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How the Met Office uses VR to Train Staff

Using VR to train employees

Photo: iStock by Getty Images

If you're considering incorporating virtual reality into your training mix, read our interview with Helen Caughey, International Learning Consultant and Operational Meteorologist at the Met Office. She delves into why the Met Office began using virtual reality, how they're trying out the technology, and her advice for other learning professionals interested in VR.

Why did your organisation begin using VR to train employees?

Within the Met Office College we are always looking for ways to enhance the training experience for our students. We try to find ways to make it as realistic as possible for our students, aligned to their job roles.

VR started when a member of the training team experienced VR at home and instantly saw the potential uses within our meteorological training. Very quickly he was able to share his vision with a colleague and, utilising the Met Office Informatics Lab, a proof of concept was quickly developed.

Due to the nature of the subjects that we teach we have previously been reliant on getting a range of weather conditions during the period of our training courses. With the introduction of VR we can now ensure the full range is available to each course to supplement whatever scenario we have taking place each day. This allows us to not only benefit from exposing our learners to a wider range of meteorological conditions at the touch of a button, but also acts as a teaching tool that allows the trainer to lead the session centrally. Additionally with many subjects, including meteorology, there are huge benefits to be gained from being able to contextualise the theory being taught.

Similarly we can use this for pre-deployment purposes to expose staff to the conditions they are likely to experience when working in other locations at home and abroad and so better prepare them for their tasks and allow them to carry out their roles more effectively.

We can also combine it with a Moodle* simulator tool we’ve developed to replicate many aspects of a meteorologists shift but in a safe, controlled learning environment.

Can you describe how you are currently using VR and how you plan to use it in the future?

We are still very much in the proof of concept phase, testing the technology on our various courses to see where it will add value and refining ideas and resources. We have already identified other opportunities outside of the meteorological training environment where we can use this in the future, such as giving a real insight into our the world of our many varied customers in our dedicated Customer Experience Room. This room uses 360° tours of their facilities and showcases how they make use of Met Office products.

We also have ambitions to use it in induction training so staff can immerse themselves in the team they will be joining long before they physically arrive.

There is also the potential to use it to train our geographically distributed engineers on the latest monitoring sensors in advance of them having to work on it within an operational environment; similarly we could do this with new products/tools for staff before they use them operationally.

How do your employees react to VR learning?

So far the reaction has been very positive. The learners we have worked with to trial the various exercises and VR goggles have been very engaged and enthusiastic about the potential.

Similarly when we’ve promoted the concept in the wider workplace there was a lot of interest and suggestions for using it in a wide range of activities beyond the learning and development opportunities already identified.

We were even asked to present it at an international meeting of our meteorological training peers and again this was met with great enthusiasm, but it’s important we fully prove the concept before we get swept up in the enthusiasm and rush ahead with all of these VR ideas, identifying those in the process which will truly add value to the training we offer.

It has also been quite inclusive, involving staff spread out across the country and indeed the globe. Many colleagues have contributed to the repositories of data we are collecting and they have also used the materials locally for their own development or to show customers where they are based with more information about the Met Office and meteorology.

What advice would you give to L&D professionals considering using VR to train employees?

It’s hard to say as it’s so early in the journey for us but learning from others who were already trialling VR in different sectors was useful for us; utilising the partnerships we have in local Further and Higher Education institutes to share best practice has been invaluable.

As with all new things it’s important to find the right balance and use it where it will add the most value. If it becomes the tool for everything people will quickly tire of it in the same way we saw PowerPoint and e-learning go too far as the tool of choice.

We always work hard to find a blended learning solution that finds the right balance with consideration to the learners, learning and logistics following work with leaders in this field.

How does the cost compare to other training methods?

There are potential costs benefits by making these VR learning packages available to staff wherever they are on their own devices rather than necessarily having to travel to a course but, as mentioned above, we are very much about a blended learning approach.

We would still bring a group of learners together under this approach but generally for a shorter period, with a lot of the knowledge transfer possible in advance through e-learning, VR etc.., and therefore maximising the value of having everyone together to apply this knowledge.

The potential value for us is as much about the improved end product/return on investment as it is any financial saving, but the cost of the equipment now it’s so widely available is very reasonable.

What organisational level are you training with VR now and will that change in the future?

For now we are proving the concept with a small range of internal and external meteorological students. Potentially all staff will experience some form of VR training in the future such as induction, pre-deployment training or customer experience awareness as previously mentioned.

How did you get decision-makers at your organisation on-board with virtual reality?

The Met Office is a world leading meteorological and climate service and this applies across each of the teams within it, so the Met Office College and Informatics Lab both have a shared vision to work at the forefront of technology to benefit our customers and staff, fully supported by their managers.  

Clear and inspiring demonstrations from those involved in the proof of concept phases have undoubtedly helped. These have been open to all levels of the organisation and have generated some very exciting, interesting and positive discussions.

What value does a VR environment add to the learning, development, and application of work skills and concepts in your organisation?

I think this has been covered throughout the previous questions, with the potential benefits clearly identified across the organisation but yet to be fully realised as we’re still in the proof of concept phase.  

As with most vocational training colleges, one of our big struggles is incorporating authentic practice activities into our learning. VR technology is one method we are exploring to help us do this.

For our Operational Meteorologists, the synthesis of complex and dynamic information under pressure is key to the role and the real-world context is an important part of their decision-making processes. Our Operational Meteorology team make decisions and produce forecast products, which have real-world consequences, requiring an application of deep theoretical knowledge and vocational experience in unfolding situations. In making these decisions, context becomes hugely important, so providing activities that authentically reflect the operational environment helps us to provide some context and situate the theoretical stuff for our students.

As with other industries, providing genuinely authentic activities for our learners can be difficult, expensive and in some cases dangerous, so VR has given us an opportunity to replicate some of the more experiential learning activity in the classroom environment.  

*Moodle is a learning platform which is used in many education organisations and institutions. It is designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create a learning environment.

About the Met Office

As a world leader in providing weather and climate services, the Met Office employs more than 1,700 staff at 60 locations throughout the world. They are a Trading Fund within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), operating on a commercial basis under set targets. They are recognised as one of the world's most accurate forecasters, using more than 10 million weather observations a day, an advanced atmospheric model and a high performance supercomputer to create 3,000 tailored forecasts and briefings a day. These are delivered to a huge range of customers from the Government, to businesses, the general public, armed forces, and other organisations.

This interview is part of the U.K. L&D Report 2018.

Download the full report below:

L&D report

What's included?

  • The employee training budgets, training topics, and training methods of organisations in 2018.

  • Practical advice from L&D leaders to help you adopt new technologies, nurture a learning culture, get the most from the apprenticeship levy and measure and promote the value of workplace learning.

  • How learning professionals rate the executive engagement in learning, assess the impact of training and more!

U.K. L&D Report: 2018
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Last updated: 18 Jun 2018

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