Forget what you know about staff training. The future is here – and it’s immersive

Corporate learning and development (L&D) has accelerated at breakneck speed – and for the better, thanks to AI.

January 26, 2024
Mark Hattersley
Forget what you know about staff training. The future is here – and it’s immersive
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Staff training costs surpassed $100 billion in the US for the first time in 2022. To put that in perspective, it's more than three times what the global music industry made that year. Or, for social media fans, the approximate cost of a couple of Twitters (or Xs). 

The learning and development (L&D) sector is clearly posting some impressive numbers. Investment in this area has surged in recent years, with 83% of organizations looking to build a more people-centric culture, according to a recent LinkedIn report.

Unfortunately, despite spending a lot of extra cash on training, many businesses and staff feel the results have been underwhelming. 

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of managers aren't confident that their employees can keep up with future skills demands. Even worse, seven in 10 workers don't believe they've mastered the skills they need to do their jobs effectively now, let alone in the future. 

It's no surprise, then, that 90% of executives believe current employee training methods need to be more effective. But how can businesses get the most out of their L&D investments, preparing their staff for the workplace of tomorrow? 

We have discovered immersive learning experiences driven by the latest technologies in conversational AI hold the key to unlocking greater value from staff training. 

But before we look at how to deliver immersive learning, let's delve a bit deeper into why the L&D landscape is evolving and what that could mean for your organization.

The current state of play in enterprise learning and development (L&D)

We’d be remiss to not mention the effect of remote and hybrid working – potentially the most disruptive force on L&D in recent decades. This type of working arrangement has been on the rise since the turn of the century, but the pandemic was a true accelerant, forcing industries to modernize how they approached working from home and with globally distributed teams. 

In the US, for example, only 7% of employees who could do their jobs remotely were actually doing so before the pandemic. This sky-rocketed to 55% in October 2020 – a month in which global COVID cases topped 40 million. 

The proportion of homeworkers has since dropped to 35% in 2023. However, that still means more than a third of the US population are working from home in a post-pandemic landscape, representing a 400% increase from 2019. 

And staff training has taken a hit. 

One study found that nearly 70% of middle-market firms report that homeworking has impeded employee training and development, with two-thirds saying it has created problems with onboarding or orienting new workers. 

Even when staff training goes ahead, it doesn't appear to be sticking. Around 70% of content 'learned' during L&D sessions is forgotten within 24 hours. After a month, employees can't recall 90% of what they've been taught. We’ll come back to that important stat shortly!

The outcome of all this? Accenture claims that only 26% of staff agree that their employers have helped them gain the skills and experience they need to succeed in a new, tech-enabled work environment.  

This poses a problem, especially as there is already expected to be a significant – and widening – shortfall of technical skills in the US. By 2029, the American Action Forum predicts there will be 8.5 million fewer qualified workers than needed, resulting in 1.2 trillion (yes, trillion!) dollars of lost economic output in the country.

So, how can organizations strike the right balance between hybrid working set-ups and effective L&D opportunities? For many, the answers lie in remote-first learning methods. And those efforts also need to be much more engaging, immersive, and interactive.

Digital humans: A new approach to staff training 

We've highlighted some of the challenges of staff training: the shift towards remote working, a widening skills shortage, and poor information retention. 

And let's not forget about the costs. Companies spend an average of US$1,300 a year on staff training per employee. That's a lot of money when workers are only remembering 10% of what they are taught after a few weeks.

This is why immersive training is beginning to make waves in some organizations. Using digital humans and other immersive learning solutions, employers can provide engaging, interactive, and memorable learning experiences online – wherever employees are. 

In doing so, they are achieving more than just bridging the gap between the office and the home – immersive training is outperforming typical 'classroom' environments in key areas such as soft skills. 

For example, PwC recently found that VR training is four times faster than classroom learning – a task that would usually take two hours to get to grips with in person was understood in 29 minutes using VR. Not only this, but students felt nearly three times more confident in applying the skills afterward. 

