Why Extended Reality (xR) is Poised to Disrupt Corporate Learning and Development – Part I: The Problem

(Note: This is the first of a four-party series on the Learning Science of xR in Corporate Learning.)

Executive Summary

Key Stakeholders: Chief Learning Officers, Chief Human Resource Officers, Chief People Officer, Chief Talent Officer, Learning & Development Directors and Managers, Corporate Trainers, Content and Learning Product Managers, Hiring Directors, Hiring Managers, Human Resource Directors, Human Resource Managers.

Why It Matters: A major goal of corporate Learning and Development (L&D) is to build scalable tools that facilitate hard and behavioral (soft and technical) skills mastery. Mastery is most effectively achieved through experiential learning and repetition that engages multiple learning systems in the brain in synchrony and facilitates the development of situational awareness.

Top Takeaway: Compared to traditional learning tools, extended reality (xR) technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, speed the development of mastery and expertise through repeated experiential learning that broadly engages multiple learning systems in the brain in synchrony and is scalable.


“Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information” – Albert Einstein

This is a powerful quote from Albert Einstein and is supported by learning science—the marriage of psychology and brain science. As I elaborate below, experiential learning is effective because it engages multiple learning systems in the brain in synchrony.

Taken a step further, if one can obtain multiple related, but distinct experiences, then one can begin to develop mastery, expertise, and broad-based situational awareness. It is one thing to have knowledge and behavioral skills, but it is another to be able to apply that knowledge and behavior under time or social pressure, when you are well or poorly rested, or with a team that is new or familiar to you.

When attempting to master hard skills, such as the ability to identify the signs of harassment in the workplace, it is important to experience multiples signs of harassment and from different points of view such as from that of the harasser, the target of the harassment, or a bystander.

When attempting to master people skills, such as the verbal and non-verbal communication skills needed to be an effective leader, it is important to gain experience with multiple verbal and non-verbal skills and from different points of view such as from that of the manager or employee, an interview or performance review setting, or a large contentious team meeting. When attempting to master a technical skill, such as the ability to maintain and run a large piece of equipment, it is important to gain experience with multiple aspects of the equipment and under different scenarios such as routine maintenance, emergency maintenance under time pressure, or a situation in which you are training or supervising a new technician. In each of these examples, multiple related, but distinct experiences provide not only the opportunity for learning, but also for developing situational awareness; a hallmark of mastery and expertise.

The need for experience-based learning and repetition to build mastery and expertise provides the foundational principles for the effectiveness of extended reality (xR) technologies in Learning and Development (L&D) in general, and corporate L&D in particular. xR technologies include virtual reality (VR) in which the learner is immersed in a completely new virtual environment and augmented reality (AR) in which the learner is in a combined real and virtual environment where digital information is overlaid onto the learner’s field of view. These technologies are grounded in experience-based learning and offer repeatable, broad-based practice that builds situational awareness and is scalable.

This report focuses on a learning science evaluation of the potential for xR technologies to disrupt corporate L&D. xR technologies have the potential to improve the quality and quantity of training, to speed learning and enhance retention in all aspects of corporate learning. This follows because xR technologies broadly engage multiple learning systems in the brain in synchrony, especially experiential learning systems, and allow the training to repeated many times to enhance situational awareness and facilitate the development of mastery and expertise.

The Importance of Training in the Corporate Sector

The pace of change in the corporate sector is such that high-quality training is a necessity. Employees must constantly obtain new hard skills, whether learning rules and regulations in the workplace, definitions of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, or how to interpret data science applications. Employees must continually acquire and refine their people (aka soft) skills to be more effective communicators, collaborators and leaders. Whether it is growing concerns with automation, the extensive data suggesting that diversity increased revenue and workplace harmony, the #metoo movement, or more likely the combination of all three, employees and management must acknowledge the need for effective people skills training in organizations large and small.

Employees are constantly gaining new behavioral and technical skills such as learning new digital technologies, upskilling on some existing piece of software, or learning to use and maintain a piece of equipment. With each of these classes of skills–hard, people, and technical–employees must not only become proficient, but the goal is to obtain mastery and expertise. Mastery and expertise lead to situational awareness and the ability to perform effectively under any condition, whether routine or non-routine involving stress, pressure or anxiety, and the ability to anticipate the future. Whereas one can have a catalog of facts, and a repertoire of behaviors, in the end, one has to extract the appropriate information and engage the appropriate behavior in each distinct situation. Experience and repetition drive hard skills, people skills, and technical skills for situational awareness.

In Part 2, we’ll explore the brain science in greater detail and go over four distinct learning systems that affect learning.

If you enjoyed this blog, please share it on your social networks! And if you would like to learn more about how to use this information to support your corporate learning efforts, please email us at research@amalgaminsights.com to speak with me.

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