Science

Jeremy Bailenson on what the flight simulator and the football field have to do with corporate training

Strivr’s co-founder Jeremy Bailenson is also Founding Director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, where he’s been leading research on the psychology of Virtual Reality for 20 years. Jeremy is particularly interested in how virtual experiences lead to changes in perceptions of self and others. His lab builds and studies systems that allow people to meet in virtual space, and explores the changes in the nature of social interaction.

Read on for an interview with Jeremy, where we asked for his insights into why and how immersive experiences in VR are changing the way companies of all types prepare workers for their jobs.

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What was the first concrete application of Virtual Reality to learning? 

It probably started with the flight simulator. It made sense to use VR to train pilots, because they  need to be able to learn from mistakes and get feedback in order to get better at their jobs. But they can’t afford to make mistakes when they’re actually flying a plane, so Virtual Reality was the next best thing. It gave them the experience of flying planes, but took the risk away.

A lot of the research we’ve done at the lab is about how you can train people to get better at physical tasks, mental tasks, spatial tasks and even specific scientific principles with Virtual Reality. An overwhelming amount of research shows that VR as a medium is extremely powerful for training people how to get better at things. Virtual Reality is an epic win for training scenarios that involve doing something.

Why does Virtual Reality work so well for teaching behavior-oriented skills?

Unlike learning from a book, video or lecture, in the immersive environment that VR provides, you learn firsthand where to direct your attention, what consequences your actions will have and even how to talk to another person. 

These aren’t just ideas; they’re in-body experiences. You learn via repetition in order to build “muscle memory.” That’s the domain in which research shows that Virtual Reality is substantially better than other teaching mediums.

That level of body cognition leverages major differences in performance. When you walk toward someone in a VR environment, for example, that action activates neural pathways. The same thing happens when you “throw” a ball or “move” your arms back and forth on a simulated factory line. These kinesthetic motions cause an activation in the brain.

What about the repetition aspect of Immersive Learning?

Repetition is key to learning. With VR modules, you can practice the same skills over and over again to actively change neural connections. The work we’ve done in the lab has shown that repetition leveraging body movement causes changes in learning that endure over time.

Outside of the lab, what sort of results have you been able to measure?

This is an area that’s changed dramatically since Fortune 500 companies began implementing VR training. In the history of VR and the academics of studying the brain, we’ve never had the data set that Strivr has. Now, we have literally millions of use cases of people using Virtual Reality.

For the first time in history, we’re able to build a complex model where we can basically predict how you’re going to do in your job from the way you train.

Strivr’s roots are in football training, and the way we measure employee engagement now is not unlike how coaches watch players train. We can watch how individuals train for their jobs at scale, whether those jobs are as retail associate at Walmart, customer service at Verizon or claims adjuster at Nationwide.

We can use this observation to understand what’s working in learning in general as well as for each unique environment. We can see which employees are excelling in the training and which need an extra boost. The metrics we gain back from VR headsets give us a way to truly understand the effects of learning down to the individual.

For all of these reasons, I truly believe VR is going to change the way we train for just about every job

About the Author

Jeremy Bailenson

Co-Founder Strivr

As the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and co-founder of Strivr, Jeremy is one of the world’s leading experts in VR. His findings have been published in over 100 academic papers, and he has authored books including Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do. Jeremy is passionate about the impact immersive technology has on human behavior on a global level, and is currently co-chairing the inaugural Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality for the World Economic Forum.

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