Sustaining learner interest and engagement, especially in hybrid workplaces, is a real challenge for L&D teams. This article explains what immersive learning technology is and how you can leverage it to address those challenges.
What Is Immersive Learning Technology?
As an experiential training methodology, immersive learning leverages Extended Reality (XR) technologies, such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), to deliver engaging, simulated, real-world learning experiences.
The methodology is uniquely suitable for generating greater engagement with learning in the hybrid workforce. This is because it delivers a sense of presence (the experience of „being there“) and blends spatial design and advanced learning concepts with highly effective immersive learning technologies.
What Has Triggered The Rise In The Adoption Of Technology-Driven Immersive Learning In The Workplace?
At a time when hybrid work is on the rise, trainers are finding it harder to orchestrate in-person learning. The rise of remote learning and virtual classes, however, has bred a new set of challenges, including a lack of interest and disengagement with learning content.
Trainers are now leveraging a host of immersive learning technologies and tools to help deliver more engaging learning experiences.
Developing a learning culture requires immersive learning tech to generate interest and engagement. The need to stimulate learner appetite to embark on personalized learning journeys creates a learning ecosystem that encourages continuous learning and makes learning „stick.“ This is also what’s triggered the rise in the adoption of technology-driven immersive learning in the workplace.
Why Should You Invest In Technology To Design, Develop, And Deliver Immersive Learning Programs?
An investment in immersive learning technology offers a win-win value proposition to both your learners and the organization. These technologies, such as AR, VR, and MR—collectively known as Extended Reality or XR—make learning more realistic for learners and can inject a „fun while learning“ element into learning. Technology-based immersive learning programs can also dramatically stimulate learner willingness to engage and can improve knowledge transference to the workplace.
For organizations, a greater learning uptick often results in improved employee skills. Higher learner engagement translates into greater organizational productivity. It also results in a higher Return On Investment (ROI) as compared to traditional learning approaches. More importantly, simulations using XR in key aspects of training in critical professions, like medicine/health sciences and aviation/aerospace, is now a widely practiced methodology. Without the use of immersive learning technology, this would not have been otherwise possible.
What Are The Different Types Of Immersive Learning Technology You Can Adopt?
- Virtual Reality: It creates an immersive virtual (software-created) environment, modeled on the real world, where learning occurs. This dimension of the real world offers users the opportunity to more fully experience learning by immersing themselves into and interacting with the virtually generated environment, including virtual characters and situations.
- Augmented Reality: This facilitates learning by adding a virtual layer to real-world spaces. It enhances (augments) the real world with virtual objects, characters, and situations.
- Mixed Reality: Like AR, MR helps to learn by using technology to co-mingle the real environment with virtual elements to deliver immersive, engaging learning experiences.
- Simulations: This immersive learning methodology is ideal for implementing innovative learning approaches, such as intelligent failure, learning through failure, learning by failing, and failing fast. It is used to create life-like environments where learners can learn and fail in a safe environment through repeated practice. Simulations also help learners attain higher degrees of accuracy when learning occurs in simulated, real-world-like situations.
- Metaverse: This technology helps to learn by creating digital twins of workplaces, business environments, and other situations. L&D teams can then help hybrid employees collaborate with their real-world colleagues and learn through immersive interactions in the metaverse.
How Can You Further Augment The Impact Of Technology-Driven Immersive Learning Programs?
During a period like we’re experiencing today, where delivering in-person training is a challenge, organizations must leverage immersive learning technology more frequently to make training programs more effective. This can be accomplished by combining immersive learning technology with a blend of learning and delivery strategies. The approach includes the following.
Combining Learning Strategies With Technology-Driven Immersive Learning
- Gamification + AR/VR/MR/XR: Gamification enables L&D designers to integrate a mix of immersive learning technologies to deliver fun learning experiences. This „have fun as you learn“ approach to leveraging multiple immersive technologies captures and holds learners‘ attention, challenges them, motivates and engages them, and ensures they complete their learning journeys.
- Scenario-based learning (SBL) + AR/VR/MR/XR: This „active learning“ approach leverages a suite of immersive learning technology to create real-life scenarios. This combination of learning enables scenario-based learning to deliver a highly relatable learning experience and one that’s relevant to real work situations for learners.
- Story-based learning + AR/VR/MR/XR: The use of stories as a learning strategy helps inject new ideas into a learning situation and pushes learners to re-evaluate and rethink their existing assumptions of the subject matter. A mix of immersive learning technologies helps L&D teams weave a scaffold (of the narrative), which can then branch off to different learning paths. Story-based immersive learning technologies also add a captivating dimension to learning while facilitating better retention and higher recall.
- Videos/Interactive videos + AR/VR/MR/XR: Video/Interactive video-based training has proved its success in hybrid work environments, not just with Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT) but in blended learning, too. It’s important to understand that video/interactive video content is used to supplement, not replace, learning using these technologies. In a VR or AR environment, learning can be delivered via video as one of the formats. Unlike static infographics and text, L&D teams can inject an array of immersive technologies in video-based learning that help deliver multifaceted aspects of a subject. This creates a compelling watch and provides a more engaging learning experience. Bite-sized videos are also a great tool to use in mobile learning and learning on demand.
