10 Misconceptions About Immersive Learning Technologies

Ever since we got our hands on the Oculus Rift DK1 (Development Kit v1) in 2013, we’ve been exploring how and enabling our clients and partners to understand and embrace Virtual Reality (VR) for learning & development, training and simulation, across a variety of sectors. However, despite our best efforts, there are regular misconceptions and reasons some organisations dismiss VR and other immersive learning technologies. From the event expo floor to the demo room, we’ve heard ’em all, so we thought it was time to sit down and address some of the more common ones we hear (in no particular order).

#1 VR is expensive

This is often touted by those who are used to buying traditional, flat 2D elearning content, having assumed the added 3rd dimension considerably alters the cost. However it’s a multi-faceted answer but we’ll look into each factor and consideration as to why it’s inaccurate overall.

There’s two main parts to the cost equation to consider – the hardware and the software, so let’s break them down and examine below.

VR Hardware

When the current wave of VR smashed upon these shores with the commercial launches of “full VR” headsets in 2016, all the devices were what we call tethered, i.e. they were attached by a cable to a separate device that did all the computational & graphical processing, typically a Windows-based “gaming” PC. At the time these PC VR headsets cost from £400-1,000 each, and the gaming PC required on top was £1,000+ for one with suitable technical specifications and capabilities, so yes, the costs per system could quickly mount up. However it should be noted that far more basic VR systems from the 90’s and in use by NASA and the military often cost in excess of £25,000 but of course these were not really designed for enterprise and non-very-specific training needs.

Whilst prior to these PC VR devices, there had been mobile VR devices available, such as Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard. These offered limited tracking and motion, and although the headsets were cheap (£5-100), they required an expensive (£500+) mobile phone device to be inserted into them to provide the VR display. For today’s (2021+) usage and costs discussion, we are just considering devices that allow full head and user positioning tracking in a space, and hands, to provide a full VR experience for learners.

From 2019 onwards, standalone VR devices became available. These incorporated mobile chipsets for processing, internal batteries and cameras for inside-out tracking, to provide an all-in-one, full VR solution that no longer required a VR PC to run the experiences. Whilst there are some specialist needs for high-end, high-cost tethered devices still in certain sectors, the standalone devices ushered in a new generation of affordable VR that was good enough for most enterprise training experiences.

Consumer standalone VR devices start at £300 but organisations should utilise enterprise devices (see below under “VR is hard to manage” for reasons why). The costs of these devices range from £500-1,000 but again, refer to the below section why this price point, albeit higher than consumer, is beneficial to organisations.

VR Software

There are more options for organisations looking to incorporate VR learning experiences these days, typically available as off-the-shelf or bespoke solutions. With a growth of library and platform services like Immerse for off-the-shelf content, many learning benefits can be gained for a baseline or acceptable number of outcomes. However to hit 1005 of training needs for a specific need or organisation, bespoke is still the best option for many.

Costs here are also related to scale, in terms of how many learners need access at once or throughout the organisation over a period of time. Off-the-shelf solutions may be viable for smaller scale rollouts, paying a software licence seat per learner or device, but once your training programme scales to a certain size or requirement across the organisation, a bespoke solution may be more cost effective in the mid/long-term.

Most content agencies operate on a one-off fee to create the content, handing over foreground IP and ownership to the client organisation as part of the final delivery of the experience. This means that organisations are then free to install and deploy the learning experience as many times a required without incurring additional software licence seat fees. With a large enough organisation or expected number of users over a period of time, this is typically the most cost effective solution for immersive learning.

Cost Savings

As with all new hardware platform purchases for an organisation, there is an up-front cost associated with deployment and operation. However one key area VR excels in is the potential for cost savings of providing training. This should be factored into a medium/long-term plan for building a business case for incorporating VR. From allowing learners to repeat training, to fail safely, to enable continued operations of large assets and sites by recreating them virtually, to provision of consistency across sessions, there are many ways VR training can provide cost savings at scale over a relatively short period of time. These checks and balances can be easily modelled to validate savings made against initial outlay required.

#2 VR needs a lot of space

When the current wave of VR headsets first appeared in 2016, the notion of “roomscale” was introduced to many users. These were VR experiences that took advantage of the wider tracking area afforded by external sensors of the tethered devices at the time. Developers could track a user within a 3m x 3m space and many new forms of interaction and experience were born. However it was often remarked how finding a clear space of this size was sometimes difficult, or added to friction having to clear one each time to use VR and was certainly too big an ask for many to imagine having to dedicate a space to VR of this size.

Whilst the move to standalone devices hasn’t changed this, there are many more experiences available that incorporate a range of space options, from suiting seated positions, standing and the aforementioned roomscale. Many developers are learning that users often prefer seated experiences, or standing with enough clear space to lean side-to-side and take arm lengths into consideration.

The technology and software OS running VR devices has also improved, allowing users to reposition or reset their location within the virtual space easily and frequently, allowing fine-tuning of their location to the real world. Furthermore, greater locomotion methods have been incorporated into many experiences allowing a variety of methods of user movement within the virtual space, from 1:1 correlation to teleporting around a much larger virtual environment than the real physical space would allow.

