Virtual Reality in Online Education

by Nicola Fogli |

 

 

During the last years technology is advancing like never before and it is changing our habits in everyday life. However, nowadays we are experiencing also new types of jobs and the old ones are developing new skills to be part of the future that is coming. In this new and futuristic scenario human resource will play a central role, because it shapes the work force of tomorrow and it’s also the main reason of success for a company. This is the reason why human resource is continually integrating old manners with the new tools that technology provides. An example of this new tendency is e-learning and the impact that internet has on our personal development, but this approach is already old and mature. A new exiting technology, the virtual reality, is taking more and more space in every field (from gaming to working environment). In this essay I would like to analyse the pros of virtual reality and how it could be a solution for the negative aspects of  e-learning.

 

Personal development and new technologies

Human resource is a big collector of concepts and manners, thus I will focus only on personal development and its relation with new technologies. This paragraph will concern e-learning and why it can be a resource.

The aim of personal development is to shape and create the perfect worker for the company and there are different situations in which a company can train its employers. Moreover, every situation incorporates different methods, in this case e-learning is part of the training “off the job”, and this represents one of his main advantages. In fact the presence of teachers is not necessary and every “lesson” can be followed in every place at every hour without time limits. Internet was the instrument of this new way of teaching, that can have two different forms: We can talk about computer-based and web-based. Both can be seen together and their aim is the same: teaching without being physically present. This new form of training has different advantages such as: independence from time and place, self-studying, standard contents and less costs. In the article “The influence of technology on the future of human resource management” by Dianna L. Stonne, the author shows how researches have different points of view about e-learning. For instance Hiltz and Wellman argue that web-based instruction offers increased customization, flexibility and leaner control. On the other hand, Richardson and Swan maintain that it isolates trainees from each other, reducing communication and, as a consequence, it decreases trainee satisfaction. L. Stonne suggests a blended learning, that is a mix between e-learning and face-to-face training. This solution is not convenient for a company that seeks to be efficient and at the same time projected to the future. The reasons for that are the coordination of different learning channels and the difficulty to update teaching materials.

 

Virtual reality is the new frontier for personal development

The conclusion of the previous paragraph is an open end and this underlines the current situation in personal development, where we can find a technology with high potential like VR and old teaching methods that are hard to change and no one wants to decide which between the two of them is better. Virtual Reality is a new frontier because it is something new and from a certain point of view also scaring. I would like to do a brief introduction to make the comparison between the actual e-learning and the future one clearer. Virtual reality creates a parallel and realistic world accessible for the user with big VR visors. The environment around the user is extremely realistic, because he is completely isolated from the real world and so he can have a 360° experience (hearing, sight and even touch are involved). This aspect shows the deep difference between actual e-learning methods, that L. Stonne describes “still limited because they are less likely to engage trainees in the learning process and do not always give them opportunities for interpersonal interaction, practice, or feedback” and the new ones. This is the main reason why e-learning can’t be effective, the trainee can’t have a feedback or interaction while VR represents the perfect solution for that negative aspect.

Here comes a list of all benefits of VR training: 1. training on potentially dangerous equipment will be made risk-free, 2. accidents can happen with no consequence in a VR environment, 3. active, not passive immersive experience gets the trainee completely involved, 4. realistic scenarios, that create real-life situations, 5. the update of the contents and materials can be done remotely, this reduces costs for the company, 6. VR simplifies complex situations that workers have to manage (we can think about engineers, doctors and so on), 7. VR experience can be really enjoyable, meaning that it involves higher levels of engagement and effort.

In support of these positive aspects, Stonne gives us evidences of researches on virtual simulations, that VR effectively improves training outcomes in fields such as medicine (Larsen, Oestergaard, Ottesen, & Sørensen, 2012), oil exploration (Brasil et al., 2011) and the military (Bowman & McMahan, 2007).

 

Comparison between E-learning and Virtual Reality

Now we have all the elements to make a real comparison between these two methods and see what the future could be like. E-learning as we know it today has lots of limits and even if it was a resource in the past, now the results show that workers prefer face to face training and interpersonal relations are central elements when it comes to personal development. Moreover, it has limits in teaching because web-based and computer-based methods show contents and material in 2D, so the trainee can’t have a full experience and it needs a parallel course to apply the knowledge. It seems to be cost-saving but actually researches have shown that e-training alone is not effective but it has to be mixed with face-to-face training and this causes more costs for the company and less efficiency. On the other hand, Virtual Reality offers an all new technology that overcomes all negative aspects of elearning, because it allows trainees to have feedback and relations in a parallel world. Workers can learn and practice at the same time. This means more engagement and more effectiveness. Another important aspect is the mobility. VR visors can be moved wherever the company wants to develop its personal, so companies don’t have to worry about spending a huge amount of money to prepare updating courses. Second Life is an example of the VR’s potentiality: it is an online portal where everyone can creates a virtual world and users (avatars) can explore it. Usually hi-tech companies use this solution to improve learning outcomes.

In the article “Advances in Developing Human Resources”, the author deals with webbing in and gamification. These are two important concepts that resume the essence of virtual reality and why it represents an important resource for personal development.

Webbing in means that new digital items created in the virtual world become part of the virtual world organisation, so it is a dynamic world always ready to be changed and influenced by new elements. Gamification underlines the fun aspect of virtual reality, by working like a video-game, because the user can interact with the parallel world and make decisions that have an immediate result. This aspect is extremely important, because through virtual world and second life the trainee or worker can challenge his knowledge in a “real world” and improve decision making.

 

Actual applications of Virtual Reality in personal development

Virtual Reality is a new technology and advances in wearable technology are necessary to make it easier to use it and less costly than current methods. Nevertheless, there are successful examples of its application. I have found out three companies that adopted this new way of training and now they are benefiting of it. In 2015 Bosch started an interesting program called “Bosch’s mobile VR tour”. The company created a VR training workshop to help shops service vehicles equipped with a special engine. Moreover, it was a mobile tour because the workshops took place in two trucks that visited 40 US cities. The result of this experience was extremely successful, in that shops gained new skills and Bosch saved lots of money exploiting the convenient sides of virtual reality. Boeing is another important supporter of this technology and it launched the VR jet repairs training. It consists in teaching mechanics to repair jets using VR visors, the mechanics can have a 360° view of the engine and this allows reparation more quickly than ever before. Then, also Caterpillar focused its attention on vehicle maintenance and repair. The company launched augmented reality goggles to guide technicians through vehicles inspections and repairs.

There are also other successful examples in medicine: doctors and students can follow surgery operations using VR visors, so they can learn faster how to work but at the same time they can experience pressure and stress because of the strong engagement of virtual reality.

 

Conclusion

Virtual Reality is the new frontier of human resource and it is going to change completely our way of thinking about teaching and training. It represents the future and a revolution in personal development. It is the solution for problems that were impossible to solve in the past but now companies have the possibility to shape and create the perfect worker. E-learning is going to disappear and VR will take its place, because in a unique item we have all the necessary for a perfect training experience. Workers will be happier, more satisfied and more conscious about their skills. Successful researches and applications support this new technology, however advances are still necessary. Finally, I think that more and more companies will adopt virtual reality in the future and it will become a central resource for their competitiveness. The future is coming and virtual reality is something that will change our world.

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