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Top XR Technology Questions From Policymakers: Insights From the Field

January 11, 2024

At a Glance

Exploring policymakers’ questions about extended reality technology and what practitioners have to say in response. 

Contributors
Cydni Burton Manager, JFF
Jennifer Giffels Director, JFF
Practices & Centers

While XR adoption has its challenges, its capacity to provide access and solutions to barriers far outweighs the drawbacks.

Senior congressional staff member

As with any innovation, extended reality (XR) technology has sparked discussions, new developments, and strong opinions about its impact on the future of work and education. For policymakers responsible for staying up to date with new technologies so they can best support the people they serve, it’s essential to understand critical issues related to XR and how to translate the information into policies that benefit their constituents.

In this blog, we address three top questions policymakers are grappling with:  

  • How is XR different from traditional learning, and how is it affecting learner and worker engagement and satisfaction? 
  • What do we know about the cost-effectiveness of XR technology? 
  • Where we know XR technology has had a positive impact, how can we promote widespread adoption to scale the number of people who benefit? 

The questions and answers are drawn from the diverse perspectives and insights of four education, technology, and workforce development leaders who recently joined congressional staff and Jobs for the Future (JFF) to explore how they are implementing XR for learners and workers:

  • Hyla Lacefield, dean of the Business, Design & Workforce Division at Cañada College 
  • Marcelo Dossantos, director of workforce development and executive director of the Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Leadership Council at FloridaMakes 
  • Kevin Campbell, English and drama teacher and former Jobs for America’s Graduates teacher at Greenup County High School in Kentucky 
  • Travis Falstad, vice president, learning experience design, at Talespin 

The following is a summary of their responses. 

  1. How is XR different from traditional learning, and how is it affecting learner and worker engagement and satisfaction?

XR technology makes learning more immersive for learners and workers, offering profound new opportunities for higher-impact learning and training, hybrid models, and lifelong learning.  

XR is also helping to address some mental health concerns that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can improve mental health for workers and learners by enabling psychological safety, allowing workers and learners to try new skills in a safe environment without the pressure of public failure. For instance, someone could practice public speaking or facilitating a difficult conversation with avatars in a virtual reality (VR) module before engaging with real people. This could become especially crucial as educational institutions and workplaces continue to adapt to post-pandemic realities, addressing heightened fears of failure and supporting mental health in the learning process. Psychological safety is critical; it fosters a more diverse, inclusive environment and can lead to better performance on the job and higher retention of workers.

We are seeing a heightened fear of failure among learners and increased mental health challenges. Experiences in VR can foster a sense of confidence and comfort, dispelling concerns about making mistakes in a real-life scenario.

Hyla Lacefield, Cañada College

In education and the workplace, integrating new technology has sparked higher engagement levels among learners and workers. One example is JFF’s Skill Immersion Lab, a program where students use VR training in the classroom, which spurs higher enthusiasm for learning. Campbell highlighted his students’ opportunity to craft VR modules for their peers. “This hands-on, exciting approach leads to increased student satisfaction over traditional learning methods,” he says. 

There is emerging evidence that those who use XR technology at work to learn or deepen skills experience greater job satisfaction. The lessons learned through the XR experience often transcend specific jobs or employers, as when people train in core skills, such as communicating better, negotiating, or navigating bias. These skills help in people’s personal lives as well and can increase satisfaction with their employer because they know their employer is investing in them. Falstad notes that he sees this in action with the Talespin platform that trains people in core skills.  

These skills support adults in having healthy, positive relationships at work, which leads to higher engagement and satisfaction with their jobs and companies.

Travis Falstad, Talespin
  1. What do we know about the cost-effectiveness of XR technology?

XR technology has immense value in providing access to experiences and connections to people who live in rural areas and people with differing cognitive abilities, allowing for personalized learning at scale. It can be tricky to measure the cost-effectiveness of XR when it provides us with new and improved ways of learning and training that are not a one-for-one comparison with traditional methods. 

For example, it costs less to send a classroom in Nevada on a virtual “field trip” to Washington, DC, than sending them there in person. VR is also a valuable tool for career exploration: A college student seeing a virtual “day in the life” of an architect can save money by not having to arrange this in-person experience. It can also help the student make an informed decision about their career path and, if it turns out they’re not truly interested in architecture, they won’t waste resources on an option that won’t ultimately be rewarding to them. 

