Why Virtual-Reality Training for Employees Is Catching On

By Davor Gasparevic

We learn by doing, so simulations that let us experience scenarios help us learn and remember better. Enter virtual reality training.

Imagine sitting in the cockpit of a Bombardier Q-400 on its final descent before landing, only to discover that your retractable nose gear is stuck. Fortunately, you've made a belly landing dozens of times. Like always, you touch the runway with your back wheels first, then drop the nose onto the tarmac. The landing is unremarkable, and you aren't even shaken. You've handled this maneuver multiple times, without ever leaving the ground. You learned how to respond to equipment failure from the controls of a flight simulator.

Similar scenarios take place every day in training environments. They share one common element: participants walk away safely at the end of every session.

Industry Adoption

The goal of Virtual Reality-enhanced training is to create realistic workplace experiences and allow employees to take risks while working in demanding environments.

Virtual reality training companies like VirTra and immersive learning companies, such as STRIVR and MPATHIC, use simulators, gaming PCs and Oculus Rift headsets in specially designed training environments. And virtual reality hardware and setup costs are becoming negligible compared to traditional training expenses. In fact, VR-ready laptops can be found at around $1,000 or even less should you decide to get a used laptop.

Not surprisingly, some of the first industries that committed to using virtual reality for job training include healthcare and aviation, but VR is branching out into retail, hospitality and other industries. Let's take a look at some current examples:

Walmart

Immersive technology allows for on-the-job training without downtime for the company or danger to the employee and co-workers. As critical as it is to business success, job training can be costly regarding production and manpower, and some scenarios are impossible to replicate without immersive virtual reality.

Technology can provide the simulated experience of an event like Black Friday. Walmart uses immersive VR technology to prep employees for dealing with the frenzied holiday shopping experience. Simulations show Walmart associates how the crowds will respond to sale items. Immersive reality users can gauge traffic flow throughout the store, respond to confrontations and learn how to manage big crowds of rushed shoppers.

Replicating the same live scenario in any Walmart store would be cost-prohibitive and far less likely to improve employee skill.

Pima County Sheriff's Department

In some situations, immersive reality can mean the difference between life and death. Immersive reality training for law enforcement provides the experience they need without the danger of injury—to themselves or the people they protect.

Case in point: the Pima County Sheriff's Department in Arizona relies on MILO (multiple interaction learning option) for its training. MILO is an immersive simulation designed to help law enforcement practice their reactions in potentially volatile situations.

Large flat-screen panels surround the officers, giving them a 300-degree view of a scenario requiring various levels of intervention. The virtual reality simulations offer multiple scenarios that last only a minute. To make the training even more effective, deputies and their supervisors debrief with each other after each exercise and before starting the next one.

Honeywell

Businesses such as Honeywell are combining virtual reality and augmented reality to deliver hybrid instruction designed to increase the working knowledge at a single operations plant.

Honeywell has designed a completely connected plant by introducing Intelligent Wearables for use in industrial plants. The wearables are outfitted with safety monitoring devices and alerts. They also serve as a virtual library of documents, including videos and narratives, that a worker may need access to in the course of performing job duties.

The intelligent wearables also allow for communication between the worker in the field and office support. There's no down time searching for information or getting in contact with subject matter experts who can resolve small issues before they become large enough to stop production.

Combining experiential learning with business data not only enhances instruction, but also expands employee knowledge. Employees analyze authentic data during their simulated experiences. They also are able to collaborate with their co-workers and trainers during the simulation for improved communication.

Job training is becoming better because of virtual reality. Simulation programs that provide authentic and safe experiences not only help prepare employees for their jobs, but they also free up workers who would have to provide the training. In addition, learners can immerse themselves in a situation repeatedly, making sure they have mastered the skills needed for job success.

