By Jason O’Neill, Kepner-Tregoe

On a family vacation to Disney World last week, my wife and I decided to check out a new virtual reality Star Wars experience. Neither of us are gamers and had never even put on a VR headset before, but we’re Star Wars fans so, why not? I was excited for my first VR experience and expected something that gave us a fun excuse to battle the Empire. I really hoped it wasn’t lame.


The experience was heart-pounding, thrilling and so immersive that there were a few times I was nervous about what was going to happen next. You walk along in a full VR mask, you and your co-participants are in full Stormtrooper gear (well not really, but it sure looks like it) and you blast your way through an Empire compound trying to solve a puzzle and save the day. We both loved it and told all our friends immediately. This VR thing isn’t just for gamers and Star Wars geeks. Check out this video for a taste.

This incredible experience had me reflect on where virtual reality could take the training industry. At a Learning and Development conference a few months ago, I had seen a few demonstrations by companies who are using VR to help train employees. But I didn’t quite understand the potential of the technology until my virtual Stormtrooper battle.

One presentation was by KFC. They demonstrated how they’re using VR to train employees to cook. I have no doubt through a well-designed VR experience, they’ll get employees cooking more effectively, more safely and without wasting as much food during training.

Another presentation was by Visa. Their employees are learning the ins-and-outs of their credit card transaction system in an interactive VR game that groups of new employees can experience together. I can imagine employees falling asleep with the same content provided through eLearning, but no way they were snoozing during this fun VR game.

So where is VR going to take our training world? For technical jobs, it will help mechanics repair equipment faster and safer. In IT, VR will be able to help analysts visualize complex systems and troubleshoot IT equipment that has failed (maybe even from thousands of miles away). For security, police and military jobs, experiencing really tough situations in VR first surely helps preparation for the real thing.  And for any boring old self-guided training that no one liked, a virtual experience will help make the learning experience much more enjoyable. 

I have no doubt now that within a few years, VR is going to change training. My Disney experience opened my eyes to the potential of VR training. And really, who doesn’t want to see their spouse dressed up like a Stormtrooper?