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Monday, March 29, 2021

Wal-Mart Embraces Immersive VR Learning

Good piece with useful details of the effort.   Consider the volume of training required.   Was involved with some sales training efforts, but this takes it quite further.  Our innovation centers also allowed us to stage sales interactions with actual consumers.  And with the CEO of our company as well.    Did some experimentation with VR, but that was still too immature for the typical consumer to use. 

Case study: Walmart embraces immersive learning

Virtual reality is revolutionizing the way the retail giant’s associates learn.

By  Sarah Fister Gale   In Chief Learning Officer

In 2016, Walmart had an emerging issue among its learning programs. The $4 trillion retailer has 1.5 million workers in the U.S., and most of them needed training on how to handle complex customer situations — specifically, training that wouldn’t be disruptive to the customer experience.

“We can’t do that in the store,” says Kate Kressen, senior manager II of learning content and development for Walmart in Bentonville, Ark. “And it’s very hard to recreate a live store environment in a training program.”

For a long time they relied on classroom instructors giving lectures and quizzes, or static online courses that associates clicked through on their own. But neither format could convey the heightened experience of dealing with certain situations in the flow of work.

“We can talk all day, but until you understand the tension that associates and managers feel, it doesn’t really translate,” Kressen says.

Armchair coach

Around that same time, Derek Belch was launching Strivr, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based athletic training company that uses virtual reality as an immersion tool to give athletes a way to practice their craft off the field. Belch had previously been an assistant football coach at Stanford while writing his master’s thesis on using VR to train football players. The project was so impressive that Stanford’s head coach provided Belch with funding to launch Strivr, which he co-founded with Stanford VR professor Jeremy Bailenson.

“When we started Strivr, we were only focused on the sports world,” Belch says. But about a year after launching, he got a surprising call from Brock McKeel, senior director of digital operations at Walmart, who’d seen Strivr’s VR software being used for quarterback training. “He wanted to talk about employee training,” Belch says.

By that time, Strivr had worked with more than 30 NFL and college teams, but Belch had never considered the potential of using his immersive training technology to teach store employees.

However, as he and his team discussed the opportunity, it started to make sense. “As I talked to Walmart about how they train their employees, and what they needed them to learn, we realized that our formula for athletes wasn’t that different,” he says. His developers wouldn’t need to reinvent the software, they just needed to reengineer the experience for a store environment. “It turned out to be a little easier than we expected,” he says. “Stores are a lot more static than a football field.”

Belch was convinced he could create a course that would work for Walmart, though the potential scale of the project was daunting. Walmart wanted Strivr to create programs that could be run in all 200 learning academies, which are training centers attached to larger Walmart stories. And eventually, the retailer wanted to roll it out to 4,000 locations. “It was important that Strivr be able to scale their solution to meet our needs,” Kressen says, “because we needed to get a handle on training 1.2 million associates.”  ... '

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