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Potential drawbacks of adopting VR

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

What are some of the potential drawbacks of adopting VR technology?

Physical hazards:

Crashing into tables, walls and other objects are an obvious concern to keep in mind. Bailenson recommends prohibiting trainees from walking more than 30 feet in any direction – unless it’s “important and supported.”

Simulator sickness:

Visually induced motion sickness, also known as “simulator sickness,” stems from a disconnection between the eyes/brain and the body. While experiencing simulated movement, your eyes communicate to your brain that you’re in motion, although your body is not. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, dizziness, vomiting and fatigue, and may not appear immediately. In his book, Bailenson recalls how one VR user later collapsed after arriving home, falling into a fence post and hitting her head. She wasn’t seriously injured, he said. To reduce the risk of simulator sickness, Bailenson recommends a “20-minute rule” for VR training: No more than 20 minutes in VR – “closer to five to 10 is better,” he said. Bailenson’s other advice: Avoid abrupt shifts in users’ field of view (e.g., a simulated roller-coaster ride) during training, and buy a good pair of VR goggles.


Although the price of some VR headsets have dropped to hundreds of dollars per unit (some still could run in the five to six figures depending on how advanced they are), NIOSH experts caution that organizations need to factor in the development or purchase of training content in their VR costs. “Development costs are significant for quality VR/AR training,” Bellanca wrote. “This can be deceptive because the development tools and head-mounted displays are relatively inexpensive.”

Implementation challenges:

Successful implementation of VR, Bellanca said, requires “a multidisciplinary team to create impactful content,” such as programmers, graphic artists, user interface designers, subject matter experts and use case experts. Ganschow recommends having several different end users participate in any beta testing to ensure training is usable by most people without issue. When developing safety content, the interaction between user and computer should be designed as simple as possible, he said.

Ergonomics issues:

This is a concern worth considering, according to researchers from Northern Illinois and Oregon State universities, who found that when VR users extended their arms straight out during an exercise, some experienced discomfort in as little as three minutes. They also found that VR headsets can place stress on the cervical spine, potentially leading to a strained neck. As a preventive measure, developers and programmers need to ensure participants or trainees interact with “objects” at eye level as often as possible, and those “objects” should be close to the body, study co-author Jay Kim, researcher at the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, said in a Jan. 7 press release.

Generational differences:

Reluctance among older workers to embrace new technology is another possible hurdle. Ganschow, however, said he was “surprised to see there is not generational differences in using VR. I’ve seen just as many seasoned employees use the system with ease as those that were born in the era of technology.”

Bailenson said one Walmart worker, a grandfather who was participating in VR training, said he couldn’t wait to tell his grandson that he used VR. “When you put VR on, it’s not tech anymore,” Bailenson said. “You’re just having an experience. It’s not like there’s buttons (to push), you’re just doing what you normally do.”

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