utilisation of our senses, like sight and sound. So what’s better at doing that? Traditional platforms like tablets and desktop computers, or VR? It’s VR. 

Researchers at the University of Maryland found that participants working with a VR application scored at least 10% higher in recall ability than those using traditional platforms. Whilst that number may seem small, it’s a statistically significant finding and not down to chance. Being in a virtual environment allowed participants to be fully engaged in the experience, being present in the space and creating a lived experience for themselves. The whole of the body and brain become engaged in the experience, creating a stronger neural pathway to a memory that’s stored in the long term.

Does VR lead to greater concentration?

The simple answer here is, yes, it can. Users in the same study reported how being immersed in a VR experience increased their ability to focus, as they were less distracted. These users were wearing headsets so were using hardware and programs that provided a completely immersive experience. Having a fully immersive experience led to better performances, better overall focus and 38 out of 40 participants preferred it to a desktop experience.

Digital presence and memory retention

Syracuse University did a very specific study  into the effects of having a digital presence in VR and how it impacts memory retention. A huge finding that came out of this was the function of enjoyment in memory and recall. It particularly focused on how the learning process is affected by enjoyment. The lead researcher Yeonhee Cho notes that “enjoyment reduces stress or fear”. Reducing stress and fear makes it easier for people to perform better, whilst increasing their motivation and giving them something to look forward to. In the VR industry, it’s been a long time since we thought of the technology as purely being used for gaming and entertainment. But a lot of people still associate VR with fun and gaming, and this can work favourably for your training needs! Cho’s findings were that the games-based systems build confidence and motivation through users enjoyment, but without any negative connotations. 

VR: yes or no for staff development?

It’s a resounding yes! By using VR, you can maximise people’s ability to learn, memorise and recall information, whilst reducing negative emotions such as fear and stress. VR is fun and exciting for the user, upping their desire to stay engaged and their levels of motivation. There are also positive implications here for staff members that need to learn and retain information about crisis responses or safety information. 

On top of this, you can develop the soft skills of your teams, helping them improve their presentation skills, customer service and leadership abilities. With more and more people working remotely, finding ways to effectively train people despite physical distance has never been more important. We believe VR could become the best platform for many training programs from hiring and onboarding to developing employees in senior leadership roles. VR is still a relatively new medium, and we are only just beginning to see studies that demonstrate its potential and effectiveness, but it’s ability to create and leave lasting impressions on memory and to help with retaining information is significant.

Are you interested in developing your team the VR way? Keen to try new approaches to staff development? We’d love to hear from you. Contact our award-winning team today.

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