Custom Design

The Role of Virtual Reality in L&D: Immersive learning that goes beyond the buzzwords

Search for ‘virtual reality’ on Google trends, and you’ll see a non-linear journey: almost nothing, until a slight uptick in searches from mid-2015 (the year Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR created an accessible form of virtual reality using smartphones), then a significant spike in December 2016. This was a watershed year for virtual reality (VR) as a commercial product, as three high-end virtual reality headsets hit the market: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. Clearly, they made good Christmas presents. 

Source: Google Trends 

VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, have long been the poster children for virtual reality, and most consumers today have been conditioned to think of the headsets when they hear VR. As a concept, however, virtual reality has been around for much longer than the tech peripherals. 

What is virtual reality?

Although virtual reality is well-served by many tech innovations, as a concept it goes beyond delivery modes. Virtual reality is an immersive, simulated experience that can be similar to, or completely different from, the real world. For VR to work, it requires engaging the participant in a situation or alternate reality to the point that the user suspends his or her disbelief and is motivated to participate in the simulated realm. While a lot of VR experiences take advantage of cutting-edge media elements, by definition virtual reality can be created effectively with very low media fidelity. Who remembers the View-Master? Patented in 1939 and still produced today, this special-format stereoscope can still be considered VR. 

As a fundamental premise, immersion matters when it comes to VR. In the current market, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest technology and forget is that it’s possible to immerse people in an experience without expensive hardware. We maintain the premise that the principles of VR transcend delivery mode—which means that it’s possible to create an immersive learning experience that’s affordable AND scalable.

From there, the question about VR shifts: When is the right time to use virtual reality in L&D, and how do you use it effectively?

To help answer these questions, imagine VR as a continuum. On one end (the left) are relatively low-tech experiences that take you to an alternate space, such as the good ol’ View-Master. In the context of corporate learning and development, a good example at the lower end of the continuum would be a role play or a simple branching simulation, which immerses learners in a scenario in which they need to make decisions to move forward. Further along the continuum, you may find branching that uses a complex algorithm to distribute nodes to make that experience feel more real. Add the ability to recognize voice, and you move more to the right. Add video, artificial intelligence, and 3-D environments, and you’ll continue to move to the far-right end of the continuum. VR headsets are one incredibly powerful way to deliver 3-D environments.  

When it comes to practical application, where should your L&D initiatives fall on the VR continuum? 

We know that engaging, immersive learning experiences are key to knowledge retention and behavior change. By that statement, you’d likely assume that the far-right end of the continuum offers the best possible outcomes for business training needs. However, when you move from left to right, adding immersive media elements, you give up scalability because costs increase exponentially. For this reason, organizations need to be judicious about when, where, and how they apply the stuff on the far-right end of the continuum, and consider whether a well-designed immersive learning experience can achieve similar behavior change while also being scalable across a large population. 

Situations in which learning outcomes increase in correlation with the richness of media elements are highly valuable in training for high-risk jobs, such as performing surgery or working on an oil rig. When it comes to developing leadership skills, influencing business culture, and other business transformation initiatives for large populations, we recommend immersive custom training solutions that target desired outcomes while remaining scalable. Team-based discovery in a synchronous environment can drive significant behavior change without lots of expensive tech peripherals that make deployment a complex trial.

Put another way—corporate L&D can achieve the training outcomes similar to those made possible by VR without the cost and scale challenges presented by the elements at the far-right end of the continuum.

What questions should L&D be asking about virtual reality?

If you’re tempted to start snapping up VR goggles in the hopes of outfitting your entire learning center, answer the following questions:

  1. What are your desired learning outcomes?
  2. What does success look like for this initiative?
  3. What skills do you want to convey? Or, what behaviors do you want to change?
  4. Who is the audience? 

Now, consider the size of the learner population, context, and budget, and work out where on the continuum you’ll find the appropriate intersection of costs, scalability, and creating the most immersive experience possible. 