All good developers will work with the userbase and especially within enterprise, to help define what space is needed based upon what is available, and provide options to enable flexibility for using an experience seated, standing or within a set physical area. Typically the space requirements can be defined by the type of learning experience to be created; soft-skills is fine seated, gestures work fine standing but an automotive maintenance trainer might want to let learners move freely around the virtual vehicles.

#3 VR makes people feel sick

Nausea caused by motion or simulator sickness, two completely different things and mostly misunderstood or lumped together, is one of the main assumptions made about VR.

Upon enquiry, the most common response is because someone tried a rollercoaster experience running on a mobile phone in a Google Cardboard. Asked how they feel after riding a real rollercoaster, the answer is often that they feel the same way.

Looking at the technology of VR and the advances made in specifications and capabilities over the past few years, technically the causes of motion sickness have all been eliminated and we are left with factors of experience design and technical performance of the application being the main cause. With higher refresh rates, higher screen resolutions, lower latencies across the board and full 6DoF (Degrees of Freedom) available in pretty much every viable headset, these are the advances that have removed the capabilities or features of the hardware off the nausea table.

Recent research shows that planting that seed of doubt, a negative thought (nocebo effect) can actually make it more likely that people will think VR is making them feel funny. Combined with easy-wins and clickbait headings for articles, it’s no wonder that this is a common assumption about VR. However whilst a small number may feel some side-effects, competent developers incorporating careful, considered interaction and locomotion design, combined with technically performant applications, nausea can be reduced for the majority of users.

#4 VR is a fad

This is something that has been said since the re-introduction of VR technologies into peoples’ minds in 2012. Whilst it hasn’t gone away, it has gotten quieter as more use cases make themselves known, more research into outcomes is released and more clients get on board at scale. It is correct in that a number of high profile companies have left the space, perhaps temporarily. There are also number of companies who have built upon and solidified their software offerings, turning profits. On the hardware side, there are companies who are on their third or forth iteration of design, working hard to remove pain points and barriers to entry.

There’s still an argument around when and if VR will go fully mainstream into the consumer marketplace but our enterprise clients, like EDF Energy, Severn Trent Water, Lloyds Banking Group, Honda and many more are working with us on new and exciting ways to benefit their organisations every day. Considering we are nearly approaching 10 years since the re-introduction of VRs 4th wave, one has to ask “how long is a fad?”

#5 VR is not hygienic

Many technology devices are designed to be single-user, or owner and VR is no different. Many of the concerns around hygiene are irrelevant in this instance or down to owner choice. However as enterprise organisations adopt VR into their every day operations, a device will typically be shared amongst employees, (at least initially until it becomes an every day tool). Therefore hygiene is important to make sure every person has a clean headset to use each time. Fortunately there are a number of options to ensure this.

  1. Paper hygiene masks are available for a user to wear before putting on a headset and safely dispose of after use. This minimises contact between the device and the skin of the user.
  2. Silicone facial interface covers are available to put over the default, stock foam. These are usually removable and allow easy cleaning between users.
  3. Replacement facial interfaces are available to swap out the default, stock foam and allow easy velcro rip-off and replace with a clean one between users.
  4. UVC boxes allow for devices to be bathed in ultra-violet light between uses, scientifically proven to kill 99.9% of known viruses and bacteria.
  5. Having more devices available allows a unit to placed into isolated for a period of time after use or more time to clean whilst the next user is immersed without slowing down the throughput where key to operations and metrics.

With the global pandemic as a result of COVID-19, many organisations are adopting far higher hygiene standards and with training, support and enablement, everyone can continue to enjoy VR whilst remaining safe and healthy without concerns.

#6 VR is for gaming, not learning

The initial 4th wave of VR was launched to much press and attention around the new gaming opportunities it afforded. Much of the coverage and initial experiences were game-based, targeting the early-adopter of hardware, typically hardcore PC gamers. Therefore you can be excused for thinking it is a gaming device and that’s it but these days VR is used for a plethora of purposes. These days the consumer VR app stores are full of creative applications, tools that enable remote collaboration, virtual tourism and much, much more.

Whilst we believe in the power of a gamified experience, when appropriate for learning and development, there are many other non-gaming uses for VR. Training is of course one of them, when applied to validated use cases, as our many of our clients will confirm across construction, automotive, finance and utilities. Check out some of the many case studies we have on our website to see some examples.

#7 VR is uncomfortable

Many would say “content is king” but we argue that comfort is key to immersion and presence in VR. There are two areas of comfort however, physical and mental. The misconception here is that the physical comfort of the headsets reduces the amount of time a user can spend in an experience.

The earlier headsets that released in 2013, through to the early consumer devices of 2016, were certainly uncomfortable for some users. Many factors make us unique as users, based upon their head size and shape, hairstyle and more but often weight distribution of the headset itself caused discomfort for prolonged usage.

