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The limitations of virtual-reality training

In 2017 I wrote a blog about a partnership between Walmart and Strivr, a company that designs virtual-reality (VR) training. At that time, Walmart was testing VR-enabled learning in 31 of its Training Academies with aspirations to expand the training to 140,000 associates per year.

Two years later, according to this recent Wall Street Journal article, headsets have been added to the backrooms of all 4,600 U.S. stores to train over one million workers to execute job functions such as stocking shelves and using online pickup machines. And Walmart recently has expanded beyond technical training to use VR for assessments, which have been given to over 10,000 associates as a part of an evaluation process to determine their aptitude for store management roles. The training was designed to learn how candidates prioritize tasks and communicate with co-workers in times of conflict.

Using VR to assess leadership potential got me thinking about the limitations of the technology. Is it possible for VR to replicate the influence of an inspiring leader, the wisdom of a trusted mentor, or the inspiration of compelling vision?

Just as job roles require more than simply possessing adequate job knowledge and demonstrating sufficient job skills, training and assessment requires more than merely simulating job purpose, employees’ highest priority at work. Leaders must constantly preach it, practice it, and pilot it.

Without this level of daily hands-on involvement, trained employees may be competent to consistently execute assigned transactions (knowing WHAT to do and HOW to do it) but be disconnected from organizational purpose (knowing WHY they are doing it).

So, while VR may be an effective tool to educate a large number of employees quickly or assess the technical ability of highly skilled workers such as pilots, it is an unreliable surrogate for leadership, mentorship, or a compelling organizational purpose.

Photo credit: Walmart

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