From NASA and medical schools, to Walmart, more and more organisations are turning to VR for training, as it’s highly effective and has unique capabilities to build empathy and teach soft skills. These are also vital for the ability to de-escalate situations – a core skill in policing. Robert Murphy, Senior Director of Virtual Reality at Axon details why VR is going to be the next big thing for in-work training.
• Investment in VR training is rising rapidly
• A substantial body of research shows that it works
• It can build empathy
• VR is uniquely suited to teach soft skills
• VR training is cost-effective
• It's future (and Covid-19) compatible
• More about Axon's VR training modules
Investments in VR training is rising rapidly
Although VR is still more associated with gaming, VR training has a long history of training people in fields as diverse as medicine, space travel and the military. Investment in industrial VR applications has long outpaced the development of VR for entertainment. According to the XR Industry Insight, nearly twice as many companies are developing industrial AR (augmented reality) applications than are working on consumer products. A recent survey of IT decision-makers found that half of their companies were involved in developing VR applications. The same report expects worldwide spending on commercial virtual reality solutions to grow to $7.1 billion in 2020, up from $4.5 billion in 2019.
Research shows that it's effective
Murphy says, ‘VR is sometimes seen as a gimmick, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s effectiveness for training has been well documented with a substantial body of research.’ This Price Waterhouse Coopers study, for example, found that ‘Users trained with VR were up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned after training—a 40% improvement over classroom and 35% improvement over e-learn.’ They also found that V-learners were 4 times more focused during training than their e-learning peers and felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners.
There are now also the first meta-studies emerging, like this one on VR surgical simulators, confirming the effectiveness of using VR in professional training.
These findings also hold up in real life: Walmart uses VR headsets to teach its employees how to operate its customer service facility, which has reduced the training time from eight hours to 15 minutes, with no drop in efficacy.
It can build empathy
The more technology and artificial intelligence advance, the more we seem to tune into what makes us human. As a society, we increasingly realise the importance of soft skills, and the role empathy plays in pro-social behaviour. Now, neuroscientists have found that empathy is one of our core neurobiological competencies. And, what's more, this study proves that it's not fixed, but mutable and can be taught and enhanced.
Murphy says, 'Empathy is an important component of policing. We now understand a lot more about the positive effect building empathy has, especially when it comes to community engagement and relations. With homelessness and mental health conditions are on the rise, officers need to understand what a community is going through and VR is the perfect tool for it.'
This gives officers a deeper insight and better understanding of what kind of response is most likely to de-escalate the situation when faced with somebody who is behaving irrationally.
VR is uniquely suited to teach soft skills
'In policing today, there is a big emphasis on better communication,' says Murphy. ‘VR is a safe space to try out different responses and see how these affect the outcome, without actual negative consequences.'
You can also train how to respond, while being subjected to an intense sensory experience (rather than in an artificial training environment) developing soft skills through repetition. 'When the fight or flight mechanism kicks in,' says Murphy, 'you are not going to remember what you learnt on paper, so the right response needs to be drilled with realistic stressors until it becomes second nature.'
It's cost effective
'It's limitless', says Murphy. 'With VR, you can put somebody on a bridge, or a rooftop, or outside somebody's home who is having a psychotic episode, so no expensive training setups are needed. In particular, police training traditionally involves role-play, often in scenarios that need various actors as well as an elaborate set up to be convincing.’
After the initial purchase, VR goggles are, of course, a lot more cost-effective than role play or classroom training, as they can be used over and over again with no additional cost. VR training also often only takes a fraction of the time, meaning fewer working hours are lost.
It's future (and covid) compatible
It's, of course, safe while there is a threat of Covid-19, but also has great potential for future applications. The pandemic has fast-tracked virtual developments and increased their acceptance, as employees and employers look for greater flexibility.
There is also huge potential in this technology, and companies are looking into developing 3-dimensional training environments, where people can interact virtually.
Axon VR training offers
Recognising the huge advantage of VR training for the police, Axon is currently offering three modules: Schizophrenia, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Suicidal Ideation, all incorporating the latest insights into these conditions.
Axon is releasing more modules: Hard of Hearing, Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and Active Bystander. Murphy says, 'People who are hard of hearing can appear disobedient, and this module trains police officers in the subtle signs that show the difference. The PTSI module teaches police officers to spot the signs in themselves, members of the community as well as colleagues as well as advice on how to address it. Active Bystander, is a module on peer intervention, which teaches officers what they can do if they recognise that a colleague is heading down an unethical path. How do you step in at an appropriate time and prevent unnecessary harm?'
How are the VR training modules received? Murphy says, 'We had a lot of interest. We find young officers, who have grown up with technology are very receptive to these solutions. But experienced officers also find them useful, in particular, as there are a lot of new insights about mental health conditions and a better understanding of how best to address them.
‘We work with eminent experts in this field and distilling the research into immersive 10-minute training modules can be a real challenge. We take our inspiration from video games, cinematic experiences, virtual experiences, first-person view documentaries and 360˚ video. We're also looking to take VR training a step further, with many more ideas and modules in development. One of the exciting things is that what you can do in VR is only limited by your imagination.'