Why Scenario-Based VR Training Can Be As Effective As Face-To-Face Training

Why Scenario-Based VR Training Can Be As Effective As Face-To-Face Training
Katherine Canales/SweetRush Inc.
Summary: Planning beyond the pandemic means finding alternatives to face-to-face training that engage and achieve performance objectives. Discover why innovative L&D professionals are embracing scenario-based VR training to elevate blended learning programs.

Explore Use Cases For Scenario-Based VR Training

Transformation of face-to-face training to virtual learning solutions is not a new concept, and it has driven significant innovation in L&D, from more and more sophisticated eLearning to mobile apps to social learning platforms. All of us in L&D are constantly looking to gain the efficiency and cost savings of virtual training, while not losing the human connection and emotion that people experience while learning together in person.

eBook Release: Your Guide To VR Training Programs
eBook Release
Your Guide To VR Training Programs
Gain valuable insights into obtaining buy-in for designing and launching successful VR training programs.

Finding this balance continues to drive R&D and innovation, and the new, exciting, and powerful tool in the L&D toolkit is scenario-based VR training.

Now, in our post-COVID world, the future of learning is even more virtual. All of us in L&D are setting our sights on how we can transform face-to-face training in new ways. Short-term, rapid conversion (e.g., in-person workshops to webinars) will only go so far. Scenario-based VR training is unique in that it immerses learners in a virtual world—eliminating distractions and keeping their attention—which offers a perfect platform for creating a dynamic, virtual person-to-person or story-based learning experience.

In scenario-based VR training, you can experience the perspective of others firsthand, building understanding and empathy. You can practice hands-on in a consistent, repeatable way in a safe environment. You can even be joined by other learners and/or instructors in the virtual space, offering a safe place to connect.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons VR training is so effective, and how it can be a robust alternative to face-to-face training and an impactful part of a blended learning program.

The Effectiveness Of Scenarios In Virtual Reality Training

Immersive Learning And Attention

Capturing and keeping learner attention is one of our biggest L&D challenges. It directly influences the retention of what’s learned. We’re seeing very promising research on VR, retention, and recall.

Miami Children’s Hospital, which is using VR to train medical staff on a variety of procedures, reports that its VR program had an 80% retention rate one year after training, compared to 20% one week after traditional training [1]. Imperial College of London reported that 83% of surgeons could go into a lab environment with minimal guidance after learning in VR, compared to 0% using traditional methods—fueling a significant investment in VR training from Johnson & Johnson [2].

Though let’s be clear, these success stories cannot be exclusively attributed to immersion and engagement—and that’s a perfect segue into other reasons why VR is effective, from experiential learning to scalability, consistency, and repeatability. Read on!

Blended Learning And Practice

Learning is not a one-time event; effective learning programs embrace the many facets of how people learn. Context/demonstration; self-reflection; reinforcement; performance support; and critically, practice.

VR is designed for practice. Storytelling and scenarios immerse learners in real-world situations. They can face challenges, manipulate objects, and identify problems in a virtual world as close to their work environment as possible. They can, and will, repeat the experience, deepening the practice and aiding retention and recall. And it’s a safe place to practice, offering learners the opportunity to fine-tune skills without causing harm to themselves, others, or your organization.

Scenario-based VR training can be the cornerstone of your blended learning program [3], supported by other modalities (e.g., eLearning, video, Virtual Instructor-Led Training, group activities, coaching), to create an effective learning journey.

Experiential Learning

Effective learning means learning by doing. VR, done right, can be a close second or even preferable to the real thing. Until someone builds a "holodeck," scenario-based VR training is the closest we can get to the real world. It can be a remarkably realistic and yet safe environment to practice in, a place where mistakes do no harm. Within the context of a real-world scenario, learners can perform tasks, manipulate objects, explore environments, and experience hands-on what we need them to learn.

Multiple Perspectives And Empathy

In VR, learners can experience what it’s like to be in any situation, from the perspective of anyone in a situation. They can experience multiple perspectives in the same program, which can motivate behavior changes. It’s the adage, “You can't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes” on steroids. Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism found that news stories presented in VR using multiple perspectives “prompted a higher empathetic response” compared to static photos and even provoked a “desire to take action” [4].

Roleplays are a common technique in face-to-face training, but learners often struggle to feel fully immersed in the “scene,” limiting their ability to experience others’ perspectives. By contrast, scenario-based VR training offers that full immersion and can result in a heightened emotional response. VR training also eliminates the element of peer judgment, allowing learners to practice needed skills without that pressure.

