Within my role I am involved in creating and validating novel Virtual Reality (VR) training applications and often find myself discussing the use of the technology, including its benefits and value as a training modality. A frequent topic that comes up when speaking to clients, educators, and researchers is comparison to 2D screen-based delivery of content. So why is VR better than a 2D training tool?

To unpack this question, I would like to start by making a simple but important point: There really is no “normal” or “optimal” standard training methodology that suits all learning objectives and environments. Successful training, teaching, and learning can and does occur using many different tools and methods. Which training modality is more or less suitable than another, such as a VR headset vs. a 2D screen, depends on the learning goals, types and level of skill training, the individual trainee and to a large degree the resources available to trainers and the training institution. Each training modality has a different set of advantages and disadvantages, so the question that we really should be asking is: what value does VR provide that 2D cannot?

From my experience, here are the top four value-adds for VR-based training:

   1) Immersion

The VR headset and a 2D screen create fundamentally different learning environments for the trainee. Specifically beneficial for learning and training is the level of immersion and the high sense of presence generated by wearing a VR headset, as opposed to looking at a 2D screen. In a training context, absorption and immersion into the environment as well as a sense of being present in the moment, are desirable, as they positively impact the training and learning experience and are connected to improved learning outcomes.

The VR headset itself, independent of the actual content, is more immersive than a 2D screen in three ways. Firstly, wearing a VR headset covers both the eyes and ears, blocking out external sound and visual distractions. In a training context that is loud or includes multiple trainees, the benefit of VR over a PC is apparent. Secondly, the virtual space in a headset usually surrounds the trainee, removing them from their day-to-day setting and places them into a seemingly separate space. In contrast, a 2D screen is merely included into the trainee’s existing environment. Lastly, the required head movement in a VR headset adds an extra level of interaction and contributes to increased immersion.

Separating the trainee from his or her surroundings, placing them into a totally separate environment and adding interaction are all features that can help focus attention on the training task, promoting a deeper mental involvement with the subject matter.

   2) Engagement

Why is it that 20 minutes suddenly disappear whilst you were swiping your Instagram, Twitter or TikTok feed? Chances are you were drawn in and engaged by the micro-rewards, enjoyment, and entertainment you get from the subject matter and content. Getting the same level of engagement from your training content is a worthy goal, as it benefits training efficacy. Unfortunately, the training subject matter and content is often not as entertaining as your personal social media content. However, trainee engagement can and should be considered when designing the presentation style and training approach to your learning content. Extensive research has shown that diversity in training styles keeps trainees engaged and motivated.

Many of us spend hours a day looking at a 2D screen, and receiving training via a PC or tablet is not a new or exciting concept. In contrast, VR is a novel and exciting experience for most, as many have limited or no existing exposure to VR, let alone during training. From my experience, even those who claim to have little interest or experience with technology are interested and excited when given the opportunity to receive VR training, mostly because it is new and different. This interest and initial excitement towards the technology itself can generate training buy-in, supporting engagement with the actual content.

Whilst this novelty factor may eventually wear off, currently it is something that we can leverage to generate engagement and enthusiasm in our trainees.

   3) Privacy and anonymous feedback

With the ability to block out external distractions, the VR headset also has the advantage of providing privacy and individualised, anonymous feedback. Even with multiple trainees in the same physical space, they do not have access to each other’s progress or performance outcomes. For example, I specialise in the delivery of stress management skills training. In this context trainees are often instructed to connect to an emotionally challenging event or thought. The value of privacy provided by the headset during these challenging and delicate tasks is enormous and allows trainees to feel secure and able to participate without peer judgment. Importantly, the VR headset also provides individualised, anonymous feedback to each trainee. Feedback itself is a valuable component for effective training, improving motivation and informing focus areas and trainee progress. Research is currently exploring the benefits of anonymous feedback over group-based feedback for certain areas of training and learning.

   4) Training competency

Transitioning from skill competency to mastery requires the execution of the learned task/skill in a real-world setting, with relevant distractions, pressure, and internal and external strain. The ability to perform the skill and task outside of the training environment is also termed “job-readiness”. But how can we introduce these real-world confounding factors (inner-world and external distractions) into the training space? The immersive nature and high level of controllability of VR technology makes it easy to purposefully include visual and auditory distractions, additional tasks, and stressors. VR as a training medium is ideally suited to provide both skills training and the skill consolidation required to enhance skill competency.

Scalability and remote delivery: 2D screen-based learning has a place

One of the reasons why VR and PC training seem to be frequently compared is their digital nature. In a training context, this commonality can be leveraged to provide consistent content delivery without the need for a trainer or facilitator to be present. 2D screen devices, such as PCs, tablets, and phones, are easy to source, access, use and manage. The advantage of not requiring a facilitator present can translate to a scalable and remotely accessible training solution via a web browser. These features have led to 2D training via a PC becoming a popular, easily accessible, and cost-effective approach for scalable and remote training delivery. The same is not (yet) true for VR hardware as it has yet to establish itself as an easy to scale, deployable solution. When it comes to the remote delivery of training across multiple different locations, 2D learning and training certainly has its place. And whilst we believe that VR can be a scalable training solution, its utility in that space currently requires more technical expertise and considerations than a 2D screen training approach.

Whilst 2D and VR training are similar in many ways, both have their own set of value propositions and are appropriate for training in their own way. From my experience assessing the pros and cons of VR training, I see the biggest advantage of VR in the way it can reduce the compliance issues we see with 2D screen-based learning today.

By creating a unique learning experience, a VR headset allows the trainee to step away from their day-to-day surroundings and into a slightly exciting and private space. This increases enthusiasm and engagement but also helps trainees to focus their attention on the training content.

If you’d like to know more about how we approach training and scalable delivery using VR, get in touch with as at: ats@newcastle.edu.au

Learn more about our group and our projects on our website: www.advancedtrainingsystems.org.au


Author: Dr. Murielle Kluge

Passionate about generating new and innovative ways to engage with learning and training content.

Strategy and Research Coordinator

The Centre for Advanced Training Systems

University of Newcastle


Relevant References:

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