At Blueline, we have experience delivering training solutions along the full VR continuum, but we don’t believe that moving to the far-right end is always the best solution. Sure, those rich media experiences using VR headsets are really cool. They also introduce a long list of challenges if you’re training any more than a small group of learners. We’ve been experimenting with innovative and disruptive learning technologies for decades, and we know that a fancy headset is not the holy grail. In fact, when it comes to skill transfer and behavior change, an effective learning design trumps sexy tech every time.  

The team-driven simulations powered by Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design platform can be found near the middle of the continuum—in the sweet spot between scalability and cost. ExperienceBUILDER uses real-world simulations to invite learners into a storyline, in order to deliver highly immersive and engaging synchronous learning experiences. Each scenario is carefully crafted to maximize participant engagement and drive knowledge retention and skills acquisition. The real magic happens in the conversations between team members as they work through complex problems without clear right or wrong answers. Our solutions are scalable and customizable, and they have become a darling for organizations embracing a hybrid workforce. We’ve identified very few learning needs that an ExperienceBUILDER simulation can’t meet. 

Immersive learning offers answers to so many difficult training questions. That explains why virtual reality is getting an outsized share of attention right now, but leveraging virtual reality is so much broader than deploying VR headsets. Contact the learning experts at Blueline Simulations for help finding your sweet spot on the VR continuum.

Get your head in the game when it comes to L&D

Humans learn by sensing, thinking, and doing. These three stages are reflected in the building blocks of the brain: sensory neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons. Integrating elements of games with educational stimuli fits with the sensing-thinking-doing functionality of the nervous system and the natural needs of the brain, which are: 

  • To survive
  • To feel good
  • To play
  • To be rewarded
  • To save energy

Using gamification tactics in learning meets these needs by making the brain feel in control, stimulated by fun and rewards, and addressing the need to save energy by having a congruent story. But a common misconception is that successful gamification requires actually creating a game—which doesn’t work in many business contexts. We’re going to take a look at why gamification works and how it can be applied to authentic, simulated learning environments.

Which is better for business: gamification or game-based learning? 

A quick clarification on gamification vs game-based learning (GBL)

Gamification is the integration of game elements (such as point systems, leaderboards, badges, or other elements related to games) into non-game activities to increase engagement and motivation.

Game-based learning involves designing learning activities that include game characteristics and game principles within the learning activities themselves.

As you can see from these two definitions, there’s a lot of crossover between gamification and game-based learning. Gamification allows learning designers to take advantage of the benefits of game elements without the need to turn the learning itself into a game. 

In the business environment, we’ve found that games are especially good for team building and in many eLearning contexts, but they fall short when building skills. Although game-based learning can be great fun, tying the game back to the business requires an extra step and is not always immediately obvious to participants. At Blueline, we don’t use games to teach (i.e. game-based learning). We use the engaging characteristics of games to help motivate and engage our learners through realistic simulations of real-world work environments (i.e. gamification).

When it comes to work-relevant learning, gamification provides the same incredible benefits while immersing learners in real-world dilemmas. Where appropriate, gamification can be used in learning experiences to bring the dynamics of engagement, competition, and fun to learning—while presenting challenges in real-world contexts and enabling learners to acquire and practice new skills as they would on the job. Gamified learning can be serious and business-appropriate because it doesn’t require the artificial constructs (e.g. a fictional world and characters, made-up storylines, etc.) needed to create a true game.

How does gamification enhance learning objectives?

