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VR: Creating an emotional experience to train site workers

Htc vive credit maurizio pesce

Htc vive credit maurizio pesce

Source: Flickr: Maurizio Pesce

Imagine a scenario where two sets of children are being trained to build a set of blocks in a certain way.

One group is told how to do it in the traditional way, taken through instructions on paper that will show them what to do.

The other group uses a virtual reality headset to actually build the blocks in a virtual environment, before doing it for real.

Which do you think was more successful?

Surprising results

Well, considering this is a weekly column about technology and innovation, the answer may surprise you. The more successful group by far were the ones that used paper – not the tech.

The reason? Muscle memory plays an important role when learning physical tasks, and the process of picking up and placing blocks in a virtual world is nothing whatsoever like the process involved in real life – meaning that it just isn’t conducive to effective learning.

This experiment was conducted by technology consultant Alpha Tango Delta, which spoke at a roundtable organised by GKR Scaffolding earlier this week.

“Securing real and lasting behavioural change among site workers is the Holy Grail, and could be the key to eliminating those stubborn accidents that keep happening”

The findings have implications for how we think about virtual reality in a business context.

Whereas before it might have been logical to think that you could use VR to train people to put up a scaffold, say, without any risk, the fact that the physical movements in the virtual world (particularly around your hands and how you pick things up) mean that it wouldn’t work very well.

An emotive response

Rather, Alpha Tango Delta told us, a more effective use of VR for training could be to elicit behavioural changes in people by creating an emotional experience.

The immersive nature of VR means that your brain can be fooled into believing something that isn’t real – highlighted perhaps most effectively by an app that allows you to walk a plank at the top of a skyscraper, which often causes people to lose balance and fall over in the real world.

As one contractor’s health and safety director told me at the roundtable, securing real and lasting behavioural change among site workers is the Holy Grail, and could be the key to eliminating those stubborn accidents that keep happening despite the huge strides that have been made in the last 20 years.

I wrote last week about the practical potential of augmented reality – but it seems to me that virtual reality, with its completely immersive environment and its unparalleled ability to create a highly emotional experience, could be a very powerful tool for training if used in the right way.

As with all of these emerging technologies, it remains to be seen how widely it will be used in business – but VR is not brand new, and with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and even PlayStation VR now becoming more mainstream, it’s becoming more and more likely that businesses will be able to develop practical uses beyond just showing people what a completed project will look like.

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