In-company training is now being transformed by virtual work experience. ‘Mixed Reality’, combining Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, has the potential to help integrate all employees and bring them up to speed on work tasks in a faster, more efficient manner.

Mixed Reality reshaping the future of in-company training

Many analysts reckon that 2017 will be the year of Mixed Reality. MR blurs the boundaries between Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), combining immersion and holography to enable interaction between the real world and the virtual world. This combination of creation and action is opening up new prospects for innovation. By drawing on the best aspects of both technologies, Mixed Reality fosters shared input, so that VR-AR techniques can be adapted to new areas. Most notably, by overcoming the limitations of Virtual Reality tools – hitherto practically the exclusive province of entertainment and consumer-oriented products – MR has the potential for much wider application, including inside companies.

While MR is regarded as less disruptive than pure VR, it nevertheless looks set to shake up in-company training by offering a new approach based on simulated work experience. The way it works is that MR will be used to a) immerse the trainee virtually in a work situation and b) provide him/her with the wherewithal to deal with the new environment. The innovative aspect here resides mainly in the potential for interaction. The trainee experiences the work situation by actually performing the relevant tasks, acquiring the necessary moves/actions/automatism, and will then receive personalised follow-up training via Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or special chatbots.

Simulating work experience to improve performance

According to the International Data Corporation, the market for alternative realities (AR/VR/MR) is likely to be worth close to $165 billion by 2020. And now that the battle between VR and AR is at its height, with VR scoring high on its immersive capabilities and AR winning out on its lower-cost equipment, the Mixed Reality approach has obvious advantages. So we find that Microsoft’s self-contained holographic computer headset Hololens, Zappar’s Zapbox headset and the Occipital Bridge headset are doing well in the market for new MR-based products. Today these MR systems are being tried out mainly in such specialised areas as surgery and architectural design. The Royal College of Physicians in the UK  is currently testing MR prototypes designed to train young surgeons. Meanwhile California-based advanced positioning solutions provider Trimble, whose customers are mainly in the construction industry, offers MR tools for visualising plans in 3D and tracking work-in-progress virtually.

These two examples illustrate the advantages of using Mixed Reality to simulate testing or experience. Firstly, performance levels improve because the user learns everything by doing – i.e. working and training simultaneously. Virtual monitoring based on ‘adaptive learning’ tools also enables a trainee to learn a given task more easily. At any moment, a learner can re-use the tools provided on his/her autonomous holographic computer. In a French article on the FocusRH (HR Focus) website, TEMNA founder Stéphane Diebold highlights the merits of this new kind of training which, he points out, allows users to "have a pleasurable experience so as to learn more, better, and for longer." It is now recognised that emotion plays a fundamental role in successful learning that has been under-rated by companies for far too long. Emotion is in fact central to Mixed Reality systems, which create realistic training experiences, going beyond basic task-learning to immerse the trainee in the real company universe.

Creating a more inclusive training world

In addition, the fact that the immersion process is highly personalised and allows a trainee to have fun helps to stimulate a feeling of belonging and forge a bond between a new recruit and his/her employer. “In a world where people are in search of meaning, looking to find themselves, an emotional experience helps to give the training process credibility, creating pride in experiencing together and creating the company of the future,” stresses Stéphane Diebold. In the longer term, the goal is not to step up the automation of training and job tasks just for the sake of it, but rather to engender higher levels of inclusiveness at the company, to foster cohesion and promote new forms of close, collegial, stimulating and creative collaboration among the staff.

To attain this goal, firms will need to undertake a thorough re-think about the basic aims and methods of in-company training and to develop experience-based training that is able to meet the new requirements and new challenges of the world of work – not least opening up to new audiences who are still all too often being side-lined. A Mixed Reality approach could well help to overcome some of the difficulties encountered by people with disabilities and also attract young people who have dropped out of the formal education system. Holographic visualisation combining pleasure and performance certainly has the potential to promote inclusiveness. In his book Vers l’entreprise inclusive, les six clés de la diversité, (‘Towards the Inclusive Company – Six Keys to Diversity’) Laurent Jeanneau argues that diversity within a company “enables it to put down strong roots in its locality, optimise Human Resources management, prevent potential manpower shortages, and increase its ability to innovate”.

By Théo Roux