Immersive Learning: A Game Changer for Corporate Talent Development

Corporate leaders explore the potential of immersive learning to help the U.S. workforce adapt to the changing world of work.

By Catherine Ward, managing director, JFF

“If you want to convince your company to invest in immersive learning, have your head of talent put on a virtual reality headset,” said Josh Bersin, a global HR analyst and dean of Josh Bersin Academy, at JFF’s recent Redefining Training at Work convening. “The experience itself is so powerful. The case makes itself.”

I’ll admit, before our event in San Francisco, I was still in the doubters’ camp on the true power of immersive learning. I’d heard a lot about how great it was. I’d studied up on its benefits. I thought I got it — it’s fun, it’s scalable, it has that “tech mystique.” But I would have argued that nothing replaces the power of learning the old fashioned way — touching, feeling, experiencing something in person.

Was I ever wrong.

At Redefining Training at Work, JFF invited leaders from more than 20 leading companies across a variety of industries to look at immersive learning as a tool to lift American workers. Over the course of a day, we explored the business case and the market dynamics, tried out the tools with a curated set of immersive learning partners, and discussed how immersive learning is quickly proving to be more than a passing fad.

Together, we discovered that immersive learning is on track to revolutionize corporate training in ways that will benefit both businesses and workers.

A Paradigm Shift Is Underway

Across a wide range of industries, employers and trainers are adapting traditional coursework and lessons to immersive learning models. These place trainees in interactive environments — either physically or virtually — where they can learn and practice particular skills or techniques. The most popular immersive technologies are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), while some systems use mixed reality (MR) — an emerging version that combines features of both AR and VR.

Forward-thinking companies — we call them Impact Employers — are beginning to incorporate immersive learning into their talent development strategies because it is becoming increasingly cost-effective, scalable, and effective. And this is only the beginning of a paradigm shift in training. There’s tremendous potential to innovate and do much more with these technologies, and as their capabilities expand, adoption will accelerate and the impact they have on personal and corporate talent development will multiply.

We’re particularly excited about the potential to construct career pathways backed by immersive learning. We imagine a world where all frontline and entry-level workers have access to immersive learning options that will enable them to develop new skills so they can get ahead in their chosen career paths and stay relevant in an ever-evolving labor market.

What We Learned at Redefining Training at Work

Three major themes emerged in the conversations we had over the course of our day together:

Immersive learning technology is still developing, but it has enormous potential.

Hardware costs have dropped in recent years. Not too long ago, a single headset and the associated technology, not counting content, could cost more than $5,000. Now units start at less than $500. Due at least in part to the declining costs, the worldwide AR and VR market is forecast to grow by a factor of nearly 7.7 between 2018 and 2022. Customized curriculum, the most expensive component of an immersive learning system, is not always needed because effective off-the-shelf solutions are now available. Even when customization is necessary, experts say that immersive learning can still be more affordable than more traditional training methods because of its efficiency and scalability.

Immersive learning holds tremendous potential to help workers access greater career opportunities and economic mobility.

The potential of immersive learning to scale and enable more equitable, high-quality, and relevant training opportunities was a key point that was emphasized throughout the day. Ayreann Luedders, a senior director at Walmart’s U.S. Academies, said the retailer’s VR coursework has reached more than 725,000 employees, and noted that VR training significantly reduces the time employees have to spend in the classroom, allowing them to learn new skills quickly and get back to their jobs much faster than they would if they participated in traditional training programs. For example, a compliance course that once took 25 minutes now takes only three with VR. That’s a win for employees and the business.

Josh Bersin explained that one advantage of immersive learning is that it’s a medium that people can access no matter where they are. “It democratizes learning,” he said. Translation: High-quality, effective training, once available only to senior leaders, is moving to the front lines and beyond. Companies can — and should — use immersive learning technology to create more equitable opportunities for upskilling.

It’s not a matter of if immersive learning will be everywhere but when it will be everywhere.

“Immersive learning is the future of workforce development,” said Amy Wallace, a vice president at JPMorgan Chase. That was an important observation and call to action that illustrated once more that immersive learning is not a passing fad that businesses can ignore, but rather an important tool that should become an important element of any talent development strategy.

I’m inspired and invigorated by this technology’s potential to create opportunity and mobility for American workers at scale. Become part of JFF’s Corporate Action Platform for opportunities to engage with other forward-thinking companies on this topic — and get in touch with us if you want to share your immersive learning story.

JFF (Jobs for the Future) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store