Businesses are doing everything they can to keep pace with the technological and operational advances that are happening at breakneck speed these days. And among the many challenges they face is keeping employees' skills and knowledge current.

Enter simulated training. We’re not talking about those big, hulking simulation machines that were all the rage five years ago, we’re talking 3-D interactive training accessible from tablets — anytime, anywhere.

Framing the Dilemma

Beyond the struggle to keep techs and trainers up to speed on equipment and process advances, there’s SO much more to consider — and worry about — from a “business trying to turn a profit standpoint,” including:

Training time: Participants need to miss work to attend trainings. And you’re lucky if these trainings happen on-site. They’re often somewhere else, difficult to schedule (timing the training so everyone can attend), and then those folks who can attend, miss work on top of it (of course).  

Training costs: Associated training costs can be significant, beyond employees missing work. There are travel and training facility expenses, including paying for the trainer’s time, and if it requires specific equipment to train participants on, there’s that as well.

Equipment costs: If you’re training techs on airplane maintenance, let’s say, you’ll have to have an airplane out of commission for the duration. That can’t be economical. But that’s nothing compared to this next doozy:

Risk: The equipment could get damaged or participants could get hurt. Or the training could be perfectly safe, but not entirely sound ... meaning your end users aren’t retaining the information the way you’d intended, putting your company at risk and making the whole training pretty worthless overall.

Retraining and Retention: Your training might be fantastically hands-on, but if those trained aren’t using the skills often, retention slowly erodes, so refresher training is necessary. And that puts you back to step one along with the corresponding timing, cost and risk dilemma.

So what’s a business to do? Schedule more trainings and suck up the expense, as you race to constantly develop new materials to meet your ever-advancing needs?

Shifting Markets, Shifting Solutions 

Brian Yureskes, director of training and publications at Komatsu America Corp, the world’s second largest manufacturer and supplier of earth-moving equipment, realized it was time to find a new way. “The market has been experiencing a shift, with everything available on demand — and training is really no different from any other product knowledge you’d want, and need, right away.  The question wasn’t whether our traditional training methods needed to change, rather how to make that shift happen in a way that was scalable and financially viable.”

Yureskes connected with the folks at Heartwood, a leading 3-D interactive training and technology company, specializing in developing solutions designed to digitally replicate equipment in form and function, allowing participants to practice and learn anytime, anywhere. It’s learning on demand, realized.

Raj Raheja, Heartwood’s CEO, and his team pride themselves on capturing complex, time-consuming trainings in digital segments that incorporate everything the end user needs and nothing they don’t. It’s “learning by doing” for the digital age, offering a clean interface and intuitive design. 

Take a look:

Diesel Engine - Virtual Training Course from Heartwood 3D on Vimeo.

“The amount of information they built into this training would allow someone who knows nothing about this to walk through the app and understand it in 30 seconds,” said Yureskes. “It’s impressive.”

And it just makes sense. These days, most of your workforce — and that includes your more experienced staff (regardless of industry) — have some comfort level with technology. And even if they don’t, the learning curve for this type of training is minimal.

Economies of Scale and Adoption

Looping back to Yureskes concerns: Is it scalable? In a word, yes. Anyone with a tablet, computer, etc., is now able to train — not just the 10 percent available (or selected) for training.

Cost? “There is sticker shock to contend with initially, certainly,” said Yureskes. Scalability is where you can show the real savings, and long term cost savings add up too. You’re not going to save money right away, but on backend you are. “Applications instead of plane tickets,” he quips. Making that concept clear helps business leaders frame the cost in a way that makes sense.

But what about adoption? “The conversations I had internally last year were around explaining what 3-D interactive training would look like and why we should consider it,” shared Yureskes. “But now I’m getting calls asking how to implement the technology in various ways. Once adoption takes root, it spreads quickly.”

Raheja agreed, “If you’d asked people about cell phones back when they first appeared, many complained they neither needed nor wanted people to reach them at any time. Today, we don’t leave home without them, because we realize how useful they are when managed in a way that isn’t disruptive. It’s the same with 3-D interactive training. Once they’ve tried it, it becomes indispensible.”

Or to put it another way: “It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them” — Steve Jobs

So what’s the downside? It’s a paradigm shift, that’s for sure. Trainers need to adjust to developing materials that are suited for different consumption, participants need to buy in to using the technology — and everyone needs to remember that it’s available to use. 

And moving from traditional to digital delivery comes with a lot of moving parts from an internal awareness and adoption standpoint. “It’s shifting from one method of delivery to many, offering training through new technologies, available on multiple platforms,” said Yureskes. “It takes some getting used to, but switching from one big cargo plane to multiple vehicles allows training to move forward when and where we need it to, and no one is left behind.”

Are you using apps to train your employees, or moving toward that kind of technology? Share your story in the comments below.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Matt Neale