VR Empathy Training


“You don’t get what’s going on, you don’t know that our kids ask why their Dad can’t take them to the park, or why Dad isn’t fun anymore…” Thinks Sam, who is suffering the fallout when her husband becomes the subject of a serious Health & Safety Incident. “I know you all mean well, but you can all go back home to your families and loved ones – everything will soon return to normal for you. I can’t escape this, it’s completely changed our lives…”

Sam and the company aren’t real; they are part of a simulated Virtual Reality (VR) health and safety empathy training course, currently being used to train people at scale. Designed and developed by The Immersive Learning Studio, this new type of digital training focuses on increasing and expanding Hazard Awareness Thinking using the S.A.F.E.T.Y. First conversation model.

Virtual Reality is changing the way employers train and improve the skills of their employees. It is widely recognised that eLearning is not as effective as instructor-led learning; whilst hiring a facilitator to provide one-on-one training for employees is effective, but challenging in a large-scale environment. Virtual Reality strikes a natural balance between these two extremes, as it’s both scalable and highly effective.

There are a number of companies who are currently trialling this new training technology.  Employees don their Oculus Quest VR headset and step into the life and mind of the Plant Manager, Production Manager, SHE Manager and the Victim’s Partner, all of whom convene in a company meeting room 3 months post “Incident” at the fictitious plant. The goal of the training is to build empathy, the soft skill that has shot to prominence in both the corporate and healthcare sectors.

The user then steps out onto the shop floor and looks for hazards. The result is as if that person has actually learned all they encounter – as if they really had that sensory experience. The purpose of this empathy training is not just to create an emotion, but to harness emotion to quickly affect behaviour. The multisensory approach, combined with the empathy gained from these experiences, solidifies the key learning objectives in the user’s mind. It is scientifically proven that learning infused with heightened emotion resonates deeper than just observation or teaching alone.

There are 8 environments for the employee to explore. Each location has specific risks and hazards built in. The employee not only has to look for and then think about, the types of hazards they encounter, but also to consider some of the challenges their colleagues face on a daily basis.

The trainees are virtually immersed in a safe, instructive and supportive environment that allows them to become aware of real hazards without causing harm to company property or themselves, and without having someone supervise or guide them in the working areas.

Specifically designed using first-person practice, the trainee moves through each scene guided by a virtual coach. The more they practice this searching and identification of hazards the quicker they learn. It is typical that by the later environments they will be identifying all hazards in less time.

Empathy training is at its best when the person undertaking the training connects with the subject matter, for some people this is instantaneous, for others it takes time. On this project we created 3D modelled environments interspersed with real backgrounds, captured using stereoscopic video cameras.

In our final scene “The Incident” we drafted in company employees to use as actors. This provided us with exactly the right level of authenticity required to emotionalise the injury and connect to the Impact on person, family, colleagues and their company.