Virtual reality offers companies a training option that is as effective as live training at a fraction of the cost. According to STRIVR, learners retain 75 percent of what they are taught, compared to a 10 percent retention rate from reading or listening to a presentation. The immersive technology provides hands-on experiences that allow for better learning outcomes

Virtual Reality training for a bear attack

By Greg Nichols

If it's a black bear, raise your arms and make lots of noise. If it's a brown bear, drop to the ground and pray.

That's the short version of any wilderness course covering bear encounters. But no matter how much hikers and campers internalize instructions, book learning tends to go out the window when confronted with a 600 pound giant.

A company from Prince George, British Columbia, thinks virtual reality is the answer, and it's part of a growing number of companies aimed at training preparing people for high-stress situations.

Also: Demand for augmented and virtual reality expected to soar this year

VR Training Solutions has come up with a VR experience that emulates a bear encounter.

The idea is to immerse the user in a situation that requires quick decision-making with significant consequences.

"This is as real as it gets without being attacked. It is the most effective training tool I've seen," according to Dan Le Grandeur, Bear Scare Inc., a wildlife management and training organization based in Canada. "I definitely want to add this to our bear safety training programs."

The VR Bear Safety Training Program works by asking users to make critical decisions in conjunction with physical movements, which is supposed to aid muscle memory in a real encounter.

"Through the physical action within the VR, users are truly learning in an exciting, realistic environment. While wearing virtual reality goggles, the user is transported to a digital forest where the software simulates a bear encounter in the woods."

What happens then is up to the user.

CNET: VR could be your next painkiller

The bear encounter simulation is one of several use cases for VR involving high-risk decision making. Many police departments are training officers on situational awareness in VR environments, especially when it comes to the use of potentially deadly force.

VR has also been used by the military to simulate everything from parachuting into battle zones to medic training.

Early research into the idea of virtual reality simulation as a proxy for real-world decision-making in emergency situations has been compelling, offering several obvious early applications for the young technology.

The Impact and Potential of Virtual Reality Training in High-Consequence Industries

By David Wentworth

Despite being around for more than 30 years, virtual reality (VR) is just now beginning to catch on in both the commercial and enterprise environments. Advances in computing power and the advent of devices such as the Oculus Rift have brought virtual reality into a practical place in our lives.

From a workplace perspective, virtual reality has vastly expanded the possibility of how we train workers. These platforms make it possible to put employees in almost any locations or situation imaginable, interacting with items that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to have in a training environment.

According to the 70:20:10 framework, 10 percent of what people learn comes from formal learning events such as courses and classes; 20 percent comes from informal, peer-to-peer learning; and 70 percent is experiential. This means that the clear majority of what people learn comes from on-the-job training, trial and error, and simply learning by doing.

Virtual reality gives organizations the ability to create scenarios in which employees are actually learning by doing without any consequences. It allows for mistake-driven learning where employees can safely make mistakes and learn along the way. In most enterprise learning environments, experiential learning is often the most difficult to deliver, yet it often has the biggest impact. Virtual reality lets organizations capitalize upon that. Learners can see how they’ll react in stressful situations and identify performance gaps that are standing in their way.

In essence, they can gain valuable online training experience and prepare for every eventuality before they enter the workplace.

Virtual reality is changing the way businesses train their employees through these advantages:

Improved safety in on-the-job training

Low-cost, comprehensive education for new employees

Increased productivity

Saves time and money with remote learning

Works for various learning styles

Makes training enjoyable and engaging

Research and Trends

When VR first became popular, it was associated with gaming and other esoteric or recreational uses, and the corporate/industrial world didn’t immediately take it seriously. Most major advancements in technology start out being viewed as toys or fantasies; this was true of the telephone, the internal combustion engine, and probably every other truly revolutionary invention. It’s only when their usefulness becomes widespread, familiar, and undeniable that they are treated as the serious disruptions they really are. Even though it still generates plenty of gaming-related publicity, VR is clearly emerging as a disruptor to pay attention to in almost every business sector.