A big part of these successes is down to better engagement with the content. Staff were nearly four times as emotionally connected to what they were learning, which may come as a bit of a shock to some people, given that VR solutions obviously lack the human touch. 

Those with a keen eye on the digital human market won’t find this surprising. Whether it's marketing, customer support or, indeed, training and development, conversational experiences have been getting results. 

Let’s be clear, nothing is as immersive or as effective as having a 1:1 tutor, available when you need them. But without the human resources available to do that at the scale businesses need, technology is stepping forward. 

Digital humans have distinct benefits. They live online, are available 24/7 and interact in real-time, and in 100s of languages. Through sophisticated conversational AI, large language models, retrieval augmented generation (RAG) techniques, and digital human avatars, L&D is achieving incredible results.

A huge 90% of execs say training resources need to be more effective; and digital human trainers are operating at a 95% effectiveness rate.

Some 94% of staff say they recommend the digital human solution, compared to 33% in traditional text-based learning.

And remember when we discussed how poor staff recollection can be through traditional training? One of our clients in the edutech industry achieved a jump in near to total recollection of training information from 44% to 82%.

Putting immersive learning and development into action

So what does immersive learning look like?

Walmart is an example of a company that is at the forefront of innovation in staff training. In 2017, the retailer deployed VR solutions to its 200 learning academies. 

The pilot scheme saw some exciting results: 

  • 30% higher employee satisfaction 
  • Scoring higher on tests 70% of the time 
  • Information retention rates jumped 10-15%

The program was so successful, Walmart rolled it out to all of its stores in the US – nearly 4,700 of them. Now, employees can simply don an Oculus Go VR headset and instantly immerse themselves in training, rather than traveling to a nearby academy. 

Digital human staff training solutions are also seeing great traction.

For example, a digital human can train sales teams. They provide consistency as they lead users through the company’s training modules. They can incorporate roleplay, giving sales teams a chance to practice and perfect their pitch. 

They use specific scenarios, like objection handling, for a more personalized and tailored experience, focusing on each learner’s strengths and weak points. And at the end, they can offer tips to improve.

UneeQ’s agnostic integration with RAG and LLM solutions means company data can be used to guide the learner. The conversation isn’t scripted, it uses generative AI to make it open-ended but always on topic.

Such a use case wasn’t possible a few years ago; but now it’s drastically improving the quality of L&D.

Importantly, a digital human replicates some of the engagement and effectiveness of an in-person tutor. But what no other solution provides is a lack of judgment. Learners know that a digital human can’t judge them for a wrong answer. It leads to less-stressful training environments where people are less afraid to fail.

Backing this up, research shows that using avatars in digital or virtual environments can reduce anxiety.

And lastly, as XR/VR/AR applications become more and more common in learning and development, UneeQ digital humans are all set to live in these environments. It’s the reason we launched our SDK for XR experiences last year.

To see a glimpse of what a digital human can offer, check out the short video above, where a job interviewee is coached through the process by a digital tutor. 

The next step in L&D

Staff training has evolved a lot over the last three years – not to mention the last 30. And it's going to have to continue evolving to prepare today's employees for the workplaces of the future. 

The rise of remote working means that employers are having to find new ways to deliver the engaging and memorable experiences that are the hallmarks of great training. Technology can help, but does it have the ability to reach people on an emotional level? Many businesses have rightly been skeptical of handing over important tasks like HR, onboarding, and employee training to automation. 

But we believe attitudes are changing. Deloitte predicts that approximately 70% of staff L&D will include VR by the end of this year. Companies like Walmart are already revolutionizing how they deliver training using the latest technology. 

What's more, digital humans are providing the face, warmth, friendliness and engagement that immersive training needs, building on top of the consistency and scalability that AI has always offered. Empathy meets efficiency.

If you'd like to learn more about how conversational AI can support your employee training, feel free to book a meeting to discuss the UneeQ platform with one of our specialists.