SAP and JFFLabs, a unit of JFF, a national nonprofit that works to drive transformation in the American workforce and education system, identified a significant skills gap among high school-aged students as they prepare for their careers. In-demand skills like emotional intelligence, communication and leadership are being sought after by employers, and in turn, essential for students to develop before they enter the workforce.
In order to help students learn the skills needed to succeed in today’s job market and close the achievement gap, it is clear that new approaches need to be deployed that provide not only better education, but equitable access as well.
To support student career preparation, SAP and JFFLabs launched a new program called the Skill Immersion Lab. The program’s aim is to give students access to new, immersive learning technologies that are proven to accelerate learning and skills development, with the goal of readying them for the workforce. In terms of the skills the program is focused on, employability skills, or soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and collaboration are the top priority.
To put immersive learning to the test, the Skill Immersion Lab deployed a curriculum in which cohorts of high school-aged students experienced virtual reality training paired with instructor-led guided discussions. The goal was to evaluate the impact immersive technology would have on students’ learning, as well as to document their own assessment of its value in preparing them to apply skills in real-world situations.
The program was designed as a four-to-six week-long curriculum activated across three national locations that were chosen intentionally based on their diversity. The locations represented different parts of the country ranging from urban to rural, as well as different education programs and pathways; BTECH High School in Queens, New York, Boys and Girls Club in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Quad YouthBuild in Hammond, Louisiana.
Students at each of the sites were administered 8 learning modules from Talespin’s learning content library utilizing Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality head mounted displays (HMDs). Using these learning modules, students were able to engage in realistic roleplay scenarios where they practiced communication skills with virtual human characters. Skills taught and assessed within these modules included skills like active listening, empathy, conflict resolution, and productive disagreement.
“When students are going through the program, instructors play the role of a coach, while Talespin’s software acts more like the teacher and role play partner, offering students guidance, real-time feedback for skill development, and the opportunity to fail in a safe space and try again.” said Katie Booth, Head of SAP North America Corporate Social Responsibility.
The Skill Immersion Lab outcomes suggest that immersive learning technology benefited learners across several key metrics. The program results demonstrated that
1. Immersive learning builds confident communicators.
2. Immersive learning facilitates deliberate practice in teens and young adults through formative feedback loops.
3. Immersive learning improves empathetic communication.
4. Integrated learning approaches pairing VR and guided discussion produces promising learning outcomes.
5. Virtual reality provides an optimal environment for fostering perseverance and resilience.
6. Immersive learning can increase self-efficacy in teens and young adults.
7. Virtual reality can be leveraged to develop social and emotional skills.
8. Increased levels of exposure and practice with related subject matter can promote skill acquisition and transfer within immersive learning environments.
“I never thought about other people’s feelings before or what they might be going through and how that could impact their work, but I do now…” - Qualitative student response following the program as reported by an instructor
In addition to benefiting students, the technology also benefited teachers. With each learning module being led by a virtual coach, teachers were able to spend more time focused on engaging with students and facilitating qualitative conversations about the impact of the learning experiences.
As mentioned in the program design overview, the Skill Immersion Lab leveraged Talespin’s platform and learning content library to deliver the immersive learning portions of the program. Specifically, Talespin’s Off-The-Shelf Content Library served as the immersive experiences the students engaged with. Students completed both the ‘Leading Through Uncertainty’ and ‘Effective Feedback’ series of learning modules, experiencing them via VR headsets with the Talespin App, an application that distributes content in VR and desktop streaming formats.
Learning module performance and skill assessment was measured using the Talespin Platform’s Dashboard, which collects skills data from learning content and measures learner skill development over time. Using Dashboard, the program’s administrators were able to track students’ performance within the learning content, and track their improvement in specific skills during the course of the program.
With this first iteration of the Skill Immersion Lab program serving as a reaffirming data point for immersive technology’s impact on learning, the question is how can this impact be replicated for more students? In order to provide equitable access to immersive learning’s power, the program’s partners concluded that creating immersive learning content in higher volumes, and customizing content for more skills development use cases are critical next priorities. This will not only deliver learning content that can teach a greater number of critical skills to students, but also enable the ability to scale immersive learning programs to more learners.
“That’s our vision for the Skill Immersion Lab. It’s more than letting students play with innovative technology. It’s a roadmap for how innovation, multi-sector partnerships, and collaboration can support young learners. It’s an innovation intended to benefit all, not just those who can afford it.” - Katie Booth, Head of SAP North America Corporate Social Responsibility
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