Trainees can enjoy learning in many different scenarios, simulating different conditions, without moving to a different place. A police officer can train on how to handle robberies, hostage situations, or natural disaster interventions—all in a single place, without moving.

Virtual reality is still an emerging tool for enterprise learning. Not all organizations have a suitable need for the technology. However, Brandon Hall Group’s research has found that interest and use is growing among “high-consequence” industries. These are industries in which organizations face a high level of regulatory and compliance requirements. These include aerospace, chemicals, health care, manufacturing, energy, and investment/finance.

Interest in using game-based technology and simulations has increased significantly among these companies, as more than 30 percent identify these tools as a top learning priority for the next

12 to 24 months. This is a 66 percent increase from 2016.

When we look specifically at the use of VR in the context of compliance training, Brandon Hall

Group’s latest Compliance Training Survey found that that 9 percent of high-performing companies currently are deploying virtual reality, compared to 6 percent of other organizations. Additionally, 15 percent of high performers say their use of virtual reality will increase. High-performers are those organizations with annually improving key performance indicators (KPIs) such as revenue, market share, and customer retention. While this data does not indicate causation, there is a correlation between being a high-performing organization and being more likely to use virtual reality.

Additionally, Brandon Hall Group’s Learning Strategy research found that among high-consequence industries, about 45 percent consider these types of simulations either important or critical to achieving their business goals over the next 18 to 24 months.

However, most are not ready to execute just yet. Only 18 percent of companies in high-consequence industries are ready to take action, according to research, while 29 percent are not at all prepared and 30 percent are only somewhat prepared.

Safety

The difference between virtual reality scenarios and traditional simulations is the sense of immersion. The virtual environments also make possible training with hazardous materials or dangerous situations without being in real danger. How else can an airplane pilot train for an engine-failure situation or nuclear plant personnel train for a leak involving nuclear waste?

Learners’ lack of experience might be a risk in some industrial occupations training, for instance, those involving work at height or hazardous material manipulation. VR-based simulations offer a safe environment, where novices are able to train. The safety factor alone can be enough to justify any investment in VR training because the cost of accidents both in training and, eventually, on the job can be astronomical. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 722 workplace deaths in 2015 that resulted from contact with objects or equipment. There were also 424 deaths resulting from exposure to harmful substances or environments, an increase of 34 events from 2014.

Training that can better prepare workers for the types of hazardous environments they will encounter can help mitigate this risk.

The value of virtual reality for workplace safety initiatives lies in its ability to overcome classic learning problems, especially at the large scale involved in a manufacturing setting. The most obvious of these problems is the inherent limitation of 2-D-written or video material in preparing workers for real-life situations. Up until now, participating in such training programs involved a worker passively watching a video or reading a printed safety procedure, and then perhaps being asked to answer questions about the material. This lack of realism in traditional teaching procedures shows up as a glaring defect when compared with the immersive experience of VR training. In virtual safety training, the worker directly experiences many of the actual sights and sounds of a real-life emergency and learns to respond appropriately to such a situation regardless of his or her emotional reaction.

Learning Effectiveness

As referenced earlier, the majority of what people learn comes from experiential learning, or “learning by doing.” Virtual reality provides an avenue to allow learners to get hands-on without actually executing on the job. Not only does this represent the majority of how we learn, but it also represents a modality with high retention rates.

According to Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Health System, the retention level a year after a VR training session can be as much as 80 percent, compared to 20 percent retention after a week with traditional training. “The level of understanding through VR is great because humans are primarily visual, and VR is a visual format,” Kini says. “We believe there are numerous opportunities where repetitive training and skill set maintenance are critical for outcomes. Since there are not enough patients in many cases to maintain these skill sets, virtual reality is a real addition to the arsenal. Imagine also scenarios where we need to practice for accreditation and or compliance. In these situations, virtual reality is a god-send.”

