To understand the future of virtual reality (VR), take a close look at Walmart. On September 20, Walmart announced it will ship 17,000 Oculus Go VR headsets to all its North American stores to give more than 1 million employees access to virtual reality training.
The news marks an expansion of a training program in which Walmart has used VR headsets at its U.S. Academies to help new employees learn what it’s like to work in a Walmart store, including how to handle surging Black Friday crowds. Walmart has worked with training company STRIVR to develop the curriculum using STRIVR’s VR training platform and will continue to do so.
Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies, said, “The great thing about VR is its ability to make learning experiential. When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent – even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts.”
Walmart’s use of VR meets four essential requirements for VR to take hold, namely:
1) An Addressable Market
Corporate training is a priority. According to separate research from Deloitte and Gallup, 84 percent of executives and 87 percent of millennials believe that learning and development is important. In 2017, corporations spent an estimated $360 billion on employee training around the world. On average, companies spent $1,075 per learner in 2017, with manufacturers spending $1,217 per learner, followed by services organizations ($1,157), according to the 2017 Training Industry Report. Employees received 47.6 hours of training per year, nearly 4 hours more than in 2016. It behooves corporations to maximize the efficiency of that spend.
2) A Compelling Reason to Use VR
Corporate training also leaves a lot to be desired. According to the Deloitte 2016 Global Human Capital Trends Report, only 37 percent of executives believe learning and development is effective; and 40 percent of employees believe they are not trained to do their jobs properly, according to ATD’s Instructional Design Now. VR is not a panacea for these problems, but it is rapidly proving its value in situations where complicated procedures need to be mastered. As noted, Walmart reports improved retention and test scores through the use of VR for training. And as I have discussed on my blog, many others are using VR to improve the process of training employees to do complex work such as assembling jet engine parts. Why? Because VR vastly improves retention.
Derek Belch, CEO of STRIVR Labs, recently wrote about VR’s ability to help people learn by simulating actions rather than through lectures or observation. He cited the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which postulates that we forget most of what we’re exposed to within a few days. By contrast, VR improves the brain’s retention time through repeated immersion of real-life situations such as assembling a machine part on the factory floor. According to the National Training Laboratory, retention rates for VR can achieve 75 percent versus 5 percent for lectures and 10 percent for reading.
The key is exposing the brain repeatedly to a realistic combination of sights and sounds, according to a white paper written by STRIVR Chief Science Officer Michael Casale, 4 Reasons You Need to Start Using Virtual Reality for Learning & Training. According to Casale, full immersion strengthens the connections between the parts of the brain that process sensory information and the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive processes such as decision making.
3) Accessible Technology
Walmart’s deployment of 17,000 Oculus Go headsets is telling. Oculus, owned by Facebook, unveiled the Oculus Go headset in the fall of 2017. Oculus Go is a more lightweight, breathable headset that delivers quality virtual reality for far less than you’d need to spend for a higher-end Oculus Rift headset, controller, sensors, host PC, and other equipment. In addition, Oculus Go is not tethered to a PC, making it possible for people to use the headsets on the go in their natural working environments rather than needing to travel to a training center.
4) Content Expertise
VR training obviously requires more than shipping Oculus Go headsets to employees. STRIVR is a renowned provider of VR training. The company works with businesses to identify ways that VR can improve training – typically high-risk, complicated procedures where mistakes can be costly — and then collaborates with its clients to create training modules that simulate the real-life working conditions that require training.
STRIVR has famously helped football teams improve on-the-field performance with VR and made training more efficient for businesses such as JetBlue and United Rentals. STRIVR is not a VR company; it’s a training organization that employs immersive techniques. In addition, STRIVR is working with a dedicated training team from Walmart Academies. As Walmart noted, Walmart and STRIVR Walmart have already developed 45 training modules. Their training program focuses on improving performance in three areas: new technology; soft skills like empathy and customer service; and compliance. As Walmart noted,
VR training is particularly helpful for learning new tech. In a pilot test this summer, 10 stores used VR for training on new Pickup Tower units in their stores. VR is allowing associates to be trained before the towers are even installed – no teachers required. This will be key as Walmart continues to roll out new tech to stores.
At Walmart Academies, 70 percent of employees who used STRIVR outperformed the group that did not use STRIVR for their learning evaluation exams. And the training satisfaction score reported by these employees was also 30 percent higher than those who did the standard training.
Limited Uptake Outside of Training
By contrast, VR has failed to achieve widespread adoption outside the realm of corporate training. According to a recent IDC report, the overall market for VR equipment has seen a 33.7 percent decline year-over-year. One bright spot: standalone VR headsets such as Oculus Go saw a 417 percent increase – but the market for such headsets remains small.
The growth of Oculus Go is encouraging for VR proponents. The headset addresses two big problems with VR equipment: cost and clunkiness. Most VR equipment, though, requires a considerable investment and a willingness to wear large headsets tethered to a unit, which is a restrictive experience.
But the biggest problem VR has? There is no compelling reason to use it beyond training and medical settings. The technology alone will not compel anyone to use it. For the sake of comparison, consider the popularity of streaming. Consumers did not abandon digital downloading and compact discs because streaming seemed cool; they embraced streaming because it gave them an easier way to experience music they wanted to hear. But with VR, no one has unleashed content that consumers are willing to experience time and again. There is no Pokémon GO moment for VR to date.
VR may never catch on among everyday people – but that’s OK. VR is already demonstrating its value among enterprises, where its future belongs for now.