eLearning Design

Extended realities – will they ever take off?



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Extended realities - will they ever take off?

Teleportation may not be a reality just yet, but extended reality technology has definitely peaked. Extended Reality is an idea that’s been around for a long time. Science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum may have been the first to envision it back in 1935, when he wrote a story, “Pygmalion’s Spectacles,” in which a professor invents a pair of goggles with the holographic recording of experiences including smell and touch. But what are extended realities, and will they ever take off? First, let’s have a peek at what it means, its benefits and how it is already being used in the eLearning sphere:

Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term encapsulating Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality. It covers the full spectrum of real and virtual environments.

Virtual Reality (VR): VR uses headsets to fully immerse users in a computer-generated reality. VR headsets generate realistic sounds and images, engaging the senses to create an interactive virtual world.

Augmented reality (AR): Rather than immersing users, AR usually relies on the camera in your phone or tablet – to overlay digital graphics and sounds into a real-world environment.

Mixed Reality (MR): MR lies somewhere in between VR and AR. It blends real and virtual worlds to create complex environments where physical and digital elements can interact in real time.

Of course, XR is not a one-size-fits-all solution for learning and training but it comes with its benefits. Here are some of the benefits of incorporating XR into your eLearning:

A safer approach to training

Consider high-risk industries like healthcare, aerospace and manufacturing, where mistakes can be deadly. For these industries, XR training is a new way to prepare learners without the risks and costs involved of live training. Besides, XR technology also helps to save money on training equipment and building environments. For example, it’s much cheaper to train learners on assembling wing parts on a plane using virtual experiences, than having them practise on real ones. From using AR in order to install electrical wiring on an aircraft to collaborating with Iowa State University to build a programme that allows learners to assemble wing parts virtually, Boeing has been at the forefront of incorporating XR into the aviation industry.

Better knowledge retention

No two learners are the same, yet traditional classroom training methods provide a uniform approach to learning. Because XR provides a more visual experience for your learners, it makes the learning experience more enjoyable and engaging. Learners can explore and interact however they want in the virtual environment, creating a more memorable experience for them, leading to better knowledge retention. Research conducted in a Beijing classroom put XR learning to the test against traditional classroom training. In a classroom of 40 students, half were taught course material through VR technology, while the other half were given traditional methods. They tested student comprehension and retention immediately following the course, and again after two weeks. Students with VR learning scored an average 32.4% better on their test compared to those who were taught using traditional methods.

Promotes mistake-driven learning

XR in online training is all about promoting mistake-driven learning. Learners have the power to fail, try out new solutions, and see where their choices lead them in a risk-free setting. They can see how they will react in stressful situations and identify performance gaps that stand in their way. In essence, they will have the opportunity to gain valuable training experience and prepare for every eventuality before they enter real-life situations.

Extended realities in learning

To give you an idea of how XR is already taking the learning sphere by storm, here are some examples of how it is being used in different industries:


Multinational car manufacturer Volkswagen became one of the first car manufacturers in the world to roll out its own VR platform for training and collaboration in 2017.

The training course supports training, workshops and collaborative work using HTC Vive headsets. The potential for employees in one office to exchange best practice ideas with colleagues in another part of the world in an immersive environment is just one of the transformative uses of the technology.


US retail giant Walmart has implemented XR technology into its employee training programme to provide a more involved experience that mimics a real-world store.

The programme utilises 360-degree video in which the learners are transported into a real store and are exposed to all the factors that they would experience while on the shop-floor. Walmart plans to use VR to train employees in three main areas: new technology, soft skills like empathy and customer service and compliance.


One of the main features of XR is that it can be used in the training of future healthcare professionals. CAE Healthcare collaborated with Microsoft HoloLens to build an ultrasound training simulator (VimedixAR). VimedixAR provides an immersive training experience, allowing learners to interact and move freely within a clinical training environment that is augmented with holograms. For the first time, learners can examine the anatomy of the human body in 3D. Learners can practise scanning an animated heart, lungs or abdomen and are able to gain an understanding of human anatomy and how its structures are integrated. The hologram of the heart, for example, can be isolated and enlarged, rotated, and turned as it floats at eye level. If a learner is struggling to understand a concept, they can walk around the hologram to gain a different perspective.

So, will extended realities ever take off? On the one hand of course they will, as XR has much to offer to complement and enrich employee training. Immersive technologies can make training more efficient, exciting and increase knowledge retention. It’s especially useful when training employees in hazardous industries. However, the viability of introducing XR to corporate training depends on many factors, including cost, training needs, available resources, health risks and privacy concerns. Ultimately, if you are considering using XR in your training, it’s important to carefully analyse all these factors before making a decision.

What do you think? Will extended realities have a big impact on your organisation any time soon? Let me know in the comments.