Study evaluates virtual reality training in construction

by Sophie Berrill
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virtual reality training in construction

An Australian-first study has tested the effectiveness of training construction workers using virtual reality (VR) and compared it to conventional face-to-face training methods.

The three-year project involved a partnership of leading researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Construction Skills Queensland (CSQ) and Next World Enterprise, with support from several registered training operators. 

Testing virtual reality training in construction

Researchers tested the outcomes of a ‘Working safely at heights’ course delivered using both a custom-built VR simulation and by traditional means.

The ‘Working safely at heights’ course delivered using VR

The results

The study showed VR training outcomes were comparable to traditional training for most questions when tested directly after training, with traditional training moderately more effective. But at a re-test after one month, retained learnings through VR were comparable to retained learnings from face-to-face training.   

CSQ CEO Brett Schimming says the study suggests VR may present a viable additional delivery method in future construction training.

“The outcomes of the study provide an interesting case for training providers to further investigate emerging training technologies – CSQ will be keenly watching the commercial response to the research from here,” he says.

“Safety will remain paramount in all construction training conversations including considering the introduction of VR into the current training industry.”

Lead QUT researcher Associate Professor Kate Thompson says the study returned some interesting insights about VR training in a construction setting, as it did not rely on previous experience with VR.

“Around 60 per cent of the VR trainees had never used the technology before, but this VR experience provided them with a safe environment to learn in their own time,” she says.

“They could practise skills as many times as they liked before progressing to the next stage.

“It is a really exciting area to be researching as not all VR training environments are the same.”

Safety in simulated situations

Michael O’Reilly, a behavioural scientist and founder of VR training company Next World, has seen a rapid take up of VR for workplace training in recent years, with application across all industries and international markets.

“The real beauty of VR is that we can put people into simulated unsafe situations in order to help them understand why the safety standards exist, but we can do so safely. That creates a level of comprehension and emotional connection that leads to positive behavioural change,” he says.

A “game-changing” study

O’Reilly has called the study a “game changer” because it implies that VR can reduce learning duration without compromising learning outcomes.

“Workplace training is increasingly blended, and VR is taking its place alongside the other modes, while increasingly being seen as a preferred option because of its power in learning outcome generation,” he concludes.

Read about new eye-tracking technology being developed by Australian engineers to identify building defects early. 

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