As industrial and manufacturing positions increasingly fill with younger workers, it’s appropriate to make use of the technology that’s familiar to this generation. Accustomed to extensive and sophisticated gaming platforms, younger workers find it easier to make the transition from virtual reality safety training to real-world practices. According to a recent survey, safety and manufacturing skills training was the second-most popular application of VR and augmented reality among U.S. manufacturers. The ways in which those manufacturers are applying VR and

AR to their everyday dealings continues to evolve, as well. The survey noted improvements in materials handling, remote maintenance, augmented assembly, and improved inspection.

Cost Effectiveness

Not only can simulations be safer and less expensive than real-life exercises, they can be more cost effective than a standard e-learning course.

It would be reasonable for such innovative training methods to come with a hefty price tag, but the cost of VR equipment is starting to stabilize as more providers enter the market. VR programs are a one-time expense that can prove cost-effective in the long run. Users can take part in as many training modules as required, tracking performance over a range of sessions to give visual and statistical feedback during ongoing assessments. This flexibility and convenience means operators don’t have to spend money on materials and resources used for repeat training and practice. Instead, trainees can engage with lifelike scenarios as often as necessary without additional costs to their employers.

Training in virtual environments reduces the large expenditure associated with real-life simulations. Let’s think, for example, about the resources used in training firefighters or police officers; they have to close roads, involve many people as actors, simulate dangerous scenarios, etc.

VR is still at the very beginning of realizing its substantial potential to save money in the industrial sector. The operation of entire manufacturing plants, including all machines and processes, will be transformed in the coming years.

Looking just at the benefits offered by virtual safety training, the savings arise from a range of sources. When workers are better trained, there are fewer accidents. In addition to fewer injury-related costs and production delays, a better safety record translates into less risk and lower insurance costs. As long ago as 2007, VR was being proposed as a cost-saving, on-demand resource for workers. Though very conceptual, that 2007 paper likely helped set the stage for the many innovations making headlines today. VR can help overcome the lack of on-demand access to training because that virtual world can be summoned any time the VR headset is needed. This dedicated resource makes safety knowledge always accessible.

Midland ISD Developing "Petroleum Academy" by Alana Rocha, The Texas Tribune

Midland ISD Developing "Petroleum Academy"

 

Posted: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 8:39 am

By ALANA ROCHA The Texas Tribune

MIDLAND — As this Permian Basin city continues to thrive amid an oil boom transforming the region, local drilling companies have faced challenges in recruiting workers to come to West Texas.

But the local school district plans to implement a program that could provide a homegrown solution to those labor concerns.

Pending school board approval, the Midland school district will launch a pilot program in January for its “petroleum academy” for high schoolers. It will include state-approved courses for students who want to work in the oil industry immediately following graduation and those who wish to obtain a college degree in a related field. The district plans to roll out the academy next fall.

Ryder Warren, the Midland ISD superintendent, said district officials established the academy’s curriculum after surveying parents and students about possible new areas of study. The move comes after lawmakers in 2013 passed legislation allowing high schoolers to earn diplomas in specialized areas.

“I have parents and kids who are now going to tell me what programs we need to provide,” Warren said. “That’s a very exciting change in the entire state in public education.”

The academy will include Texas Education Agency-approved engineering classes and oil and gas curriculum that begin in the ninth grade, said Kim Evans, Midland ISD's career and technical education director.

Warren said the district intends to bring oil and gas workers into the classroom to share their expertise, take students on field trips to training facilities and arrange internships for seniors looking to join the workforce straight out of high school. A cost for the academy will be determined at the end of this year, as part of the 2015-16 budget.

“We want to grow kids who are going to be competitive in any market,” Warren said. “But I think we owe it to our local business owners — especially in the oil and gas business — to really understand the skills that they’re looking for and be able to provide that through the program.”

The district will hire two specialized teachers to head the curriculum at freshman and high school campuses on both sides of town. District officials worry that with lucrative salaries in the oil industry itself, finding qualified teachers could be difficult.