 “VR allows us to bring a wider world of job experiences and diverse career options to rural students,” Falstad says, emphasizing VR’s potential impact in bridging geographical gaps in access to certain training. Widespread access to training also increases U.S. competitiveness in key industries facing labor shortages, such as manufacturing, by allowing a broader pool of workers to enter these jobs. 

Jeremy Bailenson, a professor at Stanford University who researches VR and is founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, provides the DICE framework—dangerous, impossible, counterproductive, or expensive—to help determine when to use VR solutions. The “E” or “expensive” suggests possibilities for VR to help save costs. Bailenson references examples like training retail workers for crowded holiday shopping days, which is costly and logistically tricky to replicate but can, if workers are well trained, save or earn the business money while also leading to a better experience for the customer. 

Other examples and promising evidence include: 

  • Streamlined access to training materials and instruction: Detailing specific ways augmented reality (AR) can help save money, such as reducing the cost associated with repeatedly using materials for training purposes and decreasing reliance on experts to solve situations. 
  • Reduced operational costs: Honeywell offers another example of the cost-efficient impact of XR, particularly in reducing operational costs. Through its implementation of VR and AR training programs for new employee onboarding, it reduced operational costs across various areas by as much as 50%.  
  • Improved customer satisfaction: Considerations of cost-effectiveness can also be measured by improved customer satisfaction, which is often linked to prolonged engagement with a company and, therefore, revenue for the company. According to Forbes, using VR for core skills training, like empathy, frequently improves customer experiences.  
  1. Where we know XR technology has had a positive impact, how can we promote widespread adoption to scale the number of people who benefit?

We know that XR technology is an effective tool for worker and learner training. Scaling technology in industries and jobs where we know it works for training—and thus having a positive impact on many more people—requires a multi-pronged approach: sharing information on its effectiveness while making opportunities available for people to access the technology. 

Information on its effectiveness can come in the form of sharing use cases about where XR works well to train learners and workers and support on-the-job learning highlighting and collecting data on cost-effectiveness and productivity gains, and dispelling myths about the technology. One big myth to bust, for example, is that XR will completely replace job training or traditional learning experiences; instead, it will enhance them.   

One way JFF is helping workers and learners access the technology is through our small business technology pilots. We worked with manufacturing businesses to implement Augmentir, and we’re working with a diverse cohort of 21 businesses to train workers. Small businesses can benefit from seeing relevant peer use cases to recognize XR as a viable and practical solution for a business their size and not just large corporations. They can also stay in touch with regional intermediaries who can help connect them to opportunities.  

Marcelo Dossantos explains how he does this at FloridaMakes, a statewide manufacturing intermediary. 

I was able to make the connection for the manufacturers we serve between the power of XR technology implementation and the impact on their business and worker training needs and to advocate for those manufacturers to have access to opportunities to be part of national conversations.

Marcelo Dossantos, FloridaMakes

What Does This Mean for Policymakers? 

Policymakers can help build an effective and inclusive ecosystem for XR technology in workforce and education by ensuring they: 

  1. Commit to learning: One of the most effective ways to gain clarity around the potential of XR technology is to use it. Take time to actively engage with and learn about emerging use cases for XR technology.
  2. Prioritize XR research: With a shortage of real-time research on the return on investment for businesses implementing XR technology, we must allocate funding for more extensive research in workplace environments. These studies should encompass a wide spectrum of industries and business sizes and highlight employees’ insights.
  3. Offer incentives for investments in education and workforce providers: Allocate direct funding to community colleges and career and technical education centers, emphasizing those in rural communities. The funding can help incorporate XR technology into existing workforce training programs and establish new programs to enhance training quality and effectiveness as well as expose learners to essential technology-related skills.
  4. Center diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in policies: Consider diverse educational and working environments, including places like correctional facilities, which engage and educate a significant number of individuals each year. Promote and endorse technology training programs that prioritize learners and workers who have faced longstanding barriers to accessing such programs or are not currently receiving investment in education. 

Learn more about JFF’s XR and immersive learning insights. Visit, jff.org/xr.

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