Ready, set, go: VR training hits the ground running

  • As a result of COVID-19 and the need for employee social distancing, VR has become a good training alternative to classroom courses. 
  • VR and augmented reality (AR) have the potential to add US$1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030, and up to US$294.2 billion of that amount will be for training.
  • Individuals who are trained using VR may need less time to understand concepts, are less distracted, and may have more confidence and a better emotional connection to the content.

While initially making a big splash in consumer activities like gaming, virtual reality (VR) is now moving into the enterprise mainstream. That movement has been accelerated by COVID-19 and the need for social distancing: Employees, whether working remotely or returning to a workplace, will need training on new ways of working, but providing that in a classroom setting may not be safe. That’s where VR can step in. 

PwC is seeing VR’s growth first-hand, with more than 850 headsets being used to help train some employees and educate some clients. And we predict that within 18 months, it may be common for large enterprises to deploy hundreds of headsets, paired with relevant content, for employee use. In fact, VR and augmented reality (AR) have the potential to add US$1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030, and up to US$294.2 billion of that amount will be for training, according to PwC’s Seeing Is Believing report. 

Here’s what’s helped to move VR into the enterprise mainstream: 

  1. Deploying VR is much easier: Virtual reality no longer requires a complicated, space-intensive and costly setup — or the highly skilled technicians that had been needed to keep that complex arrangement working smoothly.
  2. Headsets are significantly less expensive: An enterprise VR system is now priced at only about 20 percent of what it cost just 18 months ago, and new management tools can help enable companies to scale VR in a cost-effective way.1
  3. Headsets are wireless: Headsets are completely self-contained and no longer have to be tethered to a large computer. They are more comfortable to wear, and — along with VR content — they can be secured and managed remotely. 
  4. Workplace needs have changed: As a result of COVID-19 and the need for employee social distancing, classroom training may continue to be problematic. That makes VR training a good alternative.

VR learning metrics are compelling 

Recent research from PwC has shown that individuals who are trained using VR tech may require less time to understand concepts. They may also experience more confidence, may have a better emotional connection to the content and may be less distracted. 

In the fall of 2019, PwC deployed a large VR pilot that studied the impact of using VR to train new managers on a specific soft skill: inclusive leadership. Employees selected from a group of new managers in 12 US locations took the same training course in one of three learning modalities: classroom, e-learn or v-learn (virtual reality). When we compared the results from the different modalities, we discovered some intriguing insights.

Employees in VR courses completed training up to four times faster than classroom courses.

To learn soft-skill concepts, VR-trained employees completed training an average of four times faster than classroom trained employees and 1.5 times faster than e-learners. And that was after the VR training times were increased by an average of 10 minutes to account for headset checkout and adjustments, along with learning safety guidelines for use of the headset. 

We were surprised when our digital natives initially struggled with a VR headset, but, once they were comfortable, they found it pretty easy to use. Even when we accounted for the additional time needed to onboard new users in VR headsets, we found it still may be three times faster than classroom and 1.15 times faster than e-learn to complete training and demonstrate knowledge retention. 

Workers trained using VR demonstrated higher confidence in applying what they learned. 

Another plus was that VR-trained learners in our study were 275 percent more confident to act on what they learned after training — a 40 percent improvement over classroom and 35 percent improvement over e-learn courses. In our study, VR-trained learners also were almost 2.5 times more confident in discussing the topics learned during training. That’s significant because when it comes to soft skills, confidence is a key driver of success. Believing in themselves and having confidence can help learners connect better with others, while also feeling more satisfied with the time spent training. 

Individuals trained using VR had a stronger emotional connection to the content.

VR-trained learners felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more connected than e-learners. People connect, understand and remember things more deeply when their emotions are involved. (We learned that during the VR study, as well as in multiple BXT experiences, where we got different viewpoints and worked together to determine what was important). Consider the emotional impact of viewing a photo of a refugee, compared with reading a fact-filled analysis of the refugee crisis, and it’s easier to understand how strong emotional connections could lead to more positive outcomes. 

Employees trained using VR were more focused.

When thinking about how VR works, it’s easy to understand why users would be less distracted with this technology: The simulations and immersive experience command their vision and attention. In our study, VR-trained learners were up to four times more focused during training than their e-learning peers and 1.5 times more focused than their classroom peers. When learners are immersed in a VR experience, they can get more out of the training and could have better outcomes. 

VR can be more cost-effective at scale.

To study the efficacy of VR training, we compared the cost of developing each of the learning modalities. When we evaluated the price differences between building a VR course versus a classroom or e-learning course for the same learning content, we discovered that the VR course cost 47 percent more than the classroom course and 48 percent more than the e-learning course. This makes sense when you account for  the cost of creating the content and developing the VR experience, which may require 3D artists and software developers — individuals who are not needed when creating traditional classroom or e-learning content. 

However, when considering the return on investment (ROI), a new picture emerges. For one thing, VR training takes less time than classroom and e-learning courses. So, when taking into account the cost of an employee’s time, VR can become a better investment at a certain point. And that is only considering the time saved. The graph below shows PwC’s total cost savings and where we broke even on training new managers. 

In the VR study, we were able to achieve parity in costs with classroom training at 375 learners. Based on that, we calculated that at 3,000 learners, VR is 52 percent less expensive; at 6,000 individuals, it’s 58 percent less costly; and at 10,000 learners, it’s 64 percent less expensive. VR training also achieved cost parity with e-learn at 1,950 learners. In every company, an employee’s time has value, so, the more time workers save, the faster ROI can be achieved. 

The point to remember is this: VR can be more expensive than other types of training, but the more people you train, the faster you can achieve a positive ROI.

VR training comes to the enterprise

Virtual reality is no longer on the horizon: It’s here, and many enterprises have already made the transition. As a result, their employees may learn faster, may be more confident, and may enjoy VR training more than classroom and e-learn training. 

PwC received significant value from using VR for soft-skills training, but the way to decide whether this technology is right for your business is to experience the reality of it for yourself. You need to see if VR can be a win for your employees and your company.