The Benefits of Virtual Reality and Serious Games Training

Over the last two decades, virtual reality and serious games training have emerged in educational settings. However, this movement has not gone without skepticism. Critics assert that these training methods are not as effective as instructor-led classroom training or live exercises using real equipment. It is also possible that some learners hold a similar critique by attributing “guilt by association” to these training methods. The thinking goes that any type of computer-based training must mean another boring CBT. Furthermore, there is also the critique that virtual reality and serious games are more for entertainment. Therefore, the thinking goes that they are not instructionally sound or designed to lead to any sort of learning outcome.


Virtual Reality and Serious Games Training Effectiveness

After many years, there is now available research comparing the effectiveness of traditional training to virtual reality or simulation training. This research shows traditional training (i.e. instructor-led) and virtual reality or simulation training were equally effective (Vidal et al, 2013). As well, instructional designers are now more diversified in their skills and are not just limited to building instructor-led programs or standard eLearning modules (i.e. Level I or Level II Interactive Multimedia Instruction or IMI). They can design serious games or simulations (Level III and IV IMI) by identifying decision points mapped to learning objectives and authoring associated proactive guidance, hints, and real-time performance feedback that is then incorporated into the simulation. Consequently, learners are discovering that virtual reality and serious games are engaging and not boring, traditional CBTs. And, frankly, in the digital age, learners who do not enthusiastically receive such an instructional approach are difficult to find.

With that said, it may be acceptable to declare that virtual reality and serious games training are equally effective. They are just as instructionally sound, produce the same performance outcomes and are more engaging than traditional methods. However, what if we were to take this a step further? What if we told you that virtual reality and serious games training could actually be more effective than live training? In fact, the engagement factor leads to more motivation to learn on the part of the learner. Furthermore, through proper structuring, learners have more opportunity to practice with more varied scenarios.


Virtual Reality Headset sitting on table.


Structuring Virtual Reality and Serious Games Training

For example, a learner can complete a scenario and have instant access to another scenario. Subsequently, the next scenario could be more complex or could introduce a novel concept that the learner must navigate. You may have heard that repetition and practice (e.g. 10000 hour rule) are necessary to achieve expert level mastery (Gladwell, 2008). This is where virtual reality and serious games can make for a great value proposition. Virtual reality and serious games provide learners the ability to practice skills without the need for instructor intervention. Additionally, advances in intelligent tutoring, micro-sequencing and other scaffolding techniques provide learners immediate feedback. These tools provide guidance and hints to learners, allowing them to explore the training without the need for instructor intervention. In a sense, in comparison to live instruction, virtual reality or serious games training could lead to more skill mastery.

It is important to point that, when it comes to operating equipment, instrumentation, or tools (requiring psychomotor skills), learning on actual equipment is certainly imperative at some point. However, in many situations there is not enough equipment to go around. In these instances, learners may have to wait their turn to learn and they lose cognitive focus on the training. In other cases, learners can train at the onset but are not asked to operate the equipment until months later. Instead, a virtual equipment training device or system can provide opportunity to learn during any downtime. Furthermore, virtual equipment training can prepare a learner for the actual equipment, or for refresher purposes.


Cost-effectiveness Over Time

Finally, there is one more advantage in terms of cost-effectiveness. Granted, virtual reality and serious games training (or any training accessible on a computer or mobile device) incurs costs up-front. But virtual reality and serious games are also scalable. Furthermore, they can reduce the cost of hosting live training events and potentially obliging learners to travel to central locations. For example, hiring and training actors to portray synthetic patients to train medical professionals, designing real-to-life military enemy scenarios to train military personnel, and organizing and executing mock jury trials to train law professionals are all extremely costly. Additionally, a live event is not scalable to learners who are not geographically located at the event; therefore, the organization incurs the cost of travel and other related expenses.

Simulating these environments using virtual reality involves up-front software development and engineering costs; however, assets can be re-purposed for future scenarios. An example of this could be a doctor’s office or battlefield VR environment or a patient or Soldier avatar. Also, learners from any location can access the scenarios with no need for travel costs. As a result, learners can also access the training multiple times as a refresher or for reference. This greatly extends the value of virtual reality and serious games training.

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Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York : Little, Brown and Company.

Vidal, V. L., Ohaeri, B. M., John, P., & Helen, D. (2013). Virtual Reality and the Traditional Method for Phlebotomy Training Among College of Nursing Students in Kuwait. Journal of Infusion Nursing, 36(5), 349-355.

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