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It is often said that “virtual reality, with a single headset, is an individual activity”(1). And for good reason, when wearing an immersive headset, one is more or less isolated from the outside world (it is even an assumed goal for many virtual reality applications). However, through the hundreds of trainings and awareness-raising activities that we carry out each year, we have been able to observe that this technology allows sharing, cooperation, and the synergy of groups of individuals. Here is why. 

 

Virtual reality promotes collaboration within teams of safety day participants

When the animator leads a company safety day (link to JS news), he offers to volunteer participants to wear the headset one at a time. But he/she doesn’t stop there. Indeed, even if the “acting” participant replaces his vision of the real world with his vision of the virtual immersive environment in which he is diving, he is still capable of hearing the others in the room, especially his coworkers. They will indeed be tempted to talk to him because:

  • The animator shares the ongoing experience with the spectators by projecting the training workshop on a big screen.
  • He/she introduces the workshop to everyone by encouraging spectators to share their awareness with the participant, as they are encouraged to do daily.
  • He/she reacts to the actor’s projected content and involves the spectators by asking them about how they would react to the situations.
  • The animator debriefs the workshop after each participant, but also once the whole group has passed. He/she identifies the achievements, strong points, but also the areas for improvement.
  • He can give information to the management about real issues by identifying them with the operators thanks to the experience being projected.

In practice, we see that many spectators react spontaneously while watching the projection of the actor’s view. As each one identifies different details, it’s not rare that a “spectator” participant takes the initiative to inform the actor of something he/she saw on the screen. The communication also works in the other way because the actor, deliberately or not, can express his/her doubts out loud and thus solicit collective intelligence.

Finally, all the learners are involved, whether they have the headset on their head or they are watching the scene in progress. Implicating every participant allows the group to take a step back and reflect upon their own safety. Each individual can learn from the others and teach the others by sharing his safety culture and his experience (experienced staff and new recruits, accident experience…).

 

How, as an animator, can we reinforce the team spirit and commitment ?

If individual sessions or small groups allow us to spend more time on the content of the shared experience, all good animators also know how to use the dynamic of a bigger group. They are able to reinforce collaborative work and information exchange between participants thanks to virtual reality training workshops : 

  • They adapt the animation’s conduct based on participant profile. For example, by soliciting leaders to guide others and horizontally pass the company safety culture and/or good practices.
  • The gamified approach of our training workshops allows them to put participants in competition, to push them to attain a goal together. During the session, the animator explains there is a score to attain in a given time. They may be asked collectively to improve the score achieved with each participant
  • It is easy to make participants help each other, whether through learning of virtual reality control devices or through the exercise to solve. By creating proximity for this mutual support, we ensure that the least comfortable people can carry out the workshop by being guided by their coworkers. This is the principle of a proximal zone of development that is particularly recognized in child development.

 

Thew examples of collective interactions during safety days

Safety day where participants, actors and spectators, interact together

During a safety day with smalls groups (4 or 6 people), one of the participants can take on the role of a ground lookout to guide the work at height on the aerial lift realized by another participant in virtual reality. For that, through direct video projection of the passage in progress, he/she can correct the coworker on what he/she could have forgotten or bolster his/her decision-making.

Safety day integrated in a “big EHS game” with goals to attain in team

During this day, a majority of participants, in a team, had to successfully obtain a given score (a majority of found anomalies, not suffer an accident…) on different exercises during the virtual reality workshop. The common goal has generated a strong commitment from all the participants. This brought into play shared vigilance and maintained the majority of “spectators” attentive by assisting the “actor” in virtual reality. Virtual reality as a training tool also contributed to improve the learners’ perception of this safety event, creating an atmosphere that favors constructive exchange and learning.

In conclusion, virtual reality can be a powerful tool to promote collective learning. By offering an immersive and engaging experience, it can encourage the participants’ collaboration and communication.

(1)Virtual reality of course allows for multiple players or learners to interact in the same virtual environment, but this experience requires as many headsets as there are learners and especially a dedicated computer or tablet to monitor each of their activities. In practice, this organization is quite cumbersome and not always easy to deploy.

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