AR and VR are now used by 40% of SMEs for training

Published on 30/09/2021 by Sonia Navarrete

Virtual reality (VR) has been an actual reality for longer than many people think. A long-time staple of sci-fi films, the digital technology has a history stretching back to the 1960s, and mechanical versions were around even before that. Augmented reality (AR), by contrast, did not arrive in its current form until the 1980s.

AR and VR used in training 

AR and VR were once the preserve of giant corporations and well-funded research organisations. Today, however, both are within reach of everyday consumers. Hundreds of AR apps exist for smartphones, and VR gaming systems such as Facebook’s Oculus Quest carry titles that gross tens of millions of dollars

With this in mind, we wanted to find out whether AR and VR have made inroads among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK. So we surveyed 1,000 managers from companies with 250 employees or less. You can find a full methodology at the bottom of this article.

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Augmented reality (AR) uses digital technology to provide an experience of the real world with added computer-generated features in real-time. Often, this involves adding visual or auditory information to what a person can see and hear around them.

For example, homeware companies (such as Ikea) have apps that let consumers imagine what products would look like in their own homes. They can hold the camera on their phone or tablet up to a room, and the app will add digital renderings of new furniture or decor to help the consumer visualize a potential purchase.

In a training scenario, AR can assist by overlaying digital information on top of real-world processes. If a trainee is working on a circuit board, for example, the AR application can recognise the components, add labels, and provide step-by-step instructions relating to specific parts of the physical object. It could even recognise a trainee’s finger as they point to features on the board.

What is virtual reality (VR)?

Virtual reality (VR) is similar to AR but is fully immersive. Instead of augmenting real-world images and sounds, virtual reality applications create entire virtual experiences. Unlike AR, VR often requires more expensive hardware. Users might use a headset or other sensory equipment and be largely shut off from the world around them.

Examples of VR include many computer games and virtual tours of places of interest. VR has also found an application in training people for complex, expensive processes like advanced medical procedures or controlling large vehicles. The cost of failure in these procedures —which is especially likely for those still learning— is high, so by virtualising the experience, trainers can eliminate risk.

How common are VR and AR in training?

According to our survey, 40% of small and medium companies use AR and/or VR in training. 13% use AR, 12% use VR, while 15% actually use both. Larger companies (with 100-250 employees) and companies with younger respondents (aged 18-24) were more likely to use AR and VR.

Openness towards AR- and VR-based training seems high, overall. Even among the 60% of firms that do not use AR or VR for training, 41% say they would consider doing so in the future. This means that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the SMEs we spoke to either already use or would consider it. This is reflected in analysts’ predictions of growth for the VR market, for example, which is estimated at 18% a year between 2021 and 2028.

Companies interested in investing in AR in training

Older respondents, however, were less willing to try AR and VR. 76% of 55- to 64-year-olds whose company does not use the technologies said that they “don’t think it’s for us” compared with 44% of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Why do companies use AR and VR for training?

Companies that use AR for training were able to cite several benefits. The pedagogical advantages rank highly:

  • 61% say it helps employees understand the job better
  • 51% say it adds a practicality layer to the training that helps employees
  • 35% say it helps employees learn faster

For VR, the responses were similar. A similar proportion of respondents cited affordability (‘It’s cost-effective for the company’) as a benefit for AR and VR —34% and 35% respectively. However, there is a large difference in the actual cost of implementing them. According to US-based training company Roundtable Learning, custom VR training programmes can cost up to three times more than AR ones, with solutions in the former ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 (or around £37,000 to £112,000), and in the latter between $25,000 and $50,000 (or around £19,000 to £37,000).

Benefits of AR versus VR training

Has the pandemic affected AR and VR?

During the pandemic, VR and AR came into their own as socially distant, cost-effective, and productive educational technologies. Companies could deliver training to their workforces even if all staff could not be present in the same physical space.

Of the firms we spoke to who use AR or VR for training, 59% did so for the first time during the pandemic. This may have been to overcome some of the difficulties with travel and social distancing that the pandemic caused. However, 86% plan to continue using AR and VR in the future, suggesting a larger set of long-term benefits.

Looking for augmented reality software? Check out our catalogue.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Sonia is a Senior Content Analyst, helping SMEs choose the best software. She published in Raconteur, Computer Weekly and IT Pro. Journalist and PR. Nature, bike and dog lover.

Sonia is a Senior Content Analyst, helping SMEs choose the best software. She published in Raconteur, Computer Weekly and IT Pro. Journalist and PR. Nature, bike and dog lover.