“We have teachers leaving the school to go work for the oil companies 'cause they can make more money that way,” Evans said.

Officials were able to move forward with the academy after lawmakers passed House Bill 5 last year, reducing the required number of state standardized tests for high school students and allowing them to earn diplomas in specialized areas or “endorsements,” such as science and technology and business and industry.

Warren called the legislation a “game changer” for the district’s students and the local business community.

“Every kid has a gift, and we have to go find it,” he said. “We have to design our programs to meet their needs, rather than vice versa.”

The petroleum academy plan has been welcomed by area oil and gas producers, like Pioneer Natural Resources, which said that given the difficulty of recruiting workers to the area, it would be beneficial to foster an “organic workforce.”

With housing at a premium and the cost of living skyrocketing in the Permian Basin, the academy’s potential to provide workers who already live in the area would address a pressing need for drilling companies.

“This will give employers a much larger pool of qualified candidates right off the bat,” said Nellwyn Barnett, an executive vice president at the Midland Chamber of Commerce.

Barnett said the oil and gas industry is easily the most represented among the chamber’s member companies. Hiring right out of high school requires more on-the-job training and raises safety concerns for many, she said, because of the students’ lack of experience working in highly specialized areas.

“We’re just privileged to have a district that’s responsive to the needs of the community,” Barnett said.

The district has long had the support of oil and gas companies, which have donated upwards of $11 million to support staffing in the district.

Midland ISD leaders will present the academy plan to the school board next month for approval. After the pilot program gets off the ground in the spring, officials will garner feedback ahead of the academy’s full implementation in the 2015-16 school year.

The petroleum academy will be the first of many such specialty programs, the district said. Others, including culinary arts programs to help staff restaurants and hotels and a health sciences initiative to supply much-needed hospital workers, are in the early stages of development.

“We’re going to raise our own, and [the companies] are willing to help, so it’s going to be a community partnership in order to get this task taken care of,” Evans said.

Got Skills? By Schumpter (The Economist, Aug 23, 2014)

The Economist

August 23, 2014

Business

 

Got Skills?  By Schumpeter

 

Retooling vocational education

 

For decades vocational education has suffered from the twin curses of low status and limited innovation.  Politicians have equated higher education with traditional universities of the sort that they themselves attended.  Parents have steered children away from “shop class”.  And vocational studies have been left to languish the detritus of an industrial era rather than the hand maiden of a new economy.

 

A recent report from a managerial consultancy, McKinsey, called “education to Employment:  Getting Europe’s’ Youth into Work”, paints a dismal pictures of the state of vocational education.  In four of the seven countries surveyed, more than half of the young people taking an academic course said they would have preferred a vocational one.  But they have been put off by disorganization and lack of prestige.  Britain has more than 20,000 vocational qualification offered by 150 different bodies.  In America, responsibility is scattered among governmental departments.

 

The great exception to this has always been Germany, of course.  But now there are signs that other countries are trying to turn a back road into Autobahn.  Politician are banging the drum for vocational education.  Australia, for example, has created a Workforce and Productivity Agency.  Educational innovators are flooding into the vocational market.

 

There are good reasons why vocational education should be gaining ground.  The world is plagued by youth unemployment.  In the EU about a quarter of the 15-25 year olds are jobless.  The figure is lower in America (15%) but still remarkably high for a country that once pride itself on having full employment and a flexible labor market.  At the same time firms complain bitterly about skill shortages:  27% of European employers survey by McKinsey said they have left a vacancy open in the past year because they cannot find anyone with the right attributes; a third because they cannot find anyone with the right attributes; a third said that lack of skills is causing big problems for their businesses.

 

The university bubble is also beginning to burst.  Democratizing universities has proven an expensive an inefficient way of providing mass higher education.  Americans, who have let the way, have taken on more than $1 Trillion in student debt.  But a growing number think that they got poor value for money – taught by PhD students not professors, forced to subsidize expensive research programmes and administrative cadres, and provided, at the end of all of it all, with a college diploma that no longer automatically brings a desirable job.

