L&D

Immersive Learning: What is it and why does it work?

Immersive Learning has taken the L&D and HR world by storm. Even with the significant changes to how our world works, Immersive Learning remains a cornerstone of corporate learning today and a foundation for where things are headed. Founded in behavioral and cognitive science, Immersive Learning provides a memorable tool that accelerates employees’ proficiency in their roles.

With such impact, it’s important to understand what this emerging category of training is and why it works so well in an enterprise environment.

What is Immersive Learning?

Immersive Learning is an experiential training methodology that uses Virtual Reality (VR) to simulate real-world scenarios and train employees in a safe and engaging environment. It combines the sense of presence of VR with advanced learning theory, data science, and spatial design to improve effectiveness and user engagement. 

The approach is based on decades of neuroscience research, which indicated that the brain treats VR experiences just like it would treat real life. In other words, performance in a virtual work environment is a close indicator of performance in a real work environment. 

jeremy-bailenson
Play Icon
Jeremy Bailenson, founder of Stanford’s VR lab, on the science behind VR’s impact on training.

By using VR to immerse employees into “real” work situations, Immersive Learning capitalizes on proven best practices for behavioral learning. This helps improve learner engagement, preparedness, knowledge retention, and confidence. 

When delivered via a cloud-based platform, Immersive Learning provides these benefits at scale across the entire enterprise.

The four pillars of Immersive Learning

Immersive Learning is not just content inside a VR headset. It is the combination of the four components that creates engaging, impactful, and measurable training experiences.

Virtual Reality immerses learners

Magic happens inside the headset. VR takes your brain to another place through complete immersion, which makes it an amazing tool for learning.  When you put on the VR headset, you can look all around you and see and hear a virtual world nearly identical to real life. Mentally and emotionally, you feel like you are in that situation.

Thanks to this complete immersion, you can be “on the job” before you’re ever on the job. You can experience typical day-to-day job occurrences like the checkout counter, or more rare scenarios like a difficult conversation. Using VR, employees can practice and hone both operational and soft skills.

Today, there are two forms of enterprise VR content – 360-degree video and Computer-Generated Images (CGI). With 360-degree video, you can replicate actual environments because you film on-location. Nonetheless, both video and CGI are valuable for teaching situational awareness, operational procedures, safety, customer service, and soft skills

There are several scientific principles that VR is able to maximize unlike any other form of training, including 1:1 or on-the-job training.

  • Embodiment: VR creates a full-body experience that increases learner engagement.
  • Perceptual fidelity: Virtual interactions mimic the physical world to activate the same neural pathways in the brain.
  • On-demand repetition: Learners can train as many times as needed for sufficient learning and proficiency on the job.
  • Real-time feedback: In VR, learners make decisions just like they would in the real world, and those decisions have a direct impact on the experience.
  • Emotional fidelity: VR invokes a sense of presence that creates realistic emotional responses.

Advanced learning theory makes the training stick

Immersive Learning capitalizes on centuries of knowledge and research about how people learn. When designed properly, there are nearly a dozen cognitive learning principles that are applied through Immersive Learning.

One of those principles is the old “learning by doing” philosophy, but in a scalable manner. Immersive Learning experiences are designed for interactivity with the virtual environment to help the brain build the right connections for learning and knowledge retention. In addition, learners must apply what they’ve learned, make decisions, and experience the impact of their choices. This makes the learning stick.

With the advent of Immersive Learning at scale, it’s now possible to incorporate scientific principles into corporate learning and therefore train employees more effectively.

– Dr. Michael Casale, Chief Science Officer, Strivr

Another key learning principle that Immersive Learning maximizes is a combination of attention and engagement known as arousal. It means that real emotional responses like stress, anxiety, and surprise are induced more authentically to make training memorable and impactful. Learn about how this was successful at Verizon and Walmart.

Michael-Casale
Play Icon
Dr. Michael Casale explains how Immersive Learning capitalizes on behavioral science.

By incorporating proven learning principles into Immersive Learning, many companies are realizing benefits like better on-the-job-performance, higher employee confidence, long-term knowledge retention, and faster training.

Data science to measure performance

Immersive Learning enables companies to access data that has gone largely untapped to this point. Learners’ actions are captured and the cumulative data collected provides insights into behavior that traditional training methods never have.

There are five types of VR training data.

  • Usage: training frequency, duration, and completion
  • Performance: completion of tasks and correct answers to evaluate proficiency
  • Attention & engagement: where and how learners pay attention, indicators of on-the-job performance
  • Sentiment: qualitative feedback from participants
  • Predictive analytics: A combination of immersive data mapped to real-world data to create a machine learning-based model

Dig more into VR training data in the resources below.

Spatial design creates presence and engagement

Spatial design is the methodology for building and developing VR training content. It is a coordinated effort across VR disciplines – filmmaking, user interface design (UI), and user experience (UX). 

The principles of spatial design create and enhance the feeling of immersion for learners. When instituted properly, learners suspend their disbelief, engage with the virtual world as if it were real, and retain more knowledge.

Spatial UI design also includes computer-generated learning elements like placards and on-screen timers, which need to seamlessly integrate with the experience.

The ultimate goal of spatial design is to create presence because presence leads to engagement, which leads to knowledge retention. There are three kinds of presence to consider:

  • Spatial presence occurs when learners lose the sense that they are in a VR experience; it becomes real.
  • Self presence makes learners believe they have agency within the virtual world – in other words, looking around and interacting because their actions actually have impact.
  • Social presence provides learners with people to interact with and learn from in the experience. They act and speak like colleagues or managers that learners will meet on the job.

3 elements of building learning environments for VR training content

Read blog

Immersive Learning combines VR, learning science, data, and design

Across the HR and learning world, expectations are changing from “more content” to “more strategy” – a dramatic shift enabled by the growing capability to elevate and measure workforce performance through Immersive Learning. Some of the largest companies are already making strategic staffing decisions leveraging immersive data from VR during hiring, onboarding, ongoing training, and upskilling. 

With a proper understanding of Immersive Learning and its four necessary pillars, you can now begin to explore the top use cases and strategy for implementing at scale. 

Read next

The Ultimate Guide to Immersive Learning

Discover frameworks, methodologies, and tactics that have never been shared broadly before, giving you unprecedented access “behind the scenes” of a scaled Immersive Learning deployment.

Download guide

Related Content