In a previous article, I covered the benefits that eXtended Reality training brings to businesses. The knowledge retention, trainee engagement, and the saving on costs are all significant when compared to traditional training methods.
If we all agree on that, then the big question is, why isn’t everyone using it?
That’s a much more complicated answer.
The first obstacle is simply a lack of awareness as to what is possible. This is improving with the increasing popularity of consumer VR and even consumer AR with mobile apps, but there is still largely an ignorance as to what is possible. The second obstacle would be a complete misunderstanding on how much it will cost. Most of the reluctance to engage comes from a mistaken belief that the cost of development is going to be too high. Undoubtedly, there’s work that remains to be done by the XR industry to educate prospective customers on the affordability of VR and AR, but that is a discussion for another time. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume our client has engaged with us and wants to understand why they should create XR training and how they can move forward cautiously?
First, let’s consider the evolution path of conventional training. It’s a linear path. It starts with a subject matter expert sharing their knowledge directly with others, often in an informal fashion, until someone realises that all this expertise should be written down and available to others. That’s the second step – formalising the knowledge, where the subject matter expert can relate their expertise in writing, breaking down the steps and allowing others to follow them with some supervision. The third step was when we all realised that filming the expert performing tasks will give a visual reference to aid the documentation. With the advent of low-cost video-making, many companies have amassed a library of videos to supplement their traditional training methods.
And that is pretty much where we are today. It could be argued that digital learning has become the next step, and for some applications it has, particularly where the tasks are themselves computer based.
Now, we as XR professionals are rocking up to clients extolling the amazing benefits of XR training. We tell them how much better it is than the traditional training methods and show them amazing ROI calculations that prove the investment will be paid back quickly. But XR Training is not a linear progression from what has gone before. It’s a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-Ray player in a world still populated with VHS video recorders. It’s a step-change in technology and approach.
The real difficulty comes when (or indeed, if) the customer realises that they are about to lose control. Creating XR training is unlike creating a PowerPoint presentation.
The typical path for subject matter experts embarking on the creation of a fully immersive XR training application is to first find a company, such as Sentireal, experienced in, and capable of, creating applications using languages/tools suitable for XR.
The next stage is where the subject matter experts explain the training procedures and tasks to the development company in as much detail as possible. Even this stage can be difficult and fraught with doubt for customers as they tell an external company the, often confidential, operating procedures of their business. Ultimately though this will produce a project definition specification and then a prototype. Changes and tweaks are made, and this stage repeats a few times until everyone is happy with what the application delivers. It will then get deployed to the trainees – and the software development bill is paid.
Then comes a decision. Every company, either formally or informally works on the basis of “continuous improvement”, often multiple small improvements add up significantly over time. Having spent a significant amount of money to have an XR app developed, do you now spend more to have these improvements incorporated? Do you simply not make the improvements and keep the app as it is? Or do you bundle improvements together and update the app once or twice a year? No matter which option you choose there is a loss of progression and ultimately a loss of credibility for the project sponsor. Either with the trainees, who will comment that the application doesn’t actually adhere to best practice, or to management, who will quickly tire of spending more money on development.
From a customer’s point of view, XR training is too uncertain, takes too long, and potentially has an open-ended cost when dealing with anything other than a very mature process. Yes, the benefits can be substantial, but it comes with a hefty amount of risk. What senior manager would want to be responsible for promising so much and delivering an over-priced project that discards previous material?
So how do we overcome these challenges?
Well, the first step is to find a way to accommodate the customer’s existing training content in a way that adds real benefit to them. Hence “The Training Room” product, developed by Sentireal. We live in a world of open plan offices and now, with Covid-19, many of our colleagues are also working from home. The Training Room represents a way for a trainee to put themselves into a VR environment specially designed to keep them free from environmental distractions and allow them to focus on training. A training administrator can create a series of in-app questions to test the participant after they have consumed the training media (video, images, text). Full analytics of how much of the training content was consumed can then be accessed along with the time spent with each piece of content and obviously the trainee’s performance in answering the in-app questions.
This is important, because The Training Room is not simply providing a different way to consume existing training content, but it adds value, giving the customer reassurance that the training has been completed and is understood – critical in regulated industries and where health and safety is a concern.
The Training Room application now acts as an intermediate step, or bridge, from the traditional training material to the immersive world. The analytics data collected identifies the training areas that would provide the best basis for the customer to incorporate into a fully immersive enterprise training package in the future.
This is a non-threatening approach to moving into new technology, it comforts the users by using content that is broadly familiar to them. The testing adds an additional layer to bring value to pre-existing material – and ultimately the addition of a fully immersive training element seems like a natural step. In fact, once users become accustomed to the VR environment, they will become the biggest drivers toward fully immersive training.
So, what lessons can we share, as we take our customers on the journey to fully immersive training?
- The first big lesson is to move in small steps.
Our customers are often making (for them) a huge leap into the unknown, so let’s try to make that a series of small leaps.
- The second lesson is to give the existing training material some deference. This material is the customer’s knowledge consolidated into whatever form they have used. It cannot be dismissed, and we should try to make use of it. Think of it like a comfort blanket.
- And the final lesson is that we as an industry need to find a way to make immersive content creation accessible directly to subject matter experts. Where is the “PowerPoint” of XR? At Sentireal we are on our way to that with a product to be launched in 2021, and we are happy to collaborate with others in the industry to make it a reality.