 

Frustration with the status quo is at last leading to a burst of innovation.  The internet is well suited to vocational education; it helps reduce costs while making it easier to earn a living while doing some vocational training.  Just as important is the birth of the new concept of what is being delivered.

 

“Competency-based education” sounds tedious but reverses most of the basic tenants of academic teaching.  It tries to transmit mastery of work-related skills (or competencies) rather than command of a particular academic discipline.  It is designed for a world of lifelong learning rather than the “three or four years you’re done” university system.  Knowledge is broken up into bit-sized “modules”.  Students take these modules at their own convenience- over month or years, in the evening or by attending full-time courses – and combine them in whatever way makes the most sense for their careers.  Evaluation is continuous as students master difference skills, rather than embodied in a single degree certification: your CV provides a constantly updated summary of the skills that you have acquired.

 

 

The mixture of new technology and different methods of teaching is attracting a host of entrants, from universities looking for customers to innovators hoping to create new businesses.  Southern New Hampshire University College of American pave the way by offering competency-based degrees for$2,500 a year.  Other early adopters include the University of Wisconsin’s UW Flex and Capella University FlexPlan.  Udacity, an online educational firm, has teamed up with companies such as AT&T to provide “nano-degrees”; job-related qualifications that can be completed in six to 12 months for $200 a month.  Dev Bootcamp offers a nine-week course for code developers paid for partly by a success fee.  The firm charges employees for each graduate hired, after they complete 100 days on-the-job, and at the same time reimburses students a significant portion of their tuition fees.

 

Vocation, vocation, vocation

 

In a new e-book Clayton Christensen, of Harvard Business School, and Michelle Weise, of the Christensen Institute, argue that the presages a revolution: students will be able to take courses that provide them with essential skills quickly and cheaply.  The great disrupter of higher education will not be MOOCS (massive online open courses), they insist, these mostly focus on delivering standard academic education over the internet and suffer from drop-out rates of up to 95%.  Rather, it will be a new approach to learning which makes plenty of use of the internet but ties education more closely to work.  The emphasis on competencies rather than subjects will make vocational education better suited to post-industrial economies.  It will also challenge the dominance of university as student realize that they no longer have to amass huge debts in order to acquire marketable skills. 

 

Mr. Christensen and Ms. Weise may be going too far when they claim that disruption will spread throughout the university system.  There will still be a place for academic study and small classes.  But vocational innovation will certainly produce a more dynamic educational marketplace – and one, moreover, that provides an honored positon for vocational colleges, rather than treating them as an embarrassing sideshow.

 

5 Fundamentals of an Effective Toolbox Talk by Jamie Graham 17 June 2014

Before we start looking at what makes for effective toolbox talks, we’ll share a quick definition:

“A toolbox talk is an informal group discussion that focuses on a particular safety issue” (Harvard University)

As with all safety matters, there’s no point in having toolbox talks just for the sake of it.

Effective toolbox talks can save lives and are an important topic in human factors. Here are five fundamentals every toolbox talk should have.

Brevity

Safety in working environments such as oil rigs and hospitals is of paramount importance. However, that shouldn’t equate to toolbox talks taking hours to deliver. It’s advisable to hold smaller talks more regularly rather than overload people with information over a period of hours in just one session.

An effective toolbox talk should be around 10-15 minutes long and an interactive meeting between the supervisor and staff. While the detail of the talk is important, it’s also vital that everyone has their chance to air their views and feel like they’re being listened to.

Authority

While toolbox talks are meant to be informal, it’s critically important they’re conducted by someone in a position of authority. Occasional toolbox talks just held between staff doing the job could bypass a number of safety concerns as well as not being properly recorded or reported.

When toolbox talks are held regularly by a supervisor, it gives staff the chance to air their concerns and ideas and ensures these are reported further up the chain to management if necessary.

