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TECHNOLOGY

VR Training Practicality in the Post-Covid Online Era

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VR Training Practicality in the Post-Covid Online Era


While virtual reality (VR) training isn’t new, it has skyrocketed into the mainstream in a post-covid online era.

With physical interactivity severely limited, hands-on training has become challenging. Yet, learning by doing is an invaluable technique that companies should incorporate into the workplace.

There’s a Chinese proverb that summarizes the importance of experiential learning perfectly: “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” In other words, work-based experience enhances learning retention.

VR training adds a level of interactivity to workplace learning. Depending on what type of VR training the workplace has access to, it can be a simple simulation or involve in-depth, hands-on activities.

But, not all VR training is made equal. With today’s advancements, can technology keep up with the practical needs of workplace training?

Workplaces Using VR Training

There is a wide variety of careers that have access to VR training. Before Covid, the practicality of the requirements for VR training limited it to wealthier companies.

While Oculus, a VR division under Facebook, might be a more popular name in VR gaming, they’ve also launched VR training. Oculus for Business hosts programs that engage participants with operating routines and customer interactions.

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The Hilton uses Oculus for Business as a tool to immerse corporate team members with the complexities of working in a hotel. VR training helps new employees practice simulated scenarios with virtual guests.

With over 400,000 team members, Hilton’s VR training allows greater access to the same quality of training. It also reduces costs and increases the speed of training sessions.

Osso VR helps surgeons practice procedures individually and as part of a team. It can create a variety of simulations, from the mundane to the unexpected. With more chances to test themselves, training surgeons improve confidence in their skills.

VR training can’t replace the experience doctors need to operate on living people. But it can allow surgeons more in-depth rehearsal before they get to the operating theatre.

Police departments, like the NYPD, can use VR training drills to recreate hazardous situations. The training allows them to practice responses to circumstances that they couldn’t effectively recreate in reality.

The Effectiveness of VR Training

VR training, or Virtual Reality-Based Training (VRBT), can simulate real-life situations. But can a simulation prepare trainees for unexpected outcomes? For the wrenches thrown in their plans?

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus researched learning retention back in 1885 when he coined the term “the forgetting curve.” His curve theory suggests that humans forget learned skills over time. However, the strength of the memory impacts how long we hold on to it and how effectively we can recall it.

Ebbinghaus’s theory found that memories are longer-lasting when the memory is a) more significant to us and b) repeated. You might have heard you should repeat someone’s name to remember it or any number of repetition rules associated with learning.

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While VR could allow trainees to repeat a simulation, chances are you might not have time for repeat training. What VR training can do is make a lesson have more significant meaning by letting you experience it.

Researchers have found that VR training helps people remember information. Immersive environments allow participants to use both visual and spatial memory.

The brain learns better when it’s able to create a fuller mental map. Oral instruction limits the five senses we can use to process new information. With VR, participants engage more and can make a stronger memory.

How VR Training Has Changed Post-Covid

The global pandemic expanded the need for training at a distance, but it also changed the types of workplaces that use VR training.

Serious Labs has designed VR training for equipment industries. The company used gaming software to simulate complex scenarios. While the company began developing in March 2005 (under the name 3D Interactive), it drew more attention after the emergence of Covid restrictions.

Several unexpected careers have recently gained opportunities to use VR training. Here are a few surprising new areas:

  • Fire and rescue can realistically simulate dangerous situations without putting themselves in danger.
  • A virtual world called ElectriCity is capable of generating risky work environments for trainees to practice electrical safety.
  • Maritime education can be practiced on dry land, allowing seafarers to experience difficult situations.

Another drastic change is the training available for soft skills. Hard skills were the initial target for VR training. It’s simple enough to show how to open a program like Excel or explain which buttons to press on equipment for specific results. It’s trickier to simulate teamwork or communication skills.

PwC found that their VR training for soft skills trained employees four times faster than traditional classroom training. Their results showed that VR learners were more confident applying their learned experiences. The learners were also more engaged with their training.

Practical Problems with VR Training

The obstacles that stand in the way of VR training aren’t its effectiveness or even the availability of training specialties. Instead, it’s practical problems like cost, space, hygiene.

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Cost

VR systems can be expensive. Larger companies might consider it cost-effective to purchase a $1000+ VR headset plus a computer powerful enough to operate the system. But it might not be feasible for smaller businesses.

Costs are dropping, particularly for older headset models. But if you’re buying more than one to train a few or several employees at once, prices can climb. With the latest Oculus Quest 2 headsets you can get a fully standalone system for $399 USD — with the enterprise business edition coming in at $799, but you will need to budget as well for accessories & yearly licensing of $180 that kicks in after the 1st year.

Space

How much space is required will depend on the simulation. If you’re simulating the operation of large machinery, you need more space. VR training needs a dedicated space free of obstructions. This isn’t to say that you need a LOT of space, as with standalone devices you will only need enough room to move your arms freely.

