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Revolutionary Potential: 3 Ways to Use VR in Life Sciences Learning

While it could be argued that virtual reality (VR) is useful purely because it excites users and customers, the true worth of VR in life sciences goes far beyond novelty. VR technology can vastly improve our understanding of the science behind research and product development in the pharma sector. Here are three ways VR is playing a part in transforming the way pharma and life sciences organizations learn.

Visualization Takes Learning Inside the Body

Although some products can be explained perfectly well in a physical environment, understanding elements and behaviors that you can’t see is much more complicated. Enter VR…

Visualizing disease at a biological level—known as the mechanism of disease—allows learners to observe the way things such as cancerous cells, viruses, and bacteria work.

They could, for example, wear a VR headset to go “inside” the body, rather than simply observing from a distance. Similarly, the mechanism of action can be recreated and explored to show how drugs work at a molecular level inside the human body.

These techniques allow learners to relate to anatomical intricacies, and action and disease mechanisms in a completely new way.

VR in Life Sciences Lets You Explore Inaccessible Environments

Opportunities to enter certain areas of a manufacturing facility, such as a clean room, are limited. Entry is restricted to staff with all of the right controls and clothing.

VR can give cohorts of learners the chance to explore a clean room without any risk of causing contamination. Using computer-based training and VR simulations, trainees can take a tour of the factory floor, learn how to operate machines, and build their knowledge and skills without any risk of damage.

According to Tom Orton1, a technology expert who helped to build clean rooms in Intel factories in the US and internationally from the 1970s onwards, clean room problems and errors have been significantly reduced by the introduction of virtual training.

Technology-based learning also supports continuous learning. There is potentially no limit to the number of times learners working with VR can walk through a clean room and practice procedures.

This reinforces optimal behaviors, reduces the number of mistakes made and provides learners with a safe environment in which to try things out and learn without critical consequences.

Use VR in Life Sciences for Better Conversations

As we’ve seen, the use of VR in life sciences has the potential to give learners a profound understanding of how products work, leading to more informed conversations and greater clarity for buyers and patients.

It can also work as a tool to enable people to practice conversations and presentations with patients and healthcare professionals, as well as building empathy. Most medical students in their mid-20s, for instance, would struggle to fully comprehend the sight and hearing problems experienced by many of their elderly patients.

To bridge the knowledge gap, one academic in Chicago2 created a VR program using a headset, headphones and a hand-tracking device. This immersed users in a series of short sequences from the perspective of a 74-year-old man with audio-visual impairments.

In one program created by LEO Learning, sales representatives were given the opportunity to explore the environment of a healthcare professional’s office, enabling them to look for clues that they could use to guide the conversation with the healthcare professional.

Our sister company, BAFTA-winning applied games and mixed reality studio PRELOADED, is also a specialist in using VR to show learners environments they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Earlier this year, they worked with Tate Modern in the UK to recreate the final studio of one of the 20th century’s greatest painters, Amedeo Modigliani, including 60+ objects, entirely in VR.

How to Deliver Learning That Works

The life sciences sector is experiencing a period of rapid change. To find out how VR and other technologies are driving this revolution, we ran a webinar entitled ‘The Life Sciences Revolution – How to Deliver Learning that Works’. Presented by LEO Learning’s Senior Account Director, Sean Nugent, and Mark Harbour, Director of Chrysalis Capability Ltd, an independent training consultancy, and former Head of Learning and Development at Grünenthal Pharmaceuticals, the recording is now available to view.

Additional sources:
1. UIC Today (May 2016, updated May 2019), ‘East Meets West: ‘We Are Alfred’’
2. Solid State Technology (1997), ‘Cleanroom workers use virtual reality training to reduce contamination’

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