Experiential Learning with Virtual Reality

Finally, my dream of living in the matrix is nearly realised. A virtual world where I can do anything, or be anyone. Reality sucks when compared to the infinite scope of the human imagination!

Virtual Reality (VR) has been on the horizon for a long time, promising to breakthrough and change the world forever. This NASA video from the 1980s shows the concept has been around for over 30 years. The idea is still to strap a helmet on and immerse the user in a 3D digital environment.

I started getting excited when I saw this video on YouTube some time ago. Okay so it doesn’t look cool from the outside, but neither does Zumba, and at least it will get the stereotypical spotty teenager off their arses.

But, as a bloke with a job, it serves me to take a break from the giddy, hedonistic excitement to consider the practical applications of VR in the world of learning. An early look at a marketing VR whitepaper by the expert Ben Stoney (@digitaloutside) of Savvy Marketing (@savvythinking) provided me lots of business-type figures to back me up, but ultimately I’d be surprised if anyone can’t see where this technology is going. Up.

Borrowed from Ben Stoney at Savvy, who borrowed it from Digi Capital

Imagine you’re an engineer working on a rig, offshore in the North Sea. You are new to the role and there are a number of dangerous tasks you have no experience completing. It’s early morning and you head down to the VR suite and strap yourself in. You search for the very specific job you’re looking to do in the real-world, it loads and then you suddenly find yourself top-side, the wind blowing through your virtual hair. A digital instructor fades into view and the simulation begins. After a number of successful completions, let’s say, abseiling down the side of one of the supporting struts and welding a few bolts on, you download the VR video and send it to your manager. She is able to review and critique the exercise, at last giving you the nod to do the job for real.

Right now, VR is not quite as realistic as real-life, but we are getting there. So how long will it be until we trust a simulation as much as doing the real job?


The benefit of virtual simulation of course, is that it is a safe place to fail. There’s no dying or accidently setting stuff on fire that can’t be cured with a reset button.

So what does this mean for existing “modes” of learning; the classroom for example? Well fortunately for teachers and trainers, AI hasn’t advanced enough that it could replace a human-being in a virtual world. Well, not yet, but soon. The value of human interaction for non-technical skills development, like leadership, will still be best realised through face to face.


The point of this blog, I suppose, if there is a point, is that the time for VR is now. The first consumer version of the Oculus Rift (c. £350) is imminent for Xbox, as is a version for the Playstation (Morpheus c.£250) and HTCs Vive (£500). In fact the current “early adopter” versions are surprisingly cheap and have seen exponential development growth in the last year or two.

Like all new technology there is a warning to be heeded. Just because you can do VR doesn’t mean you should. The god-awful experience (after initial promise) offered by Repsol’s demo shows that Learning and Development has a tendency to destroy anything that is pure, and good. The risk, as usual is that L&D uses this cool tech to push slides of information at unsuspecting learners – totally missing the point.


I am excited. I can’t wait. Great experiences are coming. My message to L&D is that it must recognise VR is a way to create experiences, not to create a novel way of dumping “learning” content.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s