Immersive technology like virtual reality is being adopted for everything from remote meetings to employee training initiatives due to the proven benefits it offers over other remote mediums. One of the most groundbreaking use cases that has emerged for this technology is soft skills training. VR training for this use case provides a new platform for learners to practice leadership and communication skills, and a new tool for learning and development organizations to use to achieve their goals. But what are the benefits that have made virtual reality soft skills training such a popular trend? Read on to find out.
Use cases for immersive learning range from de-escalating a situation with a frustrated customer to giving direct reports constructive feedback. In these training simulations, learners engage in role play with virtual human characters - actively speaking to navigate the simulation, observing emotionally realistic responses and body language from the virtual character, and receiving real-time feedback on their skills development progress. The reason for enterprise adoption of VR soft skills training scaling across use cases is the clear benefit that it presents. In this blog post, we will examine 7 benefits that virtual reality soft skills training simulations offer for skills development. Let’s jump in.
Creating a safe and comfortable learning environment is key to preparing for the crucial conversations that employees have to navigate in the workplace. When training for a conversation like delivering critical feedback, or disagreeing with someone, roleplaying those scenarios with a trainer or a peer is often unrealistic, and can even feel awkward and daunting. In contrast, virtual reality soft skills training provides a safe space, as learners engage with virtual humans in the absence of others who may pass judgment. Although virtual humans exhibit realistic emotions, they are fictional characters. This enables a sense of comfort for the learner to fully attempt the scenario with no fear of being judged. Furthermore, learners can observe the effect of a ‘poor’ decision choice within a conversation without suffering any real-life repercussions.
Even if the virtual human becomes upset, they will bounce back with no issue - all the learner needs to do is restart the simulation. These practice repetitions for difficult conversations in VR have no consequences, and increase people’s confidence level when the time comes to have important conversations for real.
Feeling emotionally engaged while consuming e-learning content, or during a role play with an actor can be a challenge. E-learning is a passive experience that doesn’t require the learner to think on their feet or deeply engage, and even with the best acting, role play with another person can make it hard for someone to feel like the situation is real. Virtual reality offers a new level of emotional engagement, causing people to experience real emotions as they engage in dialogue with virtual human characters. This was first proven with a now-famous demo that was designed to test the hypothesis that virtual reality can make people feel real emotions. The emotional realism of virtual reality soft skills training was again tested, this time by PwC, with their study “PwC Understanding the Effectiveness of VR Soft Skills Training in the Enterprise.” The results revealed that learners trained with VR were 3.75x more emotionally connected to learning content than classroom learners, and 2.3x more emotionally connected to content than e-learners.
These benefits arise from the nature of immersive learning content - it presents learners with simulated situations that feel real. Virtual characters have realistic attire, the environments match the scenarios, and most importantly, the virtual characters’ speech and body language matches that of real humans. When learners engage in these scenarios, they feel real emotions, like stress and happiness, allowing them to practice what it will be like to have a conversation in real life when the emotions are flowing.
During training, being in the physical location where a workplace scenario may occur - think of an office or conference room setting - is not always possible. And even if it is, distraction may exist that could make practicing the scenario difficult. VR soft skills training solves this by immersing learners in realistic virtual environments without any distractions. The realistic, immersive nature of the virtual environments in which VR training takes place is one of the reasons VR-trained learners have proven to be 4x more focused during training than their e-learning peers, and 1.5x more focused than classroom learners.
Virtual environments can replicate an endless number of potential training locations, ranging from indoor and outdoor settings to industry-specific environments like a medical center or an automotive garage. Having the flexibility to design immersive learning modules that feature realistic and appropriate environments makes for better employee learning experiences.
While taking an immersive soft skills learning module, learners can receive feedback in several ways depending on the design of the learning content. In these learning modules, the decisions that learners make within a learning simulation, and in turn, the skills they demonstrate, determine the feedback that they receive. Real-time feedback is a flexible benefit of VR training that can take many forms. For example, two methods of providing real-time feedback that are utilized in Talespin learning modules include designing the learning content so that feedback is delivered verbally via a virtual human coach during the course of the learning experience, and through user interface content that indicates whether learners have made the correct decision.
Real-time feedback delivered via a virtual human coach
During roleplay scenarios, if a poor choice is made, the virtual coach will outline why this may not be the right decision, and what to consider doing differently at that moment in the conversation. This presents the learner with the opportunity to go back and try new approaches during the course of a simulation.
Real-time feedback delivered via user interface content
During a roleplay scenario, the UI can be used to communicate how well the learner is approaching the conversation. For example, Talespin immersive learning modules use UI pop-ups in the form of green check marks to indicate a good decision, a back-slash for a decision that is scored as neutral, and a red ‘x’ to indicate a poor decision choice. These UI elements give learners an indication of their performance during the course of a learning experience.
With this real-time feedback, learners gain a better understanding of what they are doing right and wrong with specific examples to encourage improvement. Rather than simply looking back on a test and seeing a result, learners are able to ‘fix’ the issue right away. Which in turn, reinforces the learning experience, making skills more easily applied in a similar real-life situation.
Vital to skills development is understanding what skills a learner has developed, and the ability to measure skills development over time in order to pinpoint areas for improvement. Virtual reality soft skills training provides more detailed and accurate skills data to make such measurement possible. Each decision a learner makes within a particular immersive learning module has a corresponding score and skill associated with it. At the end of the experience, the learner will be able to view their overall score. This includes a skills overview showing their performance in demonstrating specific skills, examples from the simulated conversation that explain how their score was determined, and areas where they can improve in the future.
On the Talespin platform, this information is reported to the platform’s Dashboard. With this tool, managers and learning and development leaders can review skills progression at the individual, team, and organizational level. These insights help inform the development of training programs for entire workforces, as well as career pathing for individual employees.
Immersive learning modules can be completed at a learner’s leisure, and can be replayed an infinite number of times with no additional action from a trainer or manager. Unlike roleplay with an actor or a classroom learning session, virtual humans are available for learners to practice soft skills with at any time. All learners need to do is turn on the headset, or computer if the simulation is being experienced via desktop streaming, and they’re good to go. The learner doesn’t even need to offer them a cup of coffee (although, they might appreciate a virtual one).
Products from some of the leading manufacturers of VR headsets like Meta and HTC are prime examples of these advancements. Earlier VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive had larger headset form factors, multiple sensors that needed to be connected to a PC, several cables, and required access to a power outlet.
In comparison, new headset models that have entered the market like the Meta Quest 2 and HTC Vive Focus 3 are standalone devices (not tethered to a PC) that are significantly smaller than their predecessors. VR headset price points also continue to drop, making the hardware more accessible for both enterprises and individual consumers.
The cost of delivering learning programs can be expensive. Remote work has made this more challenging, leaving L&D teams to choose between even more logistically challenging in-person training, and moving their programs to video conference formats. VR training presents an engaging and affordable alternative.
At scale, VR is proven to be more cost effective than classroom and e-learning as referenced in PwC’s study. At the time of this study, no-code content creation tools that further decrease the cost of immersive learning programs were not available. With the ability to put immersive content creation capabilities in the hands of learning designers and instructional designers, content can now be made even faster, cheaper, and with fewer resources required.
Virtual reality soft skills training is changing the way organizations think about their learning and development programs due to its proven benefits. Interested in using VR training for skills development in your organization? Check out our off-the-shelf immersive learning content library for an easy way to get started, or explore using a no-code authoring tool to create your own custom immersive learning simulations.
For more immersive learning news and insights, visit the Talespin blog.