Hygiene

In a post-Covid era, everyone is more aware of the impact of hygiene. If the workplace schedules multiple employees for VR training, it’s likely more than few people will be sharing the same headset. In a post-covid world, there may need to be modern solutions that work to solve this problem, thankfully there is one called CleanBox. CleanBox is a UVC light device that allows you to put your headset inside and then using a unique technology to kill bacteria with simply UVC light.

Nausea

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Unfortunately, not everyone can handle VR. Virtual reality sickness, like motion sickness, can range in severity. Some participants can adjust quickly, while others might not tolerate longer training sessions. While most of this has been solved in the latest headsets from Oculus – there will still be a small segment of the population that VR can cause problems for.

Final Thoughts

VR training has proven to be more effective than traditional training methods. It also allows for a greater variety of simulations. Participants can practice difficult or dangerous situations. VR has the potential to exceed the limits of physical simulations.

If businesses and employees can overcome the practical problems, VR training can significantly impact workplace learning.



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TECHNOLOGY

On cloud modernisation and women in leadership

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On cloud modernisation and women in leadership


As far as tech is concerned, the workplace continues to be male-dominated. According to 2015 data from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), women make up 47% of all employed adults in the US, but hold only a quarter of computing roles.

Yet the benefits of greater diversity are manifold. McKinsey noted in a 2020 report, ‘Diversity Wins’, that more diverse companies have better performance, more engaged workers, and better rates of retention.

Female CEOs generally, but in tech specifically, remain thin on the ground, but not at Growth Acceleration Partners (GAP), an Americas-based strategic technology solutions provider focused on both digital transformation advisory services and software and data engineering services. Joyce Durst, CEO, began her career in an engineering role at IBM, before co-founding GAP in 2007 and focuses a lot of spare time on empowering women leaders, from Hipower, to the Women Presidents’ Organization.

CloudTech spoke with Durst about leadership, human-centric software engineering, and cloud and data modernisation:

CloudTech: Hi, Joyce. You started off as an engineer before progressing to sales roles and then eventually to forming your own company. Tell us about the potential dichotomy there – between the need to progress up the corporate ladder and the entrepreneurial mindset while maintaining that technical interest?

Joyce Durst: For me, I love the problem-solving aspect of being an engineer. More than I love just sitting in coding every day, I really love the idea of ‘Hey, we built this thing together as a team, and we got this to work.’ I get that same energy from working with the executive team to solve either people-related problems, or deciding what services we’re going to provide. So it still feels a lot like engineering.

It’s funny – people ask me all the time whether I had a lemonade stand, or always wanted to run something growing up. No, I never had any idea I actually would be a CEO of anything. I minored in management for the engineering degree. For me, the people side, of how people work together, and how you as a team can figure out how to motivate and inspire and energise others to accomplish something bigger than themselves – that was the part that really drew me to management. Because as an engineer, it can be a big problem, but I can only fix one kind of problem. In management, I can help a whole bunch of people realise their dreams, and advance themselves.

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CT: Your leadership style has been described as a ‘natural servant-leader.’ Can you tell us a bit more about your leadership ethos?

JD: I think as human beings, it really is true that we get wiser as we age, and we collect all of these experiences and relationships – and you look across that and really reflect, and say, ‘How can I be the best that I can be?’ I think as a leader over the years, I certainly still have a true engineering kind of mindset and approach, but my empathetic skills, and my focus on values really takes the lead.

I think that’s what really makes the difference with GAP. We don’t have any outside investors, we don’t have a board of directors, other than me, so I can say, ‘I’m okay about putting people before profits.’ Through the whole Covid pandemic, we promised people on day one we would never lay anyone off – and if that meant we were going to take a financial hit, we were prepared to take that.

Fortunately we didn’t – the business actually grew by leaps and bounds. But when you look at it, we’re responsible for 550+ people working at Growth Acceleration Partners. Every day, I wake up and say I’m responsible for creating a great place for them to come to work, for them to share their best selves, and for them to do great things for our clients. 

When I first became a CEO, I was much more concerned about ‘the numbers have to be exactly this’, or the strategy. Now I’m much more concerned about ‘are we really delighting customers every day? And are we doing the same for our employees?’ If we do those two things, everything else magically seems to work out.

CT: This is a good place to move onto GAP itself. What does GAP do, in terms of services the company provides?

JD: Growth Acceleration Partners is in the business of partnering with companies on their digital transformation journey. We do that in two different service areas. One is pure technology consulting and advisory services. Some of our clients come to us and say, ‘We don’t have any idea how to take all of our old legacy applications and get them to the cloud.’ So they’ll ask us to build that strategy and a modernisation plan, tell them how they take advantage of data, and data insights, and begin to monetise the value that they know they have in data.

