3 innovative training technologies that are boosting company learning

Augmented reality, virtual reality and mobile-based microlearning all offer new channels for employee training

Love them or hate them, few people come away from company training days having retained all the information that they were given. A common view is that they’re a distraction from a learner’s real work. The move to computer-based eLearning courses hasn’t helped matters either thanks to courseware that’s long, unengaging and only partially relevant: it’s normal for eLearning course completion rates to sit below 20 per cent. That’s because traditional training technology hasn’t changed much since the Millennium and it’s largely due to incumbent business practices.

It’s normal for major eLearning courseware companies to create one-size-fits-all courses which they then send out to corporate subscribers who, in turn, distribute them to workers via a Learning Management System. The costly, time-consuming creation process means that courses regularly contain only partially-relevant information along with old case studies (that are rarely updated). They also use lowest-common-denominator file types (usually SCORM) to maximise market size when distributing them. These have few, modern, interactive and engaging features.

It’s no wonder that so many people have a dim view of company training but at least there’s new and nascent training technology appearing in the market that can (dramatically) improve learning effectiveness.

1. Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality’s ability to overlay information onto the real world is already being embraced by some industries. Aerospace engineers and tradesmen have been using basic, schematic overlays for some time but the technology is filtering down to tradies. Plumbers can, for example, look at a video feed of a remote camera while investigating a pipe blockage or project overlayed instructions to glance at while keeping their hands free. Epson’s Moverio AR glasses are the training technology that’s been leading in this space and they were updated late last year so that they now plug into any Android phone (which makes them much cheaper and accessible).

At the other end of the AR spectrum, Microsoft’s Hololens system consists of a powerful, computer-driven headset which can transform any room into a mixed-reality environment. It’s still early days, but with Military-types using the technology for battlefield simulations, overlaid instructions on, say, fixing a car engine, shouldn’t be too far behind.

More recently, US company, Digilens, demonstrated its latest AR offering at CES. A compelling use case saw a real-world pressure gauge being artificially highlighted when showing an abnormal reading so that an engineer wouldn’t miss it. Another use case saw firefighters’ masks augmented with a floor-plan overlay and smoke-busting “edge enhancer” as they moved through a burning building.

Some of these applications arguably provide such immediate information that training is completely eschewed in favour of live instruction: ‘learning on the job’ becomes ‘doing on the job.’ The issue with AR, of course, is that while hardware is plummeting in price, it’s expensive and difficult to create content for. Nonetheless, SDKs are making it easier to develop for this training technology and applications are slowly becoming more mainstream.

2. Virtual reality

Embedding a learner in a completely virtual environment is already being used to great effect in some industries. Whether it’s locking a worker’s avatar moving around in an OH&S-nightmare dungeon to teach them about dealing with various safety hazards (as 1000realities is doing) or training Walmart employees by putting them in a virtual store (as Strivr is doing), employees are able to perform on-the-job training in a virtual environment without impacting their colleagues or customer service.

The technology is likely to be further enabled by 5G whose high-bandwidth and very low-latencies remove the requirement for processing to take place on bulky, expensive headsets – Verizon is leading the line here. We’re getting closer to being able to remotely beam a full, virtual, interactive environment onto headsets that resemble sunglasses. It’s arguably the training technology that’s advancing most rapidly but the expense and complexity surrounding development costs means it will continue to be a niche player (or an option for large enterprises) for some time.

3. Mobile-based Microlearning

The training technology that’s arguably exploding in growth the most is that which is performed on workers’ own phones. Microlearning is the practice of breaking complex subjects into easily-digestible chunks. While it can’t rival an all-encompassing virtual environment, the ability for learners to do a short course when they’ve got a spare few minutes, is proving very effective – and seeing course completion rates push past 90 per cent.

The microlearning industry been growing significantly in the past year. Pioneer, Grovo, was recently bought by training company, Cornerstone while Axonify did a deal to distribute training to cab drivers’ (of ride-sharing company, Grab’s) own phones. The ability to distribute learning via apps and the cloud is another reason why this training technology is starting to thrive in the world of company training.

The concepts that tie all these training technologies together are interactivity and gamification. When learning doesn’t feel like learning it becomes dramatically more effective. Courses using the above technologies see much higher completion rates and a greater likelihood of new knowledge becoming embedded in long-term memory. With any luck more of us will be trained in this manner over coming years which will make for more-engaged workers who feel more valued and are subsequently more productive.

Darren Winterford is director of EdApp Microlearning

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Tags careerstrainingMobility & Wirelessaugmented reality (AR)virtual reality (VR)

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