The Pros & Cons of Virtual Reality in L&D
Confucius once said,
When I hear, I forget, when I see, I remember, but when I do, I understand.
In VR, one can not only hear and see but also do, which makes it appear to be an ideal tool for learning. The use of VR as educational technology has increased over the last decade , but it has some limitations and downsides as well.
Advantages of Virtual reality (VR)
1. Experience is the best teacher
Immersive VR experiences are illusions during which users may experience being in another place (place illusion) where the events taking place are real (plausibility illusion).
They even may accept a virtual body, a so-called avatar as their real body (embodiment illusion).
The power of VR lies in the ability to fool the brain into believing that the artificial environment and events in it are real.
In VR, users experience things in context, in person.
Contextual and environmental factors in VR seem to have a significant positive impact on both knowledge-construction activity and when the newly acquired capacities are applied .
2. Cognitive benefits
Although the content and instructional strategy are likely more important than the type of medium, VR- based training may improve attitudes toward learning.
Appropriately designed VR simulations seem to motivate learners to exert more effort to make sense of the material.
Embodied cognition theories also propose that bodily cues and interactions in a virtual environment can improve higher-level cognitive processing, as there is an intimate connection between our motor and visual processes.
Also, emotions may have a considerable effect on decision-making and problem-solving, especially in hazardous situations.
3. Gamification can improve motivation
Gamification offers possibilities in VR to improve both motivation and learning results further.
Through combining training simulations with game-like elements, like scoring, timed activities, and rewards, trainees may compete with each other inside the VR environment and become more engaged in their learning .
4. Cost-effectiveness and scalability
Building a physical simulator can be expensive, and the capacity is limited. Training in VR does not require being physically present on location, which helps to save on unnecessary costs as well as create more sustainable traveling policies.
Virtual reality training is scalable to the entire workforce , and learners can safely repeat the training situation as many times as needed to feel prepared and confident.
It is also possible in VR to learn safely through mistakes, which might be dangerous or even impossible in the real world .
For example, physical simulators for training nuclear power plant operators cost millions of euros and are often fully booked. A virtual replica of the same environment costs only a fraction and implementation of any changes is easy.
At the Fortum nuclear plant in Loviisa, 90% of personnel have done training in the world's first fully dynamic and interactive virtual reality nuclear plant control room .
5. Real-time feedback and detailed analysis
One important thing in training is evaluating the learning results.
The build-in tracking of most VR systems provides precise data about trainees’ actions during the training scenario, making it possible to give detailed real-time feedback and instructions to the learners .
More important, it is possible to review learner performance and activities in a realistic situation with unmatched precision, as well as to save data for later analysis or comparison.
6. Safe alternative: Controlled exposure to stressful environments
It is possible to evoke an emotional state in immerse VR similar to a real scenario, providing a high level of psychological presence so that learners have an opportunity to learn to handle their emotions.
In VR, it is possible to learn the skills required to act in hazardous situations via realistic scenarios, whereas training would be expensive, dangerous, or impossible in real life .
Disadvantages of Virtual reality (VR)
1. Illusions can be easily broken
The illusions are both the strength and the weak point of the technology. While hard to create, the illusions are easily broken. Users are not just observers in VR but they also create it.
However, we are not designed for VR – quite the opposite; evolution has made the human brain good at noticing unusual things. In VR, our sensory input may not be entirely consistent with all of our other life experiences, which may distract some users.
2. Conflict of the senses
Furthermore, modern VR implementations do not cover all the human senses.
The virtual reality experience may consist of artificial visual, aural, sometimes even haptic sensations, but, for example, the sensations of equilibrium and proprioception remain unaffected, causing conflicting sensory stimulus.
Not even the visual illusion is perfect. Users may see pixels instead of an image. Lenses can cause optical distortions, or there might be noticeable latency or some other glitches.
However, done right, VR the users may become unaware of the flaws in the VR system. Sometimes the imperfections cause increased fatigue or headaches as the brain does more work interpreting the unusual stimuli.
Unfortunately, some users may get VR sickness and suffer symptoms such as dizziness and nausea .
3. Behavior transformations
While VR can cause straightforward effects such as nausea for some users, the artificial sensory stimuli may also have other, less obvious effects on users.
For example, users tend to get lost in VR more easily than usual. The brain is unable to construct an accurate mental map of the environment from conflicting or imperfect sensations, leading to a diminished sense of direction.
Artificial stimuli may also have an undesired or unexpected effect on users’ behavior.
For example, the limited display resolution of the virtual reality headset can make the users lean forward in order to see small details they would in real conditions see without difficulties.
The user's actions during VR training may slightly differ from the real-life situation, leading users to learn poor practices.
4. Ergonomic complexity
All in all, in VR, the ergonomics is a rather complicated issue.
Eyeglasses may pose problems with the HMD (head-mounted display) for some users, and prolonged use may cause eye strain and physical fatigue for most.
The virtual environment does not offer any tangible support; even though the virtual objects are weightless, users may get tired when moving in VR because of their body weight and the weight of VR devices.
VR is a novel technology and is often applied for the first time for a specific purpose, so understanding how it works and what its limitations are may be insufficient.
Developing new suitable training scenarios may be challenging, especially for small businesses.
Producing learning materials for virtual reality training requires new technologies and specialized knowledge that may not be readily available, or is too expensive.
VR headsets have become more affordable but still cost so much that most consumers have had minimal interaction with VR.
Also, consumer VR hardware’s comfort and looks may not yet attract a broad audience.
Without the general public having VR experiences in daily life, the applicable use cases of VR technology in their work lives are hard to find.
Furthermore, when users are unfamiliar with the technology, they may require help using it, which may complicate organizing a training or increase the costs.
6. Hygiene may become a problem when using shared VR devices
One practical issue is that the VR head-mounted display covers a large part of the users' faces and it needs to be close to the eyes and nose.
Inside the HMD can be quite warm, making the user sweat, especially when moving around. Hygiene may, therefore, become a problem, especially when using shared VR devices.
It is crucial to keep HMDs and hand controller devices clean to prevent infections among users .
Conclusion - Deeper understanding is required
Using immersive VR in training may produce great results. Success is not automatic, though.
First, it is crucial to understand that learning in VR differs from learning using conventional media in many ways and to recognize those differences and the consequences.
Virtual reality training is about active learning and the memorization of personal experiences. The head-mounted displays allow users to experience being immersed in a simulated task environment instead of real life.
Theoretical training happens from practical experience and requires a new kind of educational content. Research shows that the "realistic surroundings" and "basic interaction" design elements can be seen as the primary design requirements for educational VR applications.
However, the best practices related to education-oriented VR are still forming and mostly are not yet established. Currently, the best practices are to be derived from the existing VR applications having the best learning outcomes.
Also, the learning outcome of VR training should be measured differently. For example, using realistic measures aimed at assessing deep understanding and performance may indicate the benefits of learning in VR, while conducting only a multiple-choice retention test reveals no benefits for VR training compared to learning with conventional media.
The use of VR has a broader and more profound impact on the user than traditional media, causing ethical complexities related to the physiological, cognitive, behavioral, and social dynamics effects.
Utilizing VR in the workforce development requires a deep understanding of all the aspects of technology and related human factors, but the rewards are plenty.
From better learning results to improved motivation to learn and reduced costs to larger scalability, there are reasons that VR training may become the learning choice of the future.
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