- Branching simulations: The application of industry-recognized immersive learning technology guidelines, such as Virtual Reality Framework and Interactive Video Framework, can take branching simulations into a new dimension of learning. Branching simulations spur critical thinking, help develop decision-making, and strengthen learner ability to apply to learn on the job. Technology delivers relatable challenges and reinforces them with realistic audio and visual elements to provide more engaging learner experiences.
- Next-gen strategies: While training must be engaging to improve employee performance, it must also compel behavioral change. No single learning strategy can accomplish that. So, a mix of learning strategies, combined with appropriate immersive learning technology, can deliver compelling and engaging training. Learning on the go, shorter, action-focused training, personalized content, learning that’s fun to undertake—these elements can be introduced when combined with technology such as apps, gamified VR learning, and gamified microlearning nuggets.
Combining Training Delivery With Technology-Driven Immersive Learning
- Microlearning + AR/VR/MR/XR: The use of bite-sized content is a great training delivery strategy to produce highly immersive and „sticky“ learning experiences. Microlearning technologies used to support the delivery of such content require small-form-factor devices. They’re therefore ideal for learning based on smartphones and tablets to offer VR, game-based content, or XR learning.
- mLearning + AR/VR/MR/XR: This technology is ideal for anytime, anywhere learning for modern learners. When today’s learners face time constraints, they search for content they can quickly digest, and learning modules they can consume as and when they want to learn. mLearning technologies can integrate learning across multiple learning contexts and devices. It can also facilitate social learning, learning on demand, and community learning, and combines a range of immersive learning technology, such as AR/VR/MR and gamification, to deliver high-impact training.
- Personalized learning journeys + AR/VR/MR/XR: To effectively meet its objectives, learning must be tailored to individual learning needs. A mix of immersive learning technologies can also be deployed to personalize learning to sync with a learner’s needs, time, and schedule. Also, learning plans must ensure that personalized learning paths meet targeted learning outcomes.
- Mobile apps + AR/VR/MR/XR: Mobile apps are a convenient learning delivery format to empower mLearning. They’re ideal to deliver formal training or to be used as supplemental learning resources. Once downloaded to a mobile device, learners can use mobile apps to access the course at their convenience, as and when they wish to learn. Mobile apps create an immersive learning experience by providing the learner with an array of personalization features such as bookmarking, analytics, insights, focused diagnosis, notifications, nudge learning, and so much more!
Key Considerations To Bear In Mind While Leveraging Immersive Learning Technology
- Integrating learner needs: Learner needs-based training will encourage better engagement compared to generic learning content. With that engagement, organizations will realize a host of benefits from their learning programs, including higher employee morale, better workforce performance, and improved productivity, competitiveness, and revenue. By keeping learner needs at the center of learning program design when investing in immersive learning technology, organizations will meet their desired ROI goals—learning programs will deliver targeted financial returns/cost-benefit metrics. But fulfilling learner needs is also a central plank when managing Return On Expectation (ROE)—it helps build a compelling use case to demonstrate to stakeholders the value, both qualitative and quantitative, of learning to the organization.
- Cost: Leveraging immersive learning doesn’t have to be costly. Though Augmented Reality technology is expensive, other cost-effective techniques, such as microlearning, SBL, and gamification should also be evaluated. There may be an initial cost to implement VR/AR/XR technologies; however, the economies of scale for delivering scalable web-based immersive learning across a wide segment of the workforce then become very cost-effective. Immersive technology also makes it less costly to create safe, risk-free practice learning environments. They’re also comparatively less expensive because they do not require high-end equipment to implement—typically, any browser-supported device may be sufficient.
- User experience and user preferences: Consider technologies that deliver the most appropriate immersive experiences for your users. Some hybrid workers, such as boomers, may prefer different experiences (e.g., desktop-based) than others (e.g., Gen Z may gravitate towards app-based learning).
- Compatibility of existing systems with immersive learning technology: Make sure the technology you choose integrates well with your existing learning infrastructure, such as your corporate learning and content management systems. To go about doing so, it’s important to ensure any immersive learning technology you choose complies with industry standards, such as SCORM and xAPI. These standards will ensure your immersive technology, LMS systems, and content are interoperable, portable, support reusability, and most importantly, allow learning access through a wide range of devices. In doing so, you’ll also ensure that your immersive learning content is adaptable to both your current and future learning needs.
- Scalability of your learning programs: This is important, especially in the context of training programs that leverage hardware devices. Also, ask pertinent questions such as, „Can we scale such training while delivering training to a hybrid and distributed workforce?“.
- Assessing the impact of training on business: Only implement technologies that support training that delivers a positive impact on your workforce and business. As discussed earlier, the impact must not only be in terms of value perception of the benefits of immersive training (ROE) but there must also be operational and financial metrics (ROI) to support the implementation of immersive learning technologies.
The use of immersive learning technology helps connect learners seamlessly with a rich array of learning content. It also provides hybrid learners with a holistic learning experience—one that gives them a sense of „presence,“ even though they are not physically present in a learning environment. However, to achieve a positive ROI from immersive learning, it’s important to conduct a detailed Training Needs Assessment (TNA) to identify suitable L&D metrics.
It’s also essential to use appropriate business metrics to evaluate the impact that training will have on business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). When done right, leveraging immersive learning technology offers a path to potentially more cost-effective, scalable, and results-oriented learning delivery, with better payback and higher ROI.
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