The working environment has changed over the past year. Social distancing restrictions mean that many people have been obligated to work from home. This has affected work across many sectors – particularly when it comes to training.

The Office for National Statistics measured that in April 2020, 46.4 per cent of people in employment did some work from home. Of these people, 86 per cent did so as a consequence of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, virtual learning opportunities have exploded into a variety of professional sectors. Learning in the workplace has been recognised as essential to business growth. Technology has been the largest driver of innovation within learning environments, and computers have opened access to channels of knowledge from around the world.

In the LinkedIn Workplace Learning report, 94 per cent of employees said that if their company invested in their career development, they would stay in that company for longer. Engaging with employees is essential for driving this retention, where virtual learning opportunities mean that access to new methods of training is expansive. Today, staff can learn from home, obtain higher comprehension of their work, and hone their skills more easily using digital and technological methods.

The shift to virtual learning has shown potential for more digitised training in the future. Here, we look at the benefits of embracing digital platforms for both individuals and workplaces, and what the future of virtual learning has to offer.

Virtual conference

The most common forms of virtual work – that many people would have experienced in the past year – are video conferences and meetings. Downloads of Microsoft Teams and Zoom have spiked during the pandemic as many workplaces adapt to employees working from home. In the UK, the average monthly Google searches for ‘Microsoft Teams’ increased by 742 per cent between January and March of 2020 alone.

Video calls and training have been used to continue learning in the workplace. It has helped to maintain collaboration despite isolated workspaces. Importantly, it has allowed training sessions to be recorded, meaning that anyone can review lectures or instructions again for further clarity.

In the future, we can expect to see these virtual conferences expand into new territory. Virtual reality (VR) can allow digital avatars can meet in a digital space. The use of virtual reality training will expand the potential for collaborative work too. With VR, images, diagrams, and models can be managed and altered in real-time among the presence of colleagues. The use of VR headsets also allows users to immerse themselves into a meeting environment, bringing them closer to other workers – even if they’re on the other side of the world.

Understanding your environment

Some working environments can be complex and understanding the schematics of factories and machinery is essential for the safety of workers. Specialist staff usually have to study through manuals, use simulated equipment, or be given extensive training on real equipment. Fortunately, virtual learning tools can help make the experience more immersive and efficient.

Real factory environments can be scanned using lasers and real images to map out the environment. This allows workers to learn the space without having to visit the site or intrude on working operations. Equally, interactive 3D models can be configured to match machinery and equipment used by a workforce. From turning valves, pressing buttons, and locating tools, VR can help with real training scenarios. While malfunctions may be uncommon in the workplace, their importance in terms of safety means they are paramount for any workplace training. Virtual simulations can replicate these malfunctions which may not be demonstrable on real equipment. Sounds, alarms, and emergency lighting can also be adapted in VR scenarios. This makes the virtual learning environment more real than viewing equipment in person.

Mixing with reality

The future of virtual learning does not belong to VR headsets and video conferences alone. Augmented reality is also a useful virtual learning tool that can be used when working from home or in workplace settings. This may be most useful for engineers, architects, and designers, looking to see their work in scale and in real-time – even before it has been made.

Augmented reality combines elements of the digital world with that of the real world. Cameras, phones, and other computer devices can alter images of the real world,

changing aspects of your immediate space to help with training methods. This may include adding a 3D model onto your desk. You could then use your phone as a filter to move around the object, inspecting aspects of your work closely. This may help identify issues which can be missed using computers alone.

Interfaces can also be added to objects, allowing you to make simple objects in the real world interactive when they are touched or approached.

This is important for learning. One study found that in educational settings, examination scores were six per cent higher among students who studied in an active learning environment. Those who learnt through traditional lecturing were also 1.5 times more likely to fail than these students. In the workplace, augmented reality can provide in-depth training for professionals and help to increase comprehension of complex processes and equipment. Augmented reality can reinforce these active learning opportunities and help workplaces develop their staff with efficiency.

The potential for virtual learning in the future is huge. As processing power improves, our virtual experiences will become more immersive, meaning that the method of instruction can also improve. Whether through intelligent simulations or augmented collaboration, the growth of virtual learning in the workplace can have benefits for every sector.

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