How AR Can Boost Employee Training

What if instead of studying diagrams, reading about hypothetical scenarios, and memorizing data, workers could learn from 3-D visualizations and constantly updated information related to specific tasks?

It’s safe to assume “augmented reality” (AR) makes many people remember the Pokémon Go frenzy from a few years ago—and the fact some people would cross the street looking at their phone and causing trouble. Some will think of social media face filters or a new way of watching movie trailers. But making your face look funny when you’re live on Snapchat and modernizing the entertainment industry are not the only uses for AR.

AR was meant for employee training.In fact, Ronald Azuma, a key name in the field, has stated that “training is one of the original usages researchers pursued in augmented reality.” AR initially was meant to enhance corporate training, and now it’s more feasible than ever. So it’s only natural that so many companies are bringing the tech back home.

Room for Improvement

They should want to because, in short, employee training has plenty of room for improvement. Besides demanding that those in training leave their positions for the sessions, it can be a time-consuming and expensive process—since, on average, larger companies spend more than $1,200 per employee when it comes to training. Small companies can spend even more. Don’t forget to add the hidden costs, such as materials, and the decrease in productivity since work is brought to a halt.

But what if instead of studying diagrams, reading about hypothetical scenarios, and memorizing data, workers could learn from 3-D visualizations and constantly updated information related to specific tasks? Well, augmented reality is aimed at delivering precisely that. Not to be confused with VR (virtual reality), AR is the technology that enhances (augments) real-world objects through the superimposition of virtual information—usually, but not limited to, visual elements. 

Basically, by using their tablets, special glasses, or other AR-ready devices, employees can have access to object-oriented data on their screen. For instance, in manufacturing, an engineer can stand in front of a piece of equipment with his or her tablet and watch as the app overlays the physical object with technical information he or she can use when completing the job. When used properly, augmented reality can be the best support at a professional’s disposal even long after training, as proven by its adoption by health-care professionals during surgery.

And it makes a clear difference. A recent study found that, when applied to training, AR can generate substantial improvement because, among other things, it increases concentration and leads to greater learning retention. The results of that enhanced training are 60 percent faster learning, 50 percent faster performance with 60 percent less material used, and a remarkable 90 percent reduction in mistakes.

A Cost-Efficient Solution to E-Learning

Naturally, a pivotal question when considering any new technology, however promising, is its development and maintenance cost. The cost is difficult to predict because it will depend heavily on the AR developers’ hourly rate, which can range from $50 to $200 in North America and Western Europe. The features added and devices utilized should be taken into account, as well, and when combined, these factors mean AR implementation will be a five-figure investment. Given its results, however, the ROI makes the technology worth trying. Also, businesses in the heavy industry may find AR especially fitting for their needs, such as when teaching safety procedures or the operation of mechanical structures. That helps explain why the industry is experiencing substantial boost, and marketers estimate a 65 percent growth between 2017 and 2024.

More Efficient Technical Workers

Among all of its possible applications, AR has the most obvious place in the heavy industry. Boeing, for instance, measured how beneficial it could be for its aircraft production. Those who used AR-adapted devices could deliver work 30 percent faster and 90 percent better. In their own description, “[engineers] can roam around the airplane and see the wiring renderings in full depth within their surroundings and access instructions hands-free.” The 40 percent increase in productivity Boeing witnessed proved the investment worth it.

It’s no surprise AR also found successful application in an agricultural equipment manufacturer’s factory. AGCO’s implementation of its own AR glasses on its assembly line considerably sped up onboarding, since it made possible to train newcomers mid-job. Training time for other workers also was greatly reduced, from 10 to three days, which increased productivity. For the company, those changes meant saving considerably more during production. 

Since mechanics can see the engine in front of them in 3-D with clear instructions on how to assemble or fix its parts, they are able to deliver a higher quality final product, as well. As a result, the company saw a drastic reduction in the production of defective units.

Preparing Better Salespeople

The use of AR mid-sale expands by the day, from furniture retailers that show what their product will look like in the customer’s house to real estate agencies showing the renter how an empty office will look like when decorated. But some companies have gone further and tried it when training salespeople before the sale by giving them a hands-on experience with the product they sell.

Actelion, a Switzerland-based pharmaceuticals company experimented with its AR app in sales training by giving its salesforce members a more profound understanding of pulmonary arterial hypertension’s effect on heart and lungs. During training, instructor and trainees have access to the same 3-D visualization of the organs and highlight the parts where the condition affects them, which allows the trainer to provide detailed information on the condition’s pathophysiology.

In fact, a fundamental part of selling any product is showing the customer how relevant it is to them, which can be made far easier if the salesperson is familiar enough with it and how it relates to the client in front of them. So not only did that practical knowledge give Actelion’s sales reps a more empathetic understanding of how those affected actually felt, but also empowered them to present their drugs more effectively. 

Key Considerations

  • Study where it fits best. Promising innovations can end up becoming no more than cool gimmicks due to their use in trivial situations. Because of that, rather than simply adding it as a fun-but-unnecessary novelty, businesses ought to consider where AR features can truly enhance processes from a practical perspective. So experimenting with the technology partially before implementing it thoroughly can make a difference. For instance, AGCO realized AR’s potential in production and later studied expanding the tech’s application to other areas.
  • Consider your environment. AGCO’s success with its glasses came after realizing its mechanics needed both hands to perform their job and tablets were easily dropped from the stations they worked on. For Actelion, using AR in office sales training was precisely what its environment needed. It takes observation and a consideration of your business’ demands to decide which and how many AR devices genuinely need to be implemented for the best ROI. It can work wonders for your business, but it must be tailored to its needs.

Tatyana Shavel is a technology analyst at Iflexion. She works in the intersection of business and technology exploring the practical use of AR and VR for smarter business and a better world. In addition to keeping a constant pulse on industry trends, she enjoys digging into data and conducting research.