As the famous MasterCard commercial goes: There are some things money can’t buy… and experience is one of them! Consider this: Do you think a sales rep can deliver their message and close the sale by reading a text book? Would you trust a driver who got his license based on classroom training? Would you feel safe to fly with a pilot who learned the emergency landing protocol through a multimedia CD-ROM? We understand the value of contextualizing the learner in their environment… why then do we continue to develop training programs that distance the learner from their practice setting?
According to the eLearning Guild, immersive virtual environments are becoming increasingly popular in training, leaving many questioning what variables need to be considered when going digital. I often say that instructional designers are a lot like product managers, with the same goal of transmitting knowledge to their “customers” (read learners) to change their behavior. Product managers are often guided by brand plans, and us trainers by curriculum plans. In the end, we are both in the business of knowledge transmission! Marketers often use the Marketing Mix Model 4Ps (product, price, place and promotion) to support their decision on a marketing strategy. Given the appropriateness of these variables in the decision to develop an immersive environment, I decided to explore each factor as it relates to whether to invest in this instructional strategy:
- Product: Evaluate the content and define the learning objective of the training to assess the need for immersive environments. If the learning objective of the training program requires mastery of facts, you may opt for a multimedia-based elearning. If however you wish to cover problem solving and the application of principles and procedures, you should opt for an immersive environment that contextualises the learner into their practice setting. Note the extent to which you reproduce the environment virtually is contingent on the following 2 Ps: place and price.
- Place: Consider how important it is to accurately reflect the real-life practice environment in training, also known as the level of fidelity. Take examples of a training program on how to fly a jet, or how to address a chemical spill in a power plant. A mistake in the real world can cause an injury or death, a level of stress not even the best live training program can produce. Further, accessing and reflecting the environment can be costly, and requires intense coordination to prepare for training. In these cases, an investment in a high-fidelity immersion is well-warranted as it allows learners to practice in a realistic and risk-free environment that mimics the experiences of their workplace.
- Price: Creating immersive environments can be costly, particularly when dealing with high-fidelity programs. So given the reality of budget restrictions, we need to consider the extent to which the virtual environment needs to accurately reflect the practice setting. Lower fidelity programs that reproduce the general aspects of the environment work well, and are certainly more cost effective! Sometimes the level of detail is not warranted.
Another important factor in price consideration is long-term value. Although initial costs can be high, you can leverage the immersion environments and re-use them in program updates or future programs. Costs can be shared with other departments, who can also benefit from using the virtual environment in their programs.
- Promotion: Marketers know the importance of generating interest in their product, and this is something we instructional designers forget. We need to get people excited about training, and offering novel approaches to learning is certainly one way to go about it. Immersive environments can appeal to organizations trying to increase the visibility of their department as well as those having difficulty engaging learners in their training. Keep in mind that the innovators and the early adopters have already embraced immersive learning in their organizations…
There are many considerations to make when deciding on whether to travel to the virtual training world. The needs and realities of your organization will allow you to decide what is best for your learners. The key take-away should be that price should not be the only deciding factor but rather long-term value.
Remember: do it once, do it right!