Relevance

Toolbox talks aren’t the place for general safety presentations. Toolbox talks should be held in the working environment rather than a formal training area and focus on specific tasks or procedures relevant to staff.

The language used should be what the staff understand and not ‘management speak’ that leaves any room for confusion or misunderstandings. For example, talking about safety-inspired changes to a particular procedure may fall on deaf ears if the team members actually already perform it in a different way from the official guidelines.

Clarity

At the start of a toolbox talk, it should be made clear what the topic is going to be. If these briefings are allowed to grow arms and legs, the result could be a confusing and lengthy meeting. When people aren’t engaged in toolbox talks, the safety of everyone in that environment can be put at risk.

Typically each toolbox talk will cover just one safety topic for discussion to keep things clear and simple for everyone. The way the information is delivered by the supervisor is another important consideration and any one to one discussions that need to take place should be done so away from the group.

Accountability

Every toolbox talk should be recorded by the supervisor or manager who’s given the talk. It’s important to have a clear and up-to-date record of what discussions have taken place in terms of operational safety. If no records are kept, different accounts of what was discussed could emerge in the event of an incident.

It’s also important to keep track of which staff were present at each toolbox talk, particularly in a shift working environment such as an oil rig. It only takes one member of a crew to miss out on an important safety briefing for potential safety issues to arise.

Summary

Toolbox talks play an important role in human factors in a number of industry sectors.

Remember BARCA - Brevity, Authority, Relevance, Clarity and Accountability to ensure your toolbox talks are effective and help keep everyone safe in the workplace.

Oil and Gas Industry Training Requires Rich New Technology by Oliver Diaz April 15, 2014

The stakes are incredibly high for the safety and compliance efforts of today’s oil and gas industry. Engineers and crews must be trained for increasingly complex processes and procedures used aboard drilling rigs and production platforms. The consequences of inadequate training during oil production can be disastrous to both operator crews and the environment. However, there’s a growing deficit of knowledge and expertise among young workers who are rapidly recruited to keep up with the current oil and gas boom. This has not gone unnoticed, and the industry is responding by devoting resources to technologically advanced training methods.

Technologies such as simulations, augmented reality and real-time data give industry contractors the most effective and efficient training methods to mitigate risks without slowing down operations. Drilling rigs are a perfect example of a highly instrumented environment in which these new training technologies can make an enormous impact.

Mission-critical training simulations
Richly interactive training can now incorporate advanced simulation technologies so trainees can be prepared for real-life scenarios. They can learn complex procedures and processes quickly and without the risk factors involved in real-life situations or real equipment. And the simulation technologies create an immersive world in which the learner is in the first-person position, making mission-critical decisions.

Adult education research has shown that trainees retain significantly more instruction and perform better on competency tests by experiencing simulated real-life scenarios in which they can practice, and even fail, without risk. Such training rewards the application of both newly acquired skills and previous experience, so learners develop competencies rather than just memorize correct answers. Simulations have long been used as a training method in critical, high-risk environments such as flight or medical training. Pilots in training need extensive practice in an extremely risky activity in order to succeed. And critical patient care has enormously increased in quality when nurses and other members of surgical teams are trained with simulations. When used for the oil and gas industry, simulations provide the same benefits: risk-free, real-world practice opportunities that greatly increase learners’ success in performing complex, critical procedures onsite.

The oil and gas industry requires flexible and highly effective training delivery options for workers who spend most of their time in the field, not in an office. Simulation training is ideal for the operation of remotely operated vehicles and tubular handling equipment and other cranes, for instance. Training simulations emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, and the correct application of skills to a situation.  Because it provides practice-oriented training, it makes the most of workers’ training hours, and it is more efficient than time-consuming synchronous classroom training.

On-demand training with augmented reality
For those in the oil and gas industry, training no longer has to interrupt production; it can be integrated into production.

