By Britney Cole

You’ve been tasked with being “innovative” this year. Perhaps you’ve read reports and articles about L&D trends or attended a conference to gather some ideas. You want to make a difference and demonstrate how modern learning “shows up” in your organization. And now you’ve decided: You’re going to create a virtual reality experience. You’ve done some research and realized there are a lot of decisions to make: 3-D versus live action versus avatar, cameras (if live action), custom versus off-the-shelf development tool, headsets, self-directed versus facilitated—and not to mention creating an asset that has a shelf life that’s commensurate with the investment you intend to make.

Before you start buying 360-cameras or demoing development platforms, do these tasks first so you can be competent, confident, and committed to what you intend to do with VR—and be sure that it meets the business need and audience you aim to serve.

Create a Compelling Use Case

Everyone wants to say they “do” VR, but it’s another conversation to ask for time, resources, and budget to actually “make” it. This is where you must clearly identify the audience, the business need, the desired outcomes, and even a vision for what it will look and feel like. From a cost perspective, a five- to ten-minute VR module can be on par with a 30-or-more minutes, highly engaging, branched e-learning course. Because the price tag is higher for something that will ultimately take less time to go through, you’ll need to identify the benefits to the employee and to the organization. To gain this needed sponsorship and buy-in, you must demonstrate how VR can not only build knowledge and skills, but do it in a more engaging and effective way than another learning modality (for example, classroom training, hands-on labs, branched e-learning courses, and so forth) could do on their own. Here are some example use cases to consider:

  • VR can reduce costs. VR can be used to recertify in an annual safety procedure or compliance exercise that would otherwise require classroom training.
  • VR can reduce time. Shorten a classroom experience by 30 minutes or more, which can allow another topic to be covered or increase productivity by releasing participants early.
  • VR is the only option. If VR wasn’t the modality, learners would not be able to otherwise experience the scenario because it was either too dangerous (for example, an active shooter situation or riot), impossible (for instance, a tour of a patient’s anatomy), or rare (for example, a tour of an far-away manufacturing location).
  • VR is the best option. While learners could learn how to have a difficult conversation via a role play or repair equipment via an online simulation, wouldn’t the learning experience, our brand as a company, and the engagement of the learner greatly improve if we created a VR simulation in which the participant could actually practice those skills in an immersive environment? (The answer is yes!)

Scope Out Your Plan—Even If It’s Tentative

Whether you work for a services/consulting firm or are deeply embedded in an internal L&D and function, a core skill of any L&D professional is to communicate the what/when/how of a solution. Even though VR is still taking hold in the learning industry and there are many unknowns, you can still do your due diligence in scoping what you want to do. Or, at minimum, addressing the unknowns and identifying what you might do once a decision is made. This will demonstrate that you thought of every possible outcome.

Here are some questions that you’ll want to consider:

1. Will this experience be live-action (filmed in 360- or 180-degrees) or created in 3-D?
A. If live-action, will you film it yourself?
i. If yes, will you buy a camera to do so?
ii. If yes, will you hire actors or use internal staff?
B. If 3-D, will you build out a customized environment, assets, and avatars or use what’s commercially available?
i. If 3-D, will you resource/hire the skill set to build the needed assets or outsource to a speciality firm?
ii. If hired out, what companies could be a partner? Consider larger services/learning companies and content/leadership speciality companies as both are growing this capability to serve their clients.

2. Will this experience be guided or branched or “open-ended?”
A. If guided, what is the learner expected to do during the experience (for example, watch as an observer, participate as a character, or participate as self)?
B. If branched, how many decision points are necessary in order to build this skill set? What do we expect the outcome would be via the “ideal” path and the “rainy day” path?
C. If “open-ended,” what will assess the participant’s ability? Keywords? Listening to speaking ratio? Eye-tracking? If keywords, must the participant say them to trigger moving along in the experience?

3. How will this experience be built?
A. Custom, using tools such as Unity or Unreal Engine.
B. “Rapid Development Tools,” using platforms such as CenarioVR or Pixvana.

4. Will this experience be delivered as a self-directed asset (meaning learners can do it on their own time) or as a facilitated activity with someone leading it?
A. If self-directed, how will this experience be “teed up” to them? Do they need a VR headset or can they use a phone or desktop? If yes to a headset, which one?
B. If facilitated, will this be an “add-on” to an existing program, be a new program in its entirety, or be more of an “open office hours” where people can go and experience?

5. What needs to happen to keep this experience evergreen so it has an ample shelf life? What is required when updates are necessary?

Britney Cole, associate vice president of solution architecture and innovation strategy for The Ken Blanchard Companies, creates an atmosphere of excitement and forward-thinking for clients who want rethink what it truly means to unleash the potential and power in people and organizations for the greater good.

With more than 15 years’ experience in organization development, performance improvement, and corporate training across all roles, Britney brings a pragmatic and diverse perspective to how adults desire to learn on the job. She comes to clients with a lens of WHO they are solving for first and foremost. Britney focuses on human-centric solutions, bringing Design Thinking and Agile methodologies to her work and clients to create innovative, relevant and meaningful experiences that create business impact.

She works hands-on with the latest and emerging technologies, including Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, mobile apps, curation platforms, social collaboration, chatbots and microlearning. She and her teams have helped organization with platform selection for leadership solutions as well as implementation, integration, content curation, and custom development.

Britney forms lasting partnership due to her practitioner mindset and ability to think big on emerging technologies, learning experience design and digital leadership development that blend in the human connection.

Britney is a published author and speaks regularly for learning and HR conferences, including DisruptHR, ATD, eLearning Guild, and Chief Learning Officer Symposium. Britney earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Colorado State University and her Master’s degree in Educational Technology from San Diego State University.

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