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Why Extended Reality (xR) is Poised to Disrupt Corporate Learning and Development – Part III: xR Hard Skills Applications

Note: If you missed Parts I and II of this blog series, catch up and read Part I: The Problem, and Part II: The Brain Science. This is part of a four-blog series exploring the psychology and brain science behind the potential for extended reality tools to disrupt corporate Learning & Development.

xR Applications in Corporate L&D

The key ingredient of xR technology in corporate L&D is the experiential and immersive nature of the technology that provides rich, coordinated contextual cues that lead to a sense of “presence”. You are either in a real-world experience augmented with information (Augmented Reality or AR), or you are transported into a new virtual world (Virtual Reality or VR). In both cases, experiential learning systems are engaged in synchrony with cognitive, behavioral, and emotional learning systems in the brain. I elaborate below.

xR and Hard Skills Learning: Suppose you work in a factory or a research laboratory and you need to learn the steps to take to keep the workplace safe. You could read a workplace safety manual that engages the cognitive skills learning system, or you could read the manual and watch a video that engages the cognitive skills system and to a lesser degree the experiential learning system. Alternatively, you could visit predefined locations in the workplace while wearing augmented reality glasses. At each location, your view of a workplace could be augmented with static text overlays or dynamic video that provides specific information on the safety guidelines or usage of safety tools. In this case, experiential and cognitive learning systems are being engaged in synchrony. You might then be asked to demonstrate your skill with a specific safety tool, with or without text-based prompting and receive real-time feedback. Here the experiential, behavioral and cognitive systems are engaged in synchrony. Place the learner under time pressure and emotional learning systems come on board.

Alternatively, you might don a VR headset and be transported into the middle of a workplace emergency. You might watch trained personnel follow or fail to follow the guidelines within a chaotic situation. In this case, experiential and emotional learning systems are engaged in synchrony. If you supplement this situation with text-based information and incorporate haptics into the VR system while requiring the learner to demonstrate some skill, you add cognitive and behavioral systems to the mix.

Suppose you need to complete sexual harassment training. You could read text-based descriptions of the definitions and watch a video demonstration that would engage the cognitive skills system and to a lesser degree the experiential learning system. Alternatively, you could don a VR headset and be transported into a situation in which you experience harassment first-hand, walk a mile in the shoes of a harasser, or are a bystander, in all cases experiencing the tension and emotion of the situation and receiving information via voiceover or augmented text. The immersive nature of VR engages the experiential learning systems and the tension, as well as multiple points of view (especially being the target of harassment), engages the emotional learning system. The augmented voice-over or text-based knowledge engages the cognitive learning systems, again all in synchrony. This allows the learner to experience situations they could never experience otherwise (e.g., a middle-aged Caucasian male experiencing the harassment that is common for young, African American females).

Finally, suppose you are a new retail employee preparing for Black Friday. You could read some text-based descriptions, watch a video or talk to seasoned co-workers that would engage cognitive and, to lesser degrees, emotional and experiential learning systems. Alternatively, you could put on a VR headset and be transported into the middle of Black Friday at Walmart being nearly trampled by some customers, yelled at by others, and observing a co-worker calmly speak with an unruly customer.

In this retail example, as in the harassment and factory worker examples, the xR training approach simultaneously engages the cognitive, emotional and experiential learning systems in the brain. Because multiple learning systems are engaged and are engaged in synchrony, the xR training approach will lead to faster, stronger brain-based representations of the hard skill that will be retained longer. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that each learning system lays down a memory trace and because they are aligned perfectly in time, these memory traces are interconnected leading to stronger learning and retention. Each of these experiences can be repeated to ensure proficiency and to facilitate the development of expertise and situational awareness in a broad range of settings.

In Part 4, we cover the behavioral skills, applications, and recommendations associated with extended reality for corporate training.

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