Interpersonal soft skills training is nothing new, and many enterprises making employees undertake roleplaying sessions around diversity and inclusion (D&I), communication, leadership and team building. However, there are a number of barriers to effective learning outcomes that hinder learners’ engagement with content and facilitators’ provision of soft skills training.
As a result, organizations are increasingly looking to virtual reality (VR) as a new tool for delivering soft skills training more effectively, with greater outcomes for facilitators and learners alike. But how does VR improve soft skills training over traditional forms of delivery?
Research shows the benefits of integrating immersive learning experiences into your blended training approach, and there are some specific benefits that overcome some of the shortfalls of traditional approaches to soft skills training:
Often, the cost savings associated with delivering training only apply when an organization can deploy a critical mass or scale of training, reaching a required percentage of employees. Traditionally, organizations deliver soft skills training in small groups or with one-on-one, face-to-face training, making scale impossible without additional, ongoing costs.
Once the learning application exists, typically in a bespoke format for an organization or through software seat licenses, the organization can assign it to multiple VR devices across the organizational fleet, with the only limitation being the number of devices in operation. Organizations can run training sessions repeatedly with a set number of learners or across the whole organization.
Much of the measurement and learning outcomes of soft skills training are based upon subjective interpretation of learner performance, rather than objective measurement.
Learning content metrics and learner measurement within the VR training apps provide objective feedback and outcomes, based upon learner interactions and behavior, allowing organizations to create precise scoring and performance records and apply them to learners’ records, removing subjectivity from evaluation.
Learners are often unwilling to participate in, or less enthusiastic about, soft skills training, either through embarrassment at having to carry out role-play scenarios or perform in front of a group. Many feel that the training is a requirement rather than a desire, based around an organizational checkbox. Similarly, many feel that it is a waste of time, as they feel they already know how to communicate.
While organizations should always look beyond the “wow factor” and initial impact of introducing exciting new learning technologies, many organizations are reporting using learner waiting lists appearing for the first time since introducing VR-based soft skills training experiences. Once word spreads internally that these new training tools are available, employees quickly want to participate.
When an organization runs multiple sessions concurrently in order to improve reach and scale, or it employs human actors to provide one-on-one role-play, performances can vary. As a result, learners may not feel they received the same experience, outcomes or depth of training as their colleagues. Furthermore, with inconsistent training, measurement and metrics become fuzzy, and validation and return on investment (ROI) become difficult to measure.
Soft skills training applications in VR typically have a degree of controlled dynamic content based upon learner behavior and flow through each scenario. The outcomes are always consistent, however, in terms of learning objectives. The VR application and device never wavers from the script, while the instructional design and narrative ensure that there is enough variation and nuance to provide depth.
Many of these other friction points can lead learners to feel a lack of confidence in their ability to apply what they learned in training to real-world scenarios. They may feel it is easier to stick with methods they know and are comfortable with rather than try new skills.
Since learners can use VR devices for independent study or reply content, they can run through the learning experience more frequently than a single training session, enabling them to practice, fail and learn through multiple repetitions without additional cost to the organization.
There are some high-level benefits that apply to all aspects of VR training, including soft skills training, as shown below:
Immersive learning gives learners enhanced capabilities, tools and confidence by allowing them to practice and fail safely repeatedly and without repercussions, with measurable outcomes reflecting their performance.
VR can deliver learning objectives in shorter sessions, anywhere the learners are located, without taking up a large chunk of their day.
Learners do not need to travel for training, since it occur remotely. Similarly, organizations can deliver content across devices, without relying on in-person actors, who come with their own associated performance costs.
Virtual scenarios allow safe failure, enabling learners to learn by doing, learn from mistakes, and carry out training without danger to themselves or others.
Content can cover edge cases and provide for greater depth of interaction and involvement, while allowing deviation from the training path.
Studies show the effectiveness of “learning by doing” by using VR, which enables learners to engage multiple senses and build muscle memory.
As a result of greater knowledge retention and deeper memories to draw upon later, studies have found, when learners are assessed at a later date, their recall is improved when they used VR in training.
Learners can easily replay virtual simulations to create “reps,” leading to mastery. Alternatively, customized and/or dynamic practice modes enable learners to vary the content and assess their knowledge at each training session.
With VR, learners can use a headset to engage in private learning sessions without fear of embarrassment or the awkwardness of role-playing in front of others.
A growing number of organizations are using VR for training, and soft skills is one area of rapid growth, especially as more research demonstrates the benefits listed above — and even more so now many employees are having to work remotely from home. Furthermore, most VR hardware manufacturers provide enterprise-friendly versions of their devices, with enhanced warranties, technical support and other features that make information technology (IT) departments happy.
However, the key is to validate the use case and treat VR as an additional tool for your learning toolbox, where it can compliment and enhance existing learning programs rather than completely replace your other modalities. The astute organization determines where there are gaps or opportunities to fill with immersive learning experiences, rather than throwing traditional approaches out just to tick an innovation box.