The other side of our business, which is long-standing and the majority of what we do really, is on engineering services. We are experts in both software and data engineering. So people will come to us and say, ‘OK, you’ve helped us and we built this great strategy on how to modernise our applications, but we don’t have the resources of the expertise to do that. Help us build a team and work in a hybrid fashion with our existing technology organisation.’ We have teams of one to 70 or 80 people working for large U.S. companies.

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Our clients primarily tend to be in one of three areas: financial services, healthcare-related technology companies, and large enterprise data analytics, technology services companies. For those companies, we really become a key part of their innovation engine, with development and testing and operations. We help companies figure out how to leverage technology to improve their business outcomes, which means better customer experiences, faster revenue, better margins and better profits.

CT: Tell us how the company is run, in terms of its core values, and the concept of ‘human-centric engineering’?

JD: If you dig into the name Growth Acceleration Partners, every word was intentionally chosen 15 years ago. We really are focused on growth: the growth of human beings, the growth of companies, and the growth of our communities. 

And our values spell out ‘gap’. The first value is ‘G’ for greatness: striving for greatness in everything you do, and everywhere you do it. The ‘A’ stands for agile; be agile in your mindset, not just in terms of software development. Be open and collaborative, and be willing to have retrospectives, and change and share leadership. And then finally, the ‘P’ is because GAP invests in people. If we’re not doing all three of those things, we’re failing. I think that culture is really evident, not only to the people who work inside of GAP, but the people that work with GAP and our clients. 

CT: What sort of roadblocks do your customers face, and how is GAP able to resolve them?

JD: For the customers, there’s such a limited supply of technologists around the world. And even if you can find really talented engineers, keeping really talented engineers is very, very difficult. The ‘great resignation’ has highly impacted technologists. An engineer can, in the U.S., have three or four job offers a week if they so desire. 

Then, just keeping up with the skills needed to be in this fast-paced world is very difficult too. If you’re a financial services company, you may not have the budget required to retrain all of your engineers with expertise in the latest tools for cloud, or the latest frameworks and libraries. So that’s where GAP can really step in, because we have the benefit of not just working with one company, but working across 50 or 60 large companies – so we get to have our eyes on all kinds of different best practices that we can employ on every single individual customer we’re working with.

CT: You mentioned the U.S. there specifically – and this ties into another core value, that of focusing on the Americas. Can you elaborate on the rationale in that?

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JD: We’re now in 18 different countries. When we started the company, someone I knew that I had worked with in a previous big company said, ‘You just have to come to Costa Rica.’ I was very busy starting a new company, but this gentleman called me literally every week for two months. And I finally said, ‘OK, I’m going to come down there and then you’ve got to stop calling me.’ And I immediately went down there, and I interviewed four people. As soon as I met these technologists, some women and some men, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is where we’re supposed to be.’ Literally that day, we hired four people and started the company in Costa Rica.

GAP was way ahead of the curve on nearshoring to Latin America. They have great English skills, amazing talent, in the same time zone. All of the reports say that over the next five to 10 years, there is a significant wave of companies coming to Latin America, and that U.S. companies will want to have their development teams there. We’ll continue to expand there as quickly as we can, with our number one goal of only hiring people that match our values; hiring people that are experts in their technology field and want to grow.

CT: Going back to leadership, you are very active in supporting and mentoring women both in technology and business. Tell us about some of the things you do, and how the space has evolved in your career?

JD: We have a lot of work to do still as an industry, sadly. The number of women running tech companies has not changed dramatically. I think that’s on the industry — that’s on us, to make sure we’re doing everything to make the environment safer and more comfortable and more appealing for women. At GAP, 60% of our executive team is female, 60% of my engineering leadership team is female, and no-one questions whether or not a woman should be leading engineering.

So that’s part of what more companies need to do. On the mentoring side, we are also very passionate and involved. We have a number of charitable initiatives that are focused on getting girls in junior high and high school involved in STEM activities. We sponsor boot camps and have hackathons. You’ve got to start early. 

Also, in my role as CEO, I mentor a number of women CEOs, in tech companies and non-tech companies. I’m also on the board of directors for the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and I’m the chair of the global tech and innovation committee. All of these initiatives are aligned with the idea of ‘hey, we’ve got to get more women into leadership positions in all kinds of companies’, because every company is a technology company. They just may not know it yet.

CT: If you were to give one piece of advice to a young woman reading this article who wants to get into STEM, what would it be?

JD: I would say really open your mind to the possibilities of how you can use these skills to change the world. The fashion industry, for example, is now run by technology. The food industry is now run by technology… the travel industry. Any industry you’re interested in, behind the scenes, it is run by technology. 

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And if you have a technology background, I promise that you will have a very rewarding career for your entire life. You will never have to worry about there not being a job for you – there always will be an opportunity for you to work and make an impact.

For more information about Joyce and Growth Acceleration Partners, please visit www.wearegap.com.



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