When Hilton collaborated with our team, SweetRush SPARK, together we created a program that helps “hotel team members discover what it feels like to be a guest experiencing a problem.” [5]  Hilton’s results from the pilot were impressive: “75% walked away reporting that it improved their problem resolution and customer service skills, and 94% said it bolstered team members’ sense of empathy during its trial launch.” [5]

Social Learning And Facilitated Learning

The biggest risk in transforming face-to-face training to virtual is losing the human connection—it’s what makes in-person workshops so popular. VR hardware manufacturers are developing collaboration technology and VR content developers are leveraging that technology to create tools that enhance social learning and the role of the instructor/facilitator. These include multi-learner experiences (two or more people represented by avatars learning together in the VR space) and experiences in which instructors can influence and guide what’s happening in the VR environment, and learners must react in real time.

Where Training Scenarios Work Best For VR Implementation

When determining which types of training are best suited for VR, we suggest you start by focusing on your high-profile, high-impact programs. That’s where VR training can drive the Return On Investment for your business and your learning programs. But, that said, as a warm-up and test, you might choose a smaller or less critical project so you can learn the ropes and use that experience to garner stakeholder buy-in for the more high-profile program.

Here are the top programs for which VR training can be most effective.

Technical Training

Of all the training types listed here, technical training tends to face the most organizational and logistical hurdles: hard to replicate, disruptive, needs a safe environment to practice. If you need to transform face-to-face technical training to virtual, VR should be high on your list of tools to consider. Technical training can be wrapped in scenario-based learning by creating a real-world situation in which learners need to respond in a hands-on way.

Safety Training

VR safely puts learners into an environment where their safety is at risk. You can help them identify risks or enable them to practice the correct physical response to safety risks and provide feedback based on body tracking. In a recent study comparing VR to PowerPoint training for health and safety training, the VR group demonstrated stronger long-term recall of the information. “The increased cognitive engagement of learning in the virtual environment creates more established and comprehensive mental models which can improve recall,” stated a report in Science Daily [6].

Sales Training

Do your salespeople rarely (or never) have an opportunity to experience the product they’re selling? This is frequently the case for high-end products, such as luxury suites, and also applies to consumer products that can’t be demoed in stores, such as tires. VR can connect them to your product by enabling them to experience the product features, the perspective of the target buyer, and the emotions associated with product benefits through the lens of a real-world scenario and the buyer’s perspective. That visceral experience stays with them as they sell your product to customers.

Soft Skills And Empathy Building

If you’re looking to grow future-ready leaders, your training programs need to build critical thinking, communication, and decision-making skills [7]. Building empathy and understanding across roles and enabling cross-functional collaboration are essential to growth and innovation [8].

We’ve talked earlier about the power of VR training in helping learners deeply experience multiple perspectives and how it overcomes the limitations of traditional learning techniques like role plays. Scenario-based VR training can help you effectively transform face-to-face learning for these skills to virtual.

Unlock The Full Potential Of VR Training

Innovative L&D professionals are now laser-focused on finding alternative solutions for virtual training that bring higher levels of engagement and allow learners to connect safely.

Scenario-based VR training is an effective alternative to face-to-face training; the technology is rapidly evolving, paving the way for adaptive learning and more robust learning analytics. With many big players in the mix, from Facebook to Apple, VR equipment is also becoming more affordable, which means it’s more viable to invest in on a greater scale. It’s not far-fetched to foresee that individual VR headsets, driven down to commodity pricing levels, will be a standard part of everyone’s digital media and virtual training toolkit in the near future.

Interested to learn more about the here, now, and future of VR training? Download Your Guide To VR Training Programs: Virtual Reality For Our New Reality. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll discover how to successfully bring VR training to your organization. Join the webinar VR Training Program Case Study to find out more through a real success story!


[1] Virtual reality for medical training: How it benefits hospitals

[2] Johnson & Johnson wants to bring VR to doctors-in-training worldwide


[4] Walking in another’s virtual shoes: Do 360-degree video news stories generate empathy in viewers?

[5] A new perspective on hospitality: How Hilton uses VR to teach empathy

[6] Virtual reality training could improve employee safety

[7] The 10 Vital Skills You Will Need For The Future Of Work


eBook Release: SweetRush
Our job is to help you achieve your objectives and be successful. Engage us at any point, from analysis to custom development (including e-learning, mobile, gamification, and ILT) to evaluation.