Innovators are working on augmented reality displays that help with way finding and technical visualizations.

Rich New Training Technologies for Professional Development

Innovators such as Google, Microsoft, HP, and Logitech are all working on augmented reality displays that help with way finding and technical visualizations, among other applications.

Making the best investments in employee health and safety training requires smart allocation of resources. Using advanced e-learning technologies for employee training may not at first seem worthwhile; however, for those willing to make the investment, they can put your organization on the path to huge safety gains. Not only can e-learning better leverage your most knowledgeable experts' and trainers' time and efforts, but using 3D technologies to create training assets also provides a much greater return on every training dollar spent.

And 3D is just the beginning. Simulations and serious games motivate employees and make an enormous impact on their behaviors, and augmented reality can bridge the training-operations gap. In many high-stakes and fast-moving industries, such as high tech and the oil and gas industry, greater job complexity, a knowledge gap among young workers, and stringent compliance requirements are huge challenges. These industries are responding by devoting resources to technologically advanced training methods.

Evergreen E-Learning Efficiencies
Do you have a few critical employees or trainers who are so over-allocated to the continual maintenance of safety training that they have little time for other responsibilities? Developing e-learning with modular, re-usable assets can transform the amount of effort your organization needs to change management. With modular, learner-centered instructional design and living assets such as 3D media, your employees and organization can gain all the benefits of e-learning and minimize change management expenses.

E-learning that is modular not only allows for easier updates, it also encourages busy professionals to selectively engage with specific topics that target their needs and interests. If employees are confident that a training activity will be easily accessible, brief, and relevant to their work, they are much more likely to engage in it. Developing learner-centered training has similar benefits as modular training. Learner-centered training is focused on enhancing employee skills and procedures from the learner's perspective, as opposed to focusing on product or service details that change with every new release or new customer. This makes the material much more relevant to learners. Plus, that material will stay fresh for much longer.

Even when the details of equipment or work environments change rapidly, for instance in manufacturing or technical businesses, using rich media such as 3D assets allow for quick, cost-effective change management. A 3D model of a piece of equipment can be the source for a huge range of imagery and can be manipulated, updated, and reused as the equipment or the training needs change.

We call this a living asset because, unlike photography, there are no limits to the amount of detail, resolution, angles, backgrounds, or lighting conditions that can be produced from one 3D model.

First-Person, Mission-Critical Simulations Impact Employee Behavior
Richly interactive training can now incorporate advanced simulation technologies so trainees can be prepared for real-life scenarios. They can learn complex procedures and processes quickly and without the risk factors involved in real-life situations or real equipment. And when simulation technologies are delivered within a serious games environment, they create an immersive world in which the learner is in the first-person position making mission-critical decisions.

Training within real-world scenarios rewards the application of both newly acquired skills and previous experience so learners develop competencies rather than just memorize correct answers. Simulations have long been used as a training method in high-risk or highly instrumented environments, such as flight or medical training. However, you don't need life-threatening tasks in order to benefit from simulations and serious games. Education research has shown that adult learners retain significantly more instruction and perform better on competency tests by experiencing simulated real-life scenarios in which they can practice a task, and even fail, without risk. More and more employees, especially those who grew up with gaming technologies, respond with enthusiasm to the challenge of serious games.

Like the oil and gas industry, many organizations require flexible and highly effective training delivery options that change employee behaviors. Simulation training is ideal for highly instrumented environments, but it is also ideal for blending hard and soft skills. One recent example of such training we've developed includes a serious game in which learners train on both inspection tasks and the soft skills involved in communicating with those being inspected. Serious games emphasize decision making, critical thinking, problem solving, and the correct application of skills to a particular situation. Because it provides practice-oriented training, it makes the most of employees' training hours and can more efficiently develop their skills than time-consuming synchronous classroom training.

Bridging the Training-to-Operations Gap with Augmented Reality
The most advanced professional development no longer has to interrupt operations at all; it can be integrated into operations. By integrating the real world with the virtual, augmented reality (AR) anchors information when and where people need it. Whereas a simulation is an entirely computer-generated experience, AR superimposes computer-generated information or imagery over the user’s view of the real world.

Enormously influential innovators such as Google, Microsoft, HP, and Logitech are all working on augmented reality displays that help with way finding and technical visualizations, among other applications.

Job aids and other training tools delivered via AR have many benefits: They can be easily and remotely updated whenever equipment or procedures change, they mean less reliance on synchronous classroom training, and they enable employees to quickly synchronize their tasks with appropriate co-workers, equipment, and precautions. Just as Boeing is equipping its workers with virtual reality glasses to assemble 747s, it's very possible that "augmented" employees may soon be a standard in many industries.

Valuable organizational efficiencies gained by using AR include a seamless transition between training and operations. The same assets developed for safety training can be used by workers to understand the hazards in their environment and feed them live digital readouts and instructions on what to do next and how to do it right.

For example, the same procedural steps used to train employees can be re-purposed into a procedure management system that monitors and tracks employee performance for safety compliance purposes. AR also can integrate with automated systems to provide employees with enhanced environmental awareness and on-demand instructions relevant to their task or act as a virtual health, safety, and environment guide to walk new trainees through safety and compliance procedures, pointing out hazardous areas and showing what protective equipment to wear.

The merging of physical and digital worlds is made possible by some of the most advanced e-learning technologies, and it has the potential to advance employee development and technical acumen in many creative, cost-effective ways. As many organizations are discovering, 3D assets, simulations, and augmented reality visualizations offer vast new possibilities for improving professional development and training.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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