Training in the 21st Century

Two Types of Immersive 3D Experiences and Their Impact on Training

Two types of immersive 3D experiences are being researched and discussed in relation to training, and it seems important to try and separate the two. Most people familiar with monitor-based 3D environments know the experience as one in which small figures/avatars act as our agents inside the world we see on our monitors: We use our keyboards and mice to direct our avatars, inside our monitor screens, to interact with other people’s avatars and with the environment around them, and to talk using VOIP or chat.

For most people, whether they’re playing video games or attending 3D training sessions, the monitor-based 3D experience is what they think of when they read reports of the impacts of 3D immersive experience on people’s real-life behavior and self-perception. However, a lot of this research, conducted at major universities, is based on a very different kind of experience. Using elaborate and (currently) expensive, specialized equipment, many researchers create “embodied experiences” that go far beyond what’s possible using a computer monitor. For example, recent research conducted at Stanford1 had participants wear gear to “create the sensation of personally undergoing the experience” of chopping down a redwood tree in a forest. Once “embodied experience” technologies become more widely available and affordable, they certainly offer great opportunities for conducting some types of training: Emergency response training, in which trainees fully experience a crisis situation to practice best response techniques in a realistic, but completely safe, environment may be of tremendous value when these technologies are accessible. But this kind of immersive experience may actually be less valuable than monitor-based 3D training for some types of learning.

In “embodied experience” 3D training, a person may know the environment around them is false, but he or she “feels” fully there. In monitor-based 3D experiences, the avatar inside the computer screen is one step removed from the person controlling it—operating in this environment, the avatar is a “not-quite-me” experience. This is what a psychologist friend of mine calls “loose identification,” and it may make it easier for people to try out new behaviors and techniques, and explore ideas from new perspectives. And observation and self-reflection—so important for insights that lead to real behavior change—may be easier to elicit in this “not-quite-me” experience than in a “fully embodied” one.

As access to new technologies create additional possibilities for effective training, we need to carefully consider the strengths, value and best uses of each as we incorporate them into our training toolkits.

To experience a monitor-based 3D immersive environment and get a sense for the possibilities it provides for training and development, contact us at or 415-400-4380.

1Dissertation: Embodied Experience in Immersive Virtual Environments: Effects on Pro-Environmental Attitude and Behavior, by Sun Joo Ahn, May 2011,

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