PC VR tethered headsets rapidly advanced in their form to offer better straps and padding to enable prolonged periods of usage. However with the rise in popularity of the standalone, all-in-one VR headset, the challenge was reset. Now the headset didn’t just include the screen and optics but it needs to house the processing unit and battery to power it all too.

Cost-cutting measures of some headsets have meant that the default stock straps provided are cheap and the overall design has everything weighted at the front still. However it is possible to customise and improve comfort with better straps, extended batteries at the rear and replacement facial interfaces. Other headsets have better comfort incorporated into the default design, with the battery in the rear of the more solid strap, improving overall weight distribution.

Overall comfort has improved but it’s very personal. Typically what we see though is that users are so immersed in VR, they experience “VR time”, spending far longer in VR than they perceive they have (this has also been proved in scientific study). This means they may not notice discomfort during the experience but many of us still have “VR face” afterwards. This can be reduced by creating content that is bitesized, or aimed to be completed in 20-30 minutes as it allows short bursts of use, but also other benefits around focus, operation, nausea and more.

#8 VR is distracting

This misconception could be considered true but like many listed here, it comes down to thoughtful and considered design of experiences. Ever since we created our first VR experience towards the end of 2013, deployed in 2014 to the general public, we have been aware of this issue. VR is potentially overwhelming and most people will still be trying it for their first time. This means a period of acclimatisation, like for comfort, is required to allow people to get used to the sensation. Similarly, if an experience lets a user interact with every little object, humans being the naturally curious beasts we are, they will do.

This is where the distraction can come into play but with careful design and focusing upon the learning objectives and outcomes, this can be reduced. By removing as much stimulus as possible, then the user is directed to focus on what the design intends. There’s also a tendency to over-complicate experiences, so simplification of interactions and inputs can create the same learning outcomes without the frustration, or the potential for distraction. It should be noted though that this is where experience and user testing comes vital. There might always be someone who becomes fixated with something completely unexpected, like a virtual spanner on a representation of a climbing harness.

The other argument is that VR is less distracting as the learner is completely shut-off from the real world [distractions] and is 100% focused on the learning experience in the headset with all their senses engaged fully.

#9 VR is isolating

A common misconception based upon the visual impact of seeing someone in a VR headset. Many activities can be isolating to others when the user is deeply engaged, be it reading, playing games, watching TV or on the phone. This misconception was originally borne out the fact that many early experiences were single user but there has been an explosion of social, multi-user applications and use cases, where the person in the headset is connected to many others within the same virtual space.

#10 VR is hard to manage and operate

Standalone devices remove a number of the friction points that tethered devices typically were associated with. No tether means no trip-hazard. Inside-out tracking means no external sensors being required. VR OSes mean users or facilitators can get straight into experiences from within the headset. And of course with everything being all-in-one, no more high-end gaming PC is needed.

With the release of standalone devices, VR hardware manufacturers also started targeting enterprise users and IT departments who were looking for greater support, device control and management over the consumer devices that were being used ad-hoc in organisations until that point. These enterprise devices offer benefits that make procurement and IT stakeholders more comfortable with deploying VR hardware within an organisation. These options include kiosk mode, locking devices down, not requiring user accounts and having greater warranty and support options for heavy, regular usage.

Enterprise editions of VR hardware do come at an additional cost, usually x1.5-2 the regular consumer price but there’s many benefits to using enterprise over consumer hardware within an organisation, as mentioned above. Also, it should be noted that typically, consumer hardware warranties and usage agreements do not cover enterprise use and therefore should a fault occur, support and replacements will not be an option anyway.

This is why we take the time with our clients and partners to offer and run Train the Trainer days as part of the deployment process, to make sure the facilitators are comfortable with the hardware and the immersive learning experience, to help make the technology fade away and allow them and the leaners to concentrate on the learning outcomes.

In summary

In writing this article, we found scores of similar articles dating back to 2015, covering some of the same misconceptions we still hear today. VR is still typically covered more from a negative viewpoint outside of the technology and VR press, relying upon the old tropes of causing nausea, being costly and taking time to setup and operate.

The technology and options have moved on considerably since then, have become vastly cheaper, more powerful, easier to manage and are being deployed at scale across many organisations. It does take time and effort to plan a deployment to be ass effective as possible but having the right partner to assist and advise can remove a lot of that pain for an organisation. Hopefully this time we can help put at ease any concerns and move your training solutions forward. Get in touch to talk to us about how we can.

Useful Links

Oculus for Business: https://business.oculus.com/
HTC Vive Enterprise: https://business.vive.com/uk/
PICO Interactive Enterprise: https://www.pico-interactive.com/us/tob_overview.html

Measuring Benefits of VR: https://bit.ly/getVRreport
Guide to Creating Enterprise VR: https://bit.ly/MR4DxR
VR Time Study: https://brill.com/view/journals/time/9/4/article-p377_377.xml
VR Nocebo Study: https://academic.oup.com/abm/article-abstract/55/8/769/6154957

Get in touch

We’re always happy to talk to you about how immersive technologies can engage your employees and customers. If you have a learning objective in mind, or simply want to know more about emerging technologies like VR, AR, or AI, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.