James Barton, online learning manager at Royal Mail, discusses the development of the organization’s new virtual reality training program to teach workers about dog safety
Our postmen and women deliver six days a week to around 30 million homes and businesses across the UK. It might sound like a comedy cliché but the relationship between dog and postal worker is no joke. With 44 attacks reported across the country every week, some leading to permanent and/or disabling injuries, dogs pose a significant hazard to our workforce, particularly in certain postcode areas where incidences are higher than the national average. As such, we are always striving to find innovative new ways to tackle the problem and ensure the safety of our employees.
The issue was highlighted again this summer at our annual Dog Awareness Week in June. As part of a variety of initiatives, we knew that further training was needed for our frontline employees. We wanted to highlight the hazards posed by dogs and ensure that our postmen and women know what to do to reduce the risk of attacks and remain safe. Combining the latest technology with some of our traditional guidance on the topic, we set out to deliver a completely different learning experience, tackling an age-old problem with a 21st century solution.
At Royal Mail we have a long-standing relationship with digital learning company Sponge. When Sponge showed us how virtual reality (VR) technology could be applied to deliver a completely new learning experience, we knew that was exactly what was needed to meet our own training needs in a creative yet effective way. At first we were concerned that VR would be prohibitively expensive, but Sponge makes immersive technology available at a price point, and delivered to a timescale, that is comparable with more traditional training.
Together we harnessed the power of immersive technology to create a truly interactive experience that would help raise awareness, improve understanding and change perceptions around dog safety among Royal Mail postmen and women. Our VR solution is an innovative way to highlight the risks and offer guidance on how to reduce attacks to stay safe. Learners get to experience a number of different everyday scenarios involving dogs, and are encouraged to make decisions about how to behave in real-life situations, with the advantage of doing so from a safe environment.
The story plays out like this: employees are placed in the role of an experienced postal worker supporting a new colleague on her first delivery round. Users must spot dog-related hazards and make decisions about how to keep their colleague and themselves safe. During the experience, we reinforce our key messages on dog safety. Using the acronym AVOID, postal workers are taught to ‘A’ avoid, ‘V’ value yourself, ‘O’ observe, ‘I’ inform and ‘D’ defend.
This whole new approach to learning means our postal workers are given the opportunity to experience the realism of a dog attack without the danger and free from harm. VR allows Royal Mail employees to explore a realistic situation and make mistakes in a safe environment. Training is delivered via a VR headset or as an interactive 360° video accessed on a PC or laptop without a headset. Experiential in nature, the technology aids observational and decision-making skills and, above all, it’s enjoyable. And we know that enjoyment is a key factor in ensuring that training delivers the desired results and meets business objectives.
We’re currently piloting the VR dog training in a small number of sites and plan to roll out the project to the rest of the UK in the coming months. Once delivered nationally, we expect this creative and engaging experience to raise awareness about dog safety and reduce the number of attacks. VR suited this particular challenge perfectly, but its application is by no means limited to this issue or training requirement. Because users make choices in a realistic environment, VR really helps bring a variety of topics to life to achieve specific learning goals.
Like us, Sponge recognizes the value of delivering creative learning to meet serious business objectives. They helped us apply VR as a powerful tool for learning. Today we’re proud to lead the way in using the latest and most innovative technology to deliver training to our employees.