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The click-through, good-enough training, ubiquitous in many organizations, is not good enough anymore. A Harvard Business Review article titled “Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development” (L&D) discovered that only 12% of employees applied training from L&D programs to their work. The same article explains that hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually on these training programs that offer little meaningful results. With honest reflection from those within leadership, management, public safety, emergency response, and threat mitigation positions would admit most of the training has not been working. The next generation of training is already here, and there is significant evidence that it will change training standards across industries.
More important than cost savings alone, virtual reality training effectively improves skills and knowledge when conducting safety-focused training.
Aligning Adult Learning and Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology are often used in the social media metaverse, a virtual world shared by many users. However, early adopters are discovering the benefits of VR/AR for training purposes. VR training allows individuals to practice and develop skills to respond to real-life situations in a simulated, safe environment. One major advantage of VR training is the time it saves. Traditional training methods can be time-consuming, requiring people to travel to a training location and spend hours in a classroom. VR training, on the other hand, can be done from anywhere at any time and typically takes less overall training time. This time savings leads to cost savings, as it reduces the need for travel expenses and lost productivity due to time away from work.
More important than cost savings alone, VR training effectively improves skills and knowledge when conducting safety-focused training. Research highlighting the benefits of VR training was published in an article by Education Sciences in 2021, “Establishment of Virtual-Reality Based Safety Education and Training Systems for Safety Engagement.” The researcher concluded, “from a cognitive perspective, VR-based safety education can increase learning outcomes because it is more advantageous for acquiring knowledge.” These findings on the benefits of VR training are echoed across cultures, economies, and industries.
In an ever-changing world, the ability to uptake knowledge faster will be one of the keys to providing meaningful threat mitigation, which is accomplished by using the Adult Learning Theory developed by Malcolm Knowles. He emphasizes the importance of self-realization and experiential learning in adult-focused education. The theory suggests that adults are more motivated to learn when they see the relevance and value of the material to their own lives. This concept of self-realization should intuitively resonate with educators, leaders, and public safety alike.
Combining the benefits of VR training with the Adult Learning Theory training principles can be conducted with the trainee’s internal motivation at the core. VR training is, by nature, hands-on and interactive, which creates an ideal environment for adults to practice and apply their skills while allowing them to take an active role in their own learning. VR training can effectively engage and motivate adult learners by allowing learners to self-direct their learning and connect to their own experiences. VR technological advances have placed the tools necessary to develop, deploy, and engage meaningful training at a previously unseen scale.
Closing Staffing and Liability Gaps
The conversation becomes even clearer when analyzing the need for next-generation training from a staffing and business perspective. Finding qualified candidates for even entry-level positions has been a relatively constant challenge. When candidates are willing to do good work, the balancing act of investing in training versus retaining current employees remains omnipresent within an organization. On the one hand, there is concern about pouring money into training an employee that will leave. On the other hand, a valid concern of not training employees and risking significant ramifications is present.
As with active shooter/threat training, most organizations cannot or will not invest a few hundred dollars for an in-person quality course, historically leaving these same organizations with a good enough training option. With the advent of VR training, however, organizations can now provide faster and better training at a fraction of the price compared to traditional in-person training courses. These courses can also be perfectly repeatable, like a video game being played countless times after development.
Tram/Subway Scenario Scene (Source: Johnson, 2022).
Lastly, liability is an ongoing concern. In the worst-case scenario of an active threat attack, an organization’s training can be audited to ensure it was conducted and that the team members learned the material enough to claim the organization acted reasonably to mitigate the recognizable hazard. Advancements in VR make it possible to prove what someone learned in training. With the continuing development of VR immersive environments and leveraging nearly endless data points to capture (e.g., eye movement, facial expression, observational focus, reaction time, etc.), organizations can determine what training worked and, by contrast, which fell short of the training objectives. With these systems in place, teams can respond to legal or Freedom of Information requests with confidence in their training standards.
It is easy for anyone to get lost in the noise of the news cycles and forget the human element behind what the public safety and emergency response community is committed to protecting. The author was reminded of this concept while conducting an interview regarding VR in Tampa, Florida, with Channel 8 WFLA. The host, Gayle Guyardo, recounted how her two daughters were recently in an active shooter lockdown situation at their school. As Guyardo described the terrifying feelings from her daughters’ frantic text messages and the ensuing rush of parents approaching the school, one could not help but see why the profession of protecting others is so critical. Thankfully for Guyardo and her family, this incident was resolved without anyone getting hurt. However, leaders and practitioners must look beyond the status quo to seek meaningful training solutions for the people who count on them. These training opportunities expand well beyond active shooter/threat training, including emergency management, medical response, search and rescue, “red teaming” exercises, and more. VR technology is already reshaping the training landscape, and it is time to lean into the next generation of training.