Posted on June 16, 2023
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.
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:
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…).
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 :
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.
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.