By integrating the real world with the virtual, augmented reality (AR) anchors information when and where people need it. Whereas a simulation is an entirely computer-generated experience, AR superimposes computer-generated information or imagery over the user’s view of the real world. Enormously influential innovators such as Google, Microsoft, HP and Logitech are all working on augmented reality displays that help with way finding and technical visualizations, among other applications.

In the energy industry, AR is used to provide on-demand, on-site training for any number of complex instruments and equipment used during oil exploration and drilling. Job aids delivered via AR have many benefits: they can be easily and remotely updated whenever equipment or procedures change, they mean less reliance on synchronous classroom training that interrupts workers’ productive time and they accommodate a variety of experience levels and skills. It enables workers to quickly synchronize their tasks with the appropriate equipment and precautions.

For example, operations equipment can be made “intelligent,” orienting workers to how the equipment is constructed, how it functions and safety precautions for its use. Or a drilling rig can include a virtual health, safety and environment guide that walks trainees through safety and compliance procedures, pointing out hazardous areas and showing what protective equipment to wear.

Real-time data for training and monitoring
The most advanced AR technologies not only provide on-demand training, but allow engineers and crew members to access real-time data as well. The same assets developed for training can be used by workers to understand their environment and feed them live digital readouts and instructions on what to do next and how to do it right. Using this real-time data, it is possible to now track processes and crew tasks, monitor equipment conditions, and even assist in equipment operation. Just as Boeing is equipping their workers with virtual-reality glasses to assemble 747s, it’s very possible that “augmented” drilling rig operators may soon be an oil and gas industry standard.

This merging of physical and digital worlds has the potential to advance workers’ knowledge and technical acumen in using complex equipment, and also to bridge the oil and gas industry’s experience gap. The possibilities are vast. Drawing from real-time data, AR-enhanced protective eyewear can display critical information that would otherwise be difficult to see in low light conditions, or provide enhanced situational awareness for safety during hazardous tasks. Underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) can be equipped with an AR display using real-time acoustic and optical data to help the operator navigate the undersea environment when performing inspection, maintenance, and repair tasks. At the operational planning and compliance level, real-time safety and security software can be integrated with equipment in order to better plan and coordinate tasks for safety and efficiency, mobilize responses to an emergency or reconstruct events for incident investigations.

As many in the oil and gas industry are discovering, interactive simulations and augmented reality visualizations are becoming integral tools in improving industry efficiency, safety and training.

Wild West for Energy Industry by Houston Chronicle, March 10, 2014

It was pretty easy to tell the difference between the good guys from the bad guys in the mythical Wild West. Heroes wore white cowboy hats, and villains wore black. Maybe life wasn't as simple as Hollywood westerns made it seem. But ask folks about the Wild West of the fracking-boom oil patch, and you'd think John Wayne sat on the Railroad Commission.

"Because of a few bad apples, we need government regulations," one electoral candidate told the Houston Chronicle editorial board, echoing what you can hear from folks across the board. In summary, government doesn't need to burden the oil men in white hats, just the drillers in black hats. We wish it were that simple.

Over the month, Chronicle reporter Lise Olsen has made it clear that our regulatory sheriffs don't know who the bad guys are. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is supposed to keep a list of "the worst of the worst" - the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. That list should be filled with oil companies that routinely rack up deaths and severe injuries. It isn't. In fact, none of Texas' oil and gas companies that have reported multiple fatalities are on the list.

The Wild West was lawless for a reason - justice is hard to come by when towns are in the middle of nowhere. But for the oil industry, isolated locations, such as offshore drilling sites, draw the most scrutiny.

Any injury-related accident at offshore sites, in addition to fires, explosions and spills, draw the eye of the Coast Guard or the Department of the Interior. This stands in stark contrast to onshore drilling, where the federal government has gone more than two decades without implementing safety standards and procedures. And while industry spokesmen like American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard say that they have a zero-tolerance policy, the death rate keeps climbing.

Without stringent safety regulations, the oil and gas industry is still living in the Wild West.