Not Your Parents’ Training:
Immersive Tech Goes Prime Time
Phil Simon 

For years, the hype over AR and VR has been deafening. Over the past few years, however, we’ve made massive strides in immersive technologies. In this excerpt from my new book The Nine: The Tectonic Forces Reshaping the Workplace, In this article, I’ll describe how two companies have crossed the rubicon. That is, they have already hopped on the VR/AR train.

Walmart Embraces High-Tech Employee Training

In 2017, Walmart began using Oculus Rift VR headsets in its training centers, dubbed Walmart Academies. Thanks to VR, the company has gained new insights into employee skills. It has used the technology to deliver training to employees in innovative ways. What’s more, the results have been encouraging. Walmart has seen improvements in employee test scores from VR-based training sessions.

In the words of Andy Trainor, the company’s vice president of learning:

When we used the Oculus Rift VR headset in the classroom, we noticed an increase in test scores between 5 percent and 10 percent. We are starting to replace some global learning management system modules that can take 30 to 45 minutes and transitioning this to a three- to five-minute module in the virtual reality environment.

Obviously, you don’t have the opportunity to train after hours, and you don’t want to disrupt your customers on the floor. Virtual reality allows you to artificially create safe scenarios that you can’t recreate on the sales floor.

Walmart executives have found that VR works especially well when rolling out new technology and processes. UPS and Fidelity have also successfully incorporated VR into existing training programs.

Accenture Reimagines Meetings, Collaboration, and Onboarding

Accenture is an IT consulting outfit employing more than 700,000 people. Its advisory services include network security, cloud computing, and change management. Why not make a few bucks helping others make sense of the mysterious metaverse?

But how can Accenture advisors justify their steep rates here if their company hasn’t walked the talk?

I’d be gobsmacked if Accenture bigwigs weren’t asking themselves that question in the weeks preceding March 2022. In the middle of that month, the company published a new page on its website promoting its metaverse offerings. (Thank you, Internet Archive.)

At the same time (give or take), the company detailed its internal efforts to fuse the physical and digital worlds:

Accenture’s enterprise metaverse, known as the Nth floor, refers to the virtual environments we have created to bring Accenture people together to meet, collaborate, and learn. Whether hosting meetings or socializing, the metaverse is a versatile, scalable solution for bringing a geographically distributed workforce together.

In addition, Accenture has created digital twins of many of its physical offices, from Bangalore in India to Madrid in Spain and San Francisco in the United States, to provide familiar environments for its people to meet, collaborate, and network.

Accenture is eating its own dog food, in the parlance of Silicon Valley. The company reported that 150,000 new hires worked from its metaverse on their first day. Thousands more have attended company events and training sessions in it.

To help usher in this era and promote the company’s offerings, some Accenture employees are wisely incorporating the Nth floor into their social media presences.

Expect more organizations to follow the leads of Accenture and Walmart, especially regarding employee training.

The VR and AR Floodgates Will Open

Jeremy Bailenson is a professor of communication at Stanford University and the founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab. As he writes in his 2018 book Experience on Demand:

For me the most exciting aspect of VR instruction is its potential to democratize learning and training. To be sure, it won’t be as easy as uploading a kung fu program in a few seconds, like Neo does in The Matrix. Learning expert skills takes dedication and focus and lots and lots of practice. But it does mean that eventually everyone will have access to resources that, should they be willing to put in the work, can put them on the path to expert performance.

In interviews, Bailenson has gushed about the rapid progress that immersive technologies have made in the past few years. With respect to training, he sees strong parallels between online courses and VR.

It’s no biggie that we can take college courses online or buy them piecemeal on MasterClass, Teachable, Thinkific, and other marketplaces. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll say the same about immersive technologies, such as VR and AR, especially as tech companies improve their devices, add new features, and reduce prices.

Simon Says: Immersive Technologies Have Arrived In Earnest

Bottom line: Immersive technologies have moved from theory to practice. Expect widespread adoption in a number of disciplines, especially as companies embrace hybrid work.

Phil Simon is a sought-after speaker and recognized authority on technology, collaboration, and the future of work. He advises companies on how to use technology. His previous books include the award winners Reimagining Collaboration, Message Not Received, and The Age of the Platform. He is also the author of Zoom for Dummies® and Slack for Dummies®.
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