How Virtual Learning Is Reshaping Employee Training and Development

Virtual learning is a useful alternative way of upskilling employees. Virtual learning systems have been used in universities for years with systems such as Blackboard and Moodle. Employers are now starting to embrace alternative methods of staff development which includes virtual reality.

Workplace and corporate learning is a great way to retain staff. Whether it’s a day out of the office, development of key skills, upskilling, additional training or learning helps staff feel valued and ensures they are up to date with the organisation’s needs. Blackboard has produced a guide ‘The Effects of Corporate Learning on Employee Recruitment and Retention‘ which is useful to justify training if you need to make a business case!

The Effects of Corporate Learning on Employee Recruitment and Retention
The Effects of Corporate Learning on Employee Recruitment and Retention

For organisations that want to offer training to new or existing employees, it’s not always easy to coordinate training sessions, seminars, and other events. One of the most important advancements in recent years, for work-place training and continuing education, has been virtual learning. The following examples showcase just how beneficial virtual learning is for organisation that use it to its best advantage.

The virtual environment is a web-based learning platform where participants can attend learning sessions and engage in a variety of lessons and activities. A range of different activities can be involved: webinars and other group teaching sessions; one-on-one training; and interactive exercises are all popular choices in virtual classrooms. Virtual learning can also include activities that participants do alone in their own time, allowing employees to train and learn in a digital environment, at their own pace, and without having to travel to attend training sessions. It’s cost-effective, time-saving, easier to organise, and when deployed in the right way, is a highly effective way to train employees at all levels. Virtual learning can improve how employees participate in and learn from their training, resulting in better-trained staff and improved productivity.

Sodexo’s ON24 Virtual Learning Environment

Sodexo is one of the world’s biggest food and facilities management companies. With more than 400,000 employees in 80 countries, Sodexo designs, delivers, and manages a range of “quality of life” services in corporate, education, healthcare, and government settings.

Prior to the implementation of its new virtual learning programme, Sodexo had a number of problems with its employee training: attendance and engagement levels were low, costs were high due to travel requirements for live training sessions, and training schedules had led to conflicts with client partner commitments. Sodexo needed a flexible, cost-effective solution to these problems, which would improve attendance and engagement, and lead to better-trained staff.

To solve these problems, Sodexo worked with global webinar development leader ON24 to develop a virtual learning environment for employee training and career development. The learning environment helps provide training, and gives managers more tools to define their company roles, implement changes in their respective departments, and improve business outcomes. With this learning environment, the company has improved both attendance and engagement, with more employees opting to take part in training sessions, and engaging in a higher number of learning activities than they previously were. The virtual learning environment has been so successful that Sodexo plans to provide even more virtual learning opportunities to its employees, including content designed for viewing on mobile devices.

Training Employees with Virtual Reality

Some organisations are taking the concept of virtual learning even further, by using virtual reality technology to train employees in various tasks. There are important benefits to be gained from using virtual reality in this way. For instance:

  • Virtual reality can mimic real situations, providing immersive training that helps people fully prepare to encounter those situations on the job.
  • VR allows employees to practice complex or hazardous tasks in a simulated environment, so that they can learn the job safely without negative consequences for making errors.
  • VR training is more engaging and stimulating, helping employees retain and recall information more effectively.

Virtual reality is being used in a diverse range of industries, including energy, healthcare and retail.

Virtual reality learning – Energy

In some industries, the biggest benefit of virtual learning is that it gives employees training in a safe environment, where they can train to handle high-risk situations in the real work. One example of this is BP’s partnership with Shropshire-based VR company Igloo Vision, for employee training at a BP oil refinery in Hull. Employees receive training in safety-critical tasks, such as start-up and emergency exit procedures, ensuring they are experienced enough to handle these situations should they arise.

Virtual reality learning – Healthcare

In healthcare, Microsoft Hololens and Case Western University collaborated to develop a training programme to help medical students better understand human anatomy. In this case, the tech is a headset that projects life-size anatomical cross-sections, allowing medical students, doctors, and researchers to closely examine how different parts of the body relate to each other and work together. Ultimately, this technology will also be used in the operating room to help surgeons operate more accurately and successfully.

In hospitals, a VR application called MPathic is being used to teach students empathic communication methods so that they can interact more appropriately with patients and families who are receiving bad news, such as a terminal diagnosis or bereavement. Using Mpathic, students learn about verbal and nonverbal communication and cues, helping them feel more confident in these situations, and ensuring they’re equipped to help all their patients.

Virtual reality learning – Retail

In retail, US industry giant Walmart recently developed a pilot programme to examine how virtual reality might be used in employee training. In this case, an Oculus Rift headset provides 360-degree video technology that is used to train staff to handle difficult real-world situations, such as customer service issues, as well as special situations such as Black Friday shopping. The pilot programme proved successful enough that Walmart is rolling out virtual reality training in its 200 staff training facilities, where 150,000 employees receive training every year.


And if you’ve never seen a virtual learning environment (VLE) before, explore this video from Moodle.

Virtual learning provides an alternative to traditional training, although I’m a fan of both methods. The face to face allows questions to be asked that you didn’t know you had!