Benefits Of VR Gentle Expertise Coaching
VR can help optimize training time and efficiency
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review in January 2021, 59% of hiring managers surveyed and 89% of executives said they had problems finding employees with soft skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership. An additional challenge, especially when working remotely, is getting people to master soft skills through practice. Therefore, after reading, listening, or looking at instructions to improve their skills, learners need the opportunity to practice consciously.
Just bringing the learners together for the training requires a lot of planning and coordination, from planning the time, booking a suitable location (at least before COVID) to organizing all the necessary travel. Virtual Reality (VR) training, like other forms of online training, eliminates some of the challenges associated with putting together a face-to-face workshop.
Many companies are currently considering questioning remote working even after the pandemic. Lack of physical proximity makes the skills necessary to create human connections even more important to customer and employee loyalty. Providing a comprehensive online training environment for remote workers is a great way to ensure they have or can learn the above skills (and others like conflict resolution and customer service).
Types of VR
The main categories of VR are the following:
- Not immersive VR
Users interact with a virtual environment through a computer screen. Examples are typical video games on a computer or game console, and interactive 360-degree tours of a location. Users interact with the environment and the avatars using a keyboard, mouse, or controller. In the meantime, they are aware of their physical environment.
- Semi-immersive VR
Users interact with realistic simulations (e.g. a flight simulator). This category is usually used for education or training. As long as users focus on the 3D graphics on high resolution displays, they feel like they are doing the required work. However, as soon as they look away from the screen, they see their real environment.
- Fully immersive VR
Users are completely surrounded by the virtual environment through the use of head-mounted displays (and possibly sensory gloves). This offers the most realistic experience most people imagine when they think of VR.
In addition, the VR environment can be configured for specific training needs. When a company opts for virtual teacher-led training (VILT), learners can gather in a virtual classroom, a meeting room, or even an informal space like a restaurant. The virtual room can even have breakout rooms. Users interact with each other and with the instructor through avatars they represent. They can view videos together, share PDFs, and otherwise interact freely due to their geographic distance from one another.
Another possibility is for the learners to work independently. In this case, the learners do not interact with colleagues, but with “virtual people” in a 3D environment that is similar to their work environment. The setting can even contain elements as part of the scenario (e.g. a device or a form).
Advantages of VR Soft Skills Training
Regardless of the type of VR used, learners can improve their soft skills by role-playing and getting feedback on their words and actions. With VILT, instructors can provide real-time guidance and share further insights after viewing a session recording. Well-designed virtual people, while not as flexible as actual human trainers, can provide real-time feedback and a customized performance overview right after the session.
An added benefit of virtual people is that learners have more time to experiment with what to say and do in different scenarios. Virtual people will not run out of patience no matter how many times learners go through a particular scenario. While the feedback functions tell users whether they have made appropriate decisions in a scenario, there is no risk of alienating fellow trainers themselves. If learners make mistakes that send the scenario in an undesirable direction, they can simply view the feedback and try again. This makes them feel more comfortable and are more open to feedback on their performance.
Effectiveness of VR Soft Skills Training
While learners may have more time to practice, research shows that they don’t need it, as using VR appears to significantly reduce the time required to practice. A 2020 Harvard Business Review article reported on Verizon’s use of VR to train call center reps on how to de-escalate a conversation with a disgruntled customer. “The article reported that exercise time per person decreased from 10 hours to 30 minutes.
PwC also published a 2020 study of a group of new managers who received the same inclusive leadership training in one of three learning modalities: a physical classroom, eLearning or VR. The study results showed that the VR course trained employees four times faster than the classroom training.
It has been found that the ability to practice the required skills in a realistic scenario greatly increases learner confidence in the workplace. The PwC study found that the managers who took the VR training were 40% more confident than the learners in the classroom using the skills they had learned. Their confidence level also exceeded that of the managers who had introduced eLearning by 35%. By training Verizon employees in VR, they were better able to objectively monitor their own dealings with customers in the workplace.
In addition, the PwC study found that using realistic scenarios and virtual people through VR helps learners make emotional connections with course content. A 2018 article in the training industry stated, “Memory building is associated with emotional response.” Learners’ emotional response to the VR scenarios improves their ability to retain course information.
Through targeted practice and personal feedback, learners can improve and evaluate their skills in order to have challenging conversations and use other soft skills in real life. While practicing soft skills in an immersive, risk-free environment has many benefits, L&D needs to consider the cost of VR training. According to the PwC study, “VR content initially requires up to 48% more investment than similar class or eLearn courses.” The more employees undergo VR training, the more cost-effective this training becomes. The PwC study estimated that 375 learners equate VR training costs with those in the classroom and 1,950 learners equate them with eLearning.
These are general estimates, of course, but they provide a good starting point for determining whether VR is indeed an option for a specific training need.