We all understand intuitively that we learn by “doing”
How do we know this? Because no one learns how to ride a bike, drive a car, or play golf by reading a book or by having someone else tell us how to do it – even if they have great diagrams or videos.
Academically, this principle is also accepted. The entire principle of “homework” for children is based on the need for the student to carry out practical examples of the academic theory in order to cement the knowledge in their brain. Whilst that is practical in the sense of a few maths problems, what happens when the task is building aircraft parts for Boeing?
No matter how much time is spent training employees in a classroom and showing them videos, sooner or later our colleagues have to step into a real work environment, use real tools and equipment to carry out tasks. If they are lucky, they will be shadowing other employees as part of their training. They would then have someone observe when they take over the tasks – incidentally, notice how in both those scenarios at least one person, who could be contributing to the overall efficiency of the process, is spending their time observing someone else. But with all the dangers still present, both physically in terms of using expensive and often dangerous machinery, and operationally in terms of a slowing down of the overall production process.
Boeing’s XR training program
Faced with these considerations, Boeing have become one of the biggest proponents of using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in training their staff. In preparation for building the landing gear for the new 737 MAX 10 aircraft, Boeing implemented an intensive VR training program. In fact, the training started long before the parts were available. Using models created from CAD drawings, the team were able to experiment with production layouts, examine pinch points and assess the best way to build the critical assembly. Feedback was provided on potential problems and on specialist tools that would need to be built, many months before production began.
It’s difficult to assess the exact time or monetary savings when considering a brand-new process. What is clear however is that every problem snagged in advance of the production line going live has a considerable financial benefits to Boeing. Existing processes are easier to assess. Boeing have estimated a 90% increase in first time quality in employee training while using extended reality training. A staggering result and one that ensures extended reality training usage will expand in the Boeing facility.
What can we learn from Boeing’s example?
XR training is experiential. The trainee experiences what it’s like to be in a work environment and carry out tasks. It is an opportunity for trainees to immediately apply the knowledge they have been taught and experiment with failure. Failure that doesn’t bring down an entire production line, damage expensive equipment, and potentially harm other members of staff. The cost of extended reality training is also considerably lower as compared to class room one.
Because the extended reality training itself happens in a virtual environment, there is no need to fly staff to a central point. The application can be deployed remotely, and staff are empowered to train when it suits them, with testing and reporting being forwarded to management for compliance reasons.
Implementing Extended Reality training in real life
When Irish electrical contracting company MDE were given a contract to fit hundreds of thousands of electrical smart meters into homes in Ireland, they had a challenge at hand. With Covid19 restrictions in full force it would be almost impossible to train over 200 engineers to remove the old meters and fit the new smart meters. They turned to local XR Training specialists Sentireal, who developed an application that could be used on both a VR headset and also be compatible with the company’s standard issue Android phone. By deploying directly to the engineer’s Android devices, the engineers could log on, follow the sequence of events then actually practice the work. This form of training also ensures the correct tool is used.
Inbuilt AI can create faults or issues depending on the user’s previous performances, maintaining the trainees full attention each time they attempt the practice installation. Full reports are then logged to validate that the training has been carried out and in turn verify that the trainee has met the required standards.
In a post-Covid19 environment, this type of application will become increasingly powerful and more prevalent. Of course, MDE could have simply generated videos with a voiceover and made them available to their engineers. It’s certainly cheaper, so why not? Well, there are a number of factors that make that an unwise choice.
Firstly there is basic human behaviour to be aware of. How many of the engineers would watch the videos? How many would play the videos (viewership can be manipulated) but not actually pay attention? But even if they did watch the videos, and even if they did pay full attention, how can you be certain that they understood what they were watching? How could you be sure that on site they will retain the information from the video and successfully carry out the removal of high voltage electrical equipments?
Many people are surprised at how little knowledge is retained after training. A recent study by the University of Valencia concluded we retain only 30% of what we see 2 weeks after training, as opposed to 90% when we either do the task for real or in simulation (extended reality training). It is this higher retention rate that makes extended reality training compelling to organisations today.
The ability to have 3 times the retained knowledge makes the training process more efficient and allows the trainee to be productive in a much shorter time period.
For MDE, being able to ensure the training was productive and that users not only understood but were able to apply the knowledge was absolutely critical. The ramifications of their engineers being poorly trained and unable to complete the work were serious. Consumers could be left without power, the company reputation damaged, and potentially injury or even death to either engineers or even consumers.
We can summarise the benefits of Extended Reality training broadly in 5 statements.
- It is experiential. It allows the trainee to immediately put the skills they have been taught into practice.
- It reduces risk. Failure no longer means the loss or damage of expensive equipment but more importantly, the injury or death of an employee.
- It reduces travel and training costs. The trainee can make use of a phone, tablet, or a head mounted display at a location that suits them, yet still avail of the same level of training as their colleagues in HQ.
- It results in a higher knowledge retention rate.The entire point of training staff is to impart knowledge. With XR demonstrating 3 times the knowledge retention of conventional training, it is a much more cost-effective method if results are important.
- It results in a higher engagement rate, particularly when a head mounted display is used. The trainee is isolated from distractions and their entire focus is on the task at hand.
In an often told story, Jack Welch (of GE fame) talks about how as a young plastics engineer he blew up a factory in Pittsfield, MA. resulting in $1M of damage. Jack was subsequently summoned to HQ and assumed he would be fired, only to be told by his boss “I just spent a million dollars on your education – why would I fire you now?”
It’s a shame Jack didn’t have access to XR.
Read part two here.