Dr. Alex Young sees a bright future for immersive training.
What motivated you to step back from your career as an NHS surgeon and launch a tech startup?
On-the-job training can be serendipitous depending on the department, hospital or region a resident or trainee is working in. There is variation in training methods as well as actual techniques used by trainers. This isn’t an issue exclusive to medical training but one which affects every industry.
So, although I loved being a surgeon, I also felt passionate about finding a way to scale experiential training and make it more data-driven so that employees in any workforce feel better prepared and perform when it matters. I decided to combine my experience in tech development and education to build an immersive training platform designed to improve human performance.
What is immersive training and why is a tech-mediated approach to training delivery becoming popular?
Immersive training encompasses Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Extended Reality (XR). Learners are ‘immersed’ in video or computer-generated content with interactive features and customisable decision pathways.
Learners can train in a realistic way that recreates the stress and emotion of real world environments but can do so repeatedly and safely with data collected around everything they do.
Without doubt, AR and VR technologies had a hugely positive impact on responses to the COVID-19 crisis.
The training simulations we provide allow any employee to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment. One of the big issues with traditional training is recreating the stress and emotion of real life and being able to collect data on performance at scale.
There is evidence that immersive training drives noticeably faster skill acquisition and helps people to remember things for longer. What’s more, the Virti platform generates rich data to help organisations understand their team’s performance, so leaders can work out precisely where people need to improve.
A study published in the BMJ cites medical error as being the third leading cause of death in the US and costing health providers upwards of $20bn in payouts and evidence suggests that poor communication can be attributed as the cause of most patient complaints, hence Virti’s focus on soft-skills training.
AR and VR training technology has been described as the ‘unsung hero’ of the COVID-19 pandemic – why is this?
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of being able to quickly upskill the workforce remotely. With face-to-face training impossible for many organisations it has been a great opportunity for cutting-edge technology to provide a safe and accessible solution that can prepare employees for new ways of working and keep patients safe.
In healthcare, clinicians were able to access training modules in a safe, socially-distanced manner, and use them to acquire the confidence and skills that would eventually save lives. Without doubt, AR and VR technologies had a hugely positive impact on responses to the COVID-19 crisis.
Elsewhere, AR and VR technology has been used for everything from mindfulness to sales and leadership training. It has been invaluable to all kinds of organisations during the pandemic, enabling them to upskill teams, sell products and keep workforces engaged, using technology that is well suited to a socially distanced world.
Who is currently using immersive training technology, and for what purposes?
All organisations benefit from having highly-skilled workforces and access to in-depth performance data, which means that the potential user base for immersive training tech is vast. It’s particularly helpful when it comes to recreating hard-to-access environments where hands-on training opportunities are limited (for example surgery, emergency care training, or patient communication/soft skills training).
Over the past year, in response to social distancing regulations and evolving sector trends, numerous leading higher education institutions and corporate businesses have also begun using AR and VR technology to deliver remote teaching and training to their students and employees.
What are your predictions regarding the future of this industry, and how will further innovation in this space shape the future of the training sector?
The rate of innovation in the VR/AR and AI space is faster than it’s ever been, and there’s real creativity in the way in which tech advances are being applied to the training sector. I’m already seeing organisations embedding immersive training into their standard operational practice, and it’s certainly going to become a gold-standard for sector leaders before the end of the decade.
Interestingly, it’s not just role-specific training where immersive tech is making waves. Multinational corporations and public institutions (including the police service and the military) are looking to deliver bespoke immersive mindfulness, mental health and leadership training.
This is an area that will see continued investment from companies looking to secure crucial marginal gains through workforce wellbeing initiatives.
Most excitingly, I believe that innovation in the immersive training space will prove the fastest route to the true democratisation of knowledge. Data-driven learning tools should be accessible to everyone on the planet – and VR and AR tech have the potential to make that happen.
About the interviewee
Dr Alex Young, CEO and founder of Virti