Can VR develop soft skills in a meaningful way?

In the post-pandemic context, developing soft skills such as teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, and leadership has become more important than ever. But according to Harvard Business Review, 59% of hiring managers and 89% of executives surveyed reported having difficulty recruiting candidates with the requisite soft skills. An added complexity is remote working, which is making it even more difficult for people to develop soft skills. One of the ways businesses are helping their people develop these vital skills is by using virtual reality (VR).

Before we evaluate the effectiveness of VR in developing soft skills, it’s important to define what it is. According to Merriam Webster, virtual reality is: “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” 

Another simple definition from Wikipedia: “VR is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world.”

In a previous blog post, we spoke about the VR continuum, where we explained how VR doesn’t necessarily mean donning a special headset; rather, VR can refer to a range of immersive experiences along a continuum, as the definitions above suggest. We’ll get back to the continuum later in this post; for now, keep in mind that VR ≠ headset.

VR effectiveness in action 

VR learning experienced in 3D, using headsets, has been proven to be highly valuable for training in high-risk jobs, such as training surgeons and workers on offshore oil platforms. However, training for soft skills in 3D using VR headsets hasn’t been as widely adopted. PwC recently conducted an experiment (using headset technology) to test whether VR would be as effective for soft skills training, and whether it has advantages over traditional classroom or e-learning methods 

Selected employees from a group of new managers took the same training in one of the three following settings: classroom, e-learning, or v-learning (VR). Here are some of the insights they gleaned when comparing the results from the different settings.

V-learners: 

  • Saw 40% improvement in confidence compared to classroom learners 
  • Were 35% more likely than e-learners to act on what they learned after training
  • Completed training 4x faster than classroom learners
  • Felt 3.75x more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3x more connected than e-learners
  • Were 4x more focused during training than their e-learning peers, and 1.5x more focused than their classroom colleagues (in large part because the immersive VR experience made it easier for learners to stay focused)

So, where’s the sweet spot for soft skills? 

Soft skills have typically been learned through interactions with clients, colleagues, and other stakeholders. Even before the migration to hybrid or remote working, training employees’ soft skills has always been challenging. Diverse individuals behave differently in similar situations, so a one-size-fits-all approach (such as traditional e-learning) isn’t very effective. 

On the other hand, the opportunity to practice these skills in a virtual environment allows for highly customizable training that results in better outcomes, which can also reflect the uniqueness of an organization’s models and processes. Unlike traditional e-learning solutions, VR learning enables immersive, interactive, and impactful experiences—without the potential risks of real-world consequences. By practicing different business scenarios in a realistic way, learners are more prepared when facing similar situations in the workplace.

But do you need to experience it in 3D, via a fancy headset, to reap the benefits of v-learning? Not necessarily. Let’s go back to the continuum. The basic premise is that as the level of immersion increases, so does the cost of the exercise, making upper-end continuum tech (such as VR headsets that render virtual environments in three dimensions) less accessible and scalable than experiences on the lower end of the continuum, such as branching exercises. We believe that effective, sustainable VR learning is all about finding the sweet spot of immersion and scalability. 

While using a VR headset allows for a highly immersive experience, it limits the scalability and level of customization of the training. Does your organization have the time and resources it takes to develop v-learning software in three dimensions? Can your organization afford enough headsets? How will remote staff access them? How much cost will be added to ship headsets between training sites? Does the software (or video) reflect your organization’s unique context? 

Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM was conceived to design and deliver simulations that hit the sweet spot between immersion and scalability. ExperienceBUILDER simulations offer effective, highly immersive learning experiences without the cost and logistical hurdles associated with both traditional in-person training and headset learning. Most (if not all) of your employees already have access to mobile or desktop devices, which means that already have what they need to experience synchronous, team-driven discovery learning in a hybrid working environment. Workplaces that are adapting to the hybrid world have driven a resurgence in e-learning—but as the PwC study shared above shows, organizations could offer development opportunities that are so much more effective and engaging than traditional classroom and e-learning, even with geographically dispersed teams. 

Regardless of location, device, or language, ExperienceBUILDER immerses small teams of learners around the world in realistic simulations that allow them to practice their skills as they would use them on the job. The key to the success of soft skills training is relevance to an organization’s unique models and processes. ExperienceBUILDERdelivers on this by incorporating immersive and engaging collaborative learning activities custom-designed for your organization’s needs.

Contact the learning experts at Blueline Simulations to discover how we’re enabling the next generation of workers to cultivate the soft skills they’ll need to succeed in your organization.

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