Expectations have been running high for consumerized virtual reality since Facebook purchased Oculus VR, the most futuristic-sounding company in the world, in March 2014. Versions of the technology have been in development for decades, but only now is scalable and affordable virtual reality inching towards realization.
Though most of Oculus Rift’s early adopters will buy the interactive packages in order to pitch realistic Halo battles, everyday virtual reality will also be a quantum leap forward for enterprise training. The challenge in training large organizations is to not only disseminate information to thousands of people, but to make it engaging enough to encourage continuous, self-directed learning. In order to do that, content needs to be compelling and immediate to the learner. That’s where Oculus Rift holds enormous potential.
Militaries around the world are already using the Oculus Rift to train soldiers in battlefield tactics and other, more innovative uses. Health care will be revolutionized—not only for VR’s ability to train doctors, but also to enable surgeons to operate remotely on patients.
Oculus Rift will be better for everyday training, too. Imagine a virtual-reality onboarding process: new employees could learn the office by walking the virtual hallways. They could “meet” virtual avatars of the leadership committee. Compliance and safety training would be interactive—a warehouse could demonstrate to aspiring forklift operators exactly what happens when they take a corner too fast.
And onboarding is only the beginning. Do you have a promising young hire you’ve asked to present to the board at Tuesday morning’s leadership meeting? Give her an Oculus Rift over the weekend and have her practice speaking to the same room, and to the same faces, that she’ll see in person. Do you train your new salespeople with time-consuming role-playing? Have them practice with interactive software that gets them up to speed, at their own pace and in privacy, before subjecting them to a final test.
The most exciting possibility is using virtual reality to interact directly, physically, with the virtual world. The Department of Defense has already produced software that allows cyber defenders to “walk” through computer systems. “The idea is to help soldiers prepare for cyberattacks by giving them the chance to feel as if they were actually inside the Internet.” In other words, Oculus Rift will let humans navigate the digital world with the physical proprioception we use to navigate the real world. Eventually, learning software could use the same mental faculties as learning how to ice skate. The possibilities are limitless.
The above article was originally published on April 6, 2015.
Update: Oculus Rift is almost here! The device will finally ship out to consumers in April 2016 for $599 apiece. The first run has already sold out, so you’ll probably have to wait until later this year to try it out yourself. This blog will be exploring the potential for virtual reality to revolutionize enterprise training in the coming weeks.