Virtual reality (VR) is becoming more accessible and increasingly popular as a training tool, with low-cost and easy to use headsets and technology. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a variety of industries such as surgical training, manufacturing, and construction (Carruth, 2017). Virtual reality offers a highly immersive and engaging experience where the user is entirely present and can act and explore as they would in real life.

With many organisations expecting remote work to continue, adopting a virtual reality training instead of traditional classroom training allows trainees to access training in their own time and with limited supervision (Carruth, 2017).

But is VR training accessible for all users? How do older workers adapt to the technology and the virtual experience? Are they willing to learn how it works or is it a waste of time introducing VR to older employees?

Older workers, aged 50 and over, are a largely growing part of the UK workforce and around the world, expected to consist of 25% of the labour market by 2024 (SHRM, 2014). They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience and can easily continue having productive and successful careers by embracing the increasing use of technology (Koc-Menard, 2009; Sheldrick, 2020). However, there are some common misconceptions about older workers that affect their opportunities to be offered training, such as the beliefs that they are unmotivated, slow, inflexible, resistant to change and reluctant to adapt to new technology (Heisler & Bandow, 2018). In reality, new and emerging technologies offer exciting possibilities for older employees which can improve their work lives by enhancing training, social support and networking opportunities through online training, collaboration and meetings via video conferencing and other online platforms (Thompson & Mayhorn, 2012).

Training programmes have to be adjusted to meet the needs and preferences of older workers, for example, they may take longer to complete training or find it easier being in smaller groups (Armstrong-Stassen & Templer, 2005).

Key considerations when designing training for older workers:

  • Slow the pace (if necessary) – allowing the learners to control the pace of their own training (Sheldrick, 2020)
  • Relevant content – job-related and relates to existing knowledge (Sheldrick, 2020)
  • Give feedback – clearly explain the benefits of training (Ravichandran, Cichy, Powers & Kirby, 2015)
  • Active participation – gives more relevance and learners put in more effort leading to higher performance (Callahan, Kiker & Cross, 2003)

When it comes to using new technologies, older workers might think they cannot learn and operate new systems, but once they become relaxed and confident, they usually learn as quickly as younger ones, suggesting the issue is not the use of technology but rather the strategies utilised in the training programmes (Ravichandran et al., 2015).

Based on this, what are the advantages of using VR for training older workers? What do we need to consider for these workers and what are the benefits of this method of training compared to other forms?

The true strength of using VR for training lies in the name, virtual reality. It enables us to re-create real-world tasks and assess the candidates’ performance and learning with the main objective of transferring the skills and knowledge from the virtual environment to the real world (Carruth, 2017).

This is a great advantage of VR compared to other methods. Older workers can easily perceive the relevance of the training material and if it relates to tasks done on the job and as they are actively participating, they put in more effort and perform better.

The virtual learning environment simulates a real-time scenario enabling employees not only to gain first-hand on-the-job experience, but they can practice and experiment as much as they like. For example, they can practice identifying and assessing hazards and risks, experience failure and gain a better understanding of job tasks and the potential risks (Norris, Spicer & Byrd, 2019).

Some of the main advantages of VR training:

  • High interaction
  • Less restrictive space
  • Repeatability
  • Flexibility
  • Low-cost
  • Increased motivation
  • More focus on learning

Another benefit of VR training for older workers is the immediate feedback. All actions in the virtual environment have programmed consequences resulting in direct feedback to the user and highly effective training. Users are able to repeat training sessions as many times as they want, controlling the pace of their own learning, until they achieve mastery of the task or materials (Norris, Spicer & Byrd, 2019).

What we need to consider with using VR for older workers is technical issues and the learning curve as well as their attitudes towards the technology. Are they sceptical about training in VR or resistant to learning how to use it? By ensuring they receive enough time and support to learn how to use the software and develop the skills to use the technology for training purposes they might be more open to it.

The key here is to clearly explain the benefits of this method of training compared to other traditional training methods such as classroom, virtual classroom, e-learning etc. More often than not, it’s the employer or trainer that has misconceptions about older worker’s attitude or interest in training, when in fact, they want to embrace the increasing use of technology to continue being productive and successful in their careers (Koc-Menard, 2009).


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