Founder at Pixaera.com, transforming learning standards at scale.
Imagine this: You’re playing a favorite video game, and you’re immersed in the story, the graphics, the soundtrack and the realness of the experience. Time passes and the memories you’ve created are as clear and memorable as those in your real life. The voice in your head tells you, “I’ll just finish up this mission,” or “One more turn and then bed.”
If this strikes a chord with you, then you’re part of the 40% of the world’s population that plays video games. That number of gamers is growing 5.6% each year. There’s certainly disagreement on the value of time spent gaming. As with most new technologies, I believe the positives outweigh the negatives and that gaming can actually be harnessed to improve society.
I grew up playing video games. In fact, it was hard to tear me away from my computer (and World of Warcraft). As I grew in my professional life, I quickly realized that many of the lessons I learned from gaming — like how to learn by doing, how to solve problems, how to work as a team and how to think strategically — could and should be applied. I also learned that online games have the power to transform learning and memory retention.
When I put together the concepts I learned from gaming and applied them to retention techniques, the impact of immersive virtual reality or PC-based training became my focus — specifically in the area of workplace safety, where people can die if life-saving rules aren’t remembered and adhered to.
I believe businesses have an opportunity to build a future for employee education that includes the effective elements from video games. Video games provide an effective way to impart knowledge when we examine the data on what supports long-term retention and understanding.
Why is VR so effective for retaining information?
The answer is a 2,500-year-old technique known as “the memory palace.” This technique, often used by those competing in memory championships, involves associating objects with specific locations or positions in the form of mental imagery. Memory expert Dr. Anthony Metivier teaches this method, in which participants tie these objects into a compelling story that becomes a useful tool for memorization and retention.
Let’s dive deeper into how VR can help you use this technique.
• The power of 3D spaces
The definition of virtual reality, according to computer scientist Steven M. LaValle, is “inducing targeted behavior in an organism by using artificial sensory stimulation, while the organism has little or no awareness of the interference.” Essentially, this means replicating the way the brain receives information in the real world so accurately that the subconscious can’t tell the difference.
Well-built simulations use total 3D realism in visuals and sound. Feeding the brain relatable and realistic inputs that trigger subconscious reactions that cause users to take the situation seriously. Looking at data from my company’s trainees, we’ve found that very realistic art and 3D sound do impact retention and understanding. Researchers from the University of Maryland also have found that VR immersion aids recall.
• Unusual events
The brain tends to latch on to the extraordinary things that happen in our lives, and VR gives us the freedom to create these unique and rare moments for specific purposes. For example, in safety training simulations, we use a combination of distraction and danger that results in a serious injury or death. This unique experience can be far more memorable than the written word or even a video could ever be.
• Engaging stories
Stories can be powerful. According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, people are 22 times more likely to remember information that’s in the form of a story. And neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that we tend to better understand and remember character-driven stories that include emotional content.
In a simulation, you’re typically part of the story. And that’s huge. You’re invested in it. In my experience, when you have agency — and when your actions directly affect the outcome — your understanding of what’s happening and why, as well as retention of any lessons learned, increases exponentially.
Creating Engaging VR Training Programs
You might find it difficult or intimidating to start a VR initiative. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
• Start small: You don’t need to write a massive check for a new VR project on day one. The important thing is just to get started. Experiment and gather feedback and reactions from your team. Buy a few VR headsets, get a relevant, affordable (and off-the-shelf) VR training experience and start learning by trial and error.
• Be open to ideas and feedback: Once you start exploring VR, you may see an explosion of ideas rolling in from different departments. Each sector of your business can leverage VR training in a unique way. Collect these ideas and start to understand the framework of your employees’ needs.
• Don’t get caught up in bespoke products: There’s a great chance that an existing VR training product will solve your company’s early needs. Off-the-shelf products have typically been vetted and tried by thousands of people — this can save you time and money that would otherwise be spent on building a highly customized product. Skip the extra maintenance and overhead of a built-from-scratch product by leveraging an existing solution.
VR is an innovative and engaging tool that’s already transforming learning, and we’re just scratching the surface of its potential. It’s not difficult to get started. By doing so, you can empower your employees with a new learning experience and lay the groundwork for your company’s digital future. Because who doesn’t want to play some video games at work, right?