Although it is becoming increasingly sophisticated and digitalized, gamification in the realm of corporate L&D is nothing new. And for good reason. Not only do game elements meet the brain’s inherent needs, but they also increase cognitive activity by firing up different areas of the brain:

  • The visual brain: evidence supports the attentional benefits resulting from the use of gamification tactics
  • The motivated brain: winning and receiving positive feedback stimulates the reward center of the brain
  • The creative brain: creativity is stimulated by simulations, symbolic thinking, visualization, mentalizing, and curiosity
  • The social brain: cooperation and competition evoke different reactions in the brain
  • The emotional brain: games are emotionally engaging and help us remember events better
  • The cognitive brain: gamification helps with the application of knowledge, and there’s also a positive relationship between adrenaline and memory

From a neuroscientific perspective, the benefits of gamification depend on the design of the learning experience and the individual’s unique neural responses to educational stimuli. According to Jan L. Plass, Paulette Goddard Chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences and Professor at New York University: “Good games aim for the ‘sweet spot’, where players can succeed but only with some struggle.” 

The combination of success with a side of struggle is an inherently engaging experience. And in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. If you want to drive results, you need to focus on learner engagement. Gamifying learning is a surefire way to engage learners.

Here’s how gamification brings extraordinary levels of engagement to learning

Research shows that play is a potent force in learning contexts in all spheres of life. The freedom to experiment and the joy of experience are not merely techniques to enhance the learning process—they are the learning process.

Another element of gamification comes in the form of collaborative competition, which harnesses natural group competitiveness. When it comes to immersive learning experiences, working with a team and competing against other teams takes engagement and commitment to a whole new level. It isn’t about being cutthroat, but about furthering learners’ investment in the overall outcome.

Common to most gamification techniques is the ability to access immediate and constant assessment of where one stands in the learning process. Gamification offers a number of ways this can be accomplished, such as badges, leaderboards, and other point-based mechanisms. When feedback comes from a publicly visible leaderboard, it is both engaging and motivating to the learners. As an analogy, consider your level of effort working out at home in front of a video, and then going to a class at the gym and doing the same workout with a group of people. Being in an environment with other people naturally raises the stakes, even when they’re all equal participants in a shared activity. Now turn it into a competition—say you could see who is pedaling fastest out of a group of people in a spin class. Wouldn’t you push yourself even harder to beat the other people in the room? That’s the power of a live leaderboard, and it translates extremely well from athletics to many other activities.

These elements can all be included in a complex simulation that still maintains verisimilitude with the work environment. While game-based learning is a form of escapism that takes learners out of the workplace, gamified simulations keep learners immersed in their very real daily challenges while still providing an engaging and fail-safe environment for practicing new skills.

Blueline is no stranger to the learning game

We have been perfecting the use of gamification techniques to increase learner engagement for the past two decades. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDER™ digital design platform synthesizes the most powerful of these gamification elements in one tool. The synchronous, customized simulations designed and delivered through ExperienceBUILDER incorporate teamwork, live leaderboards, peer challenges, real-world application, and feedback mechanisms to leverage the benefits of gamification; the most important of which are learner engagement, knowledge retention, and concept application. 

At Blueline Simulations, we combine the elements of play, competition, and feedback to enrich our designs and support learners in achieving better outcomes—but no one is playing around here. We have perfected the use of immersion techniques like simulation, gamification, and storytelling to design synchronous, team-driven discovery learning that drives business transformation. We are also breaking new ground with hybrid learning designs that are just as effective as live classroom experiences. Get in touch with the Blueline Simulations team if your organization is ready for this next chapter.

What do employees want? This is the future of work

Can you believe it was over two years ago that many of us bade farewell to the office, turned loungewear into everyday fashion, panic-bought toilet paper, and fired up our ovens for home baking projects? Now, in a post-pandemic world, companies are continuing to fine-tune what the new normal looks like for them; many are opting to maintain a hybrid work environment indefinitely. They’re all grappling with questions that seem to lack straightforward answers: what is it that employees of today really want? And what does the future of work look like?

In 2021, Zoom partnered with Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey) to find out how workers felt about hybrid work. They repeated the survey in 2022 to see how those opinions had evolved. The 2022 report released by Momentive included data from a national sample of 4,912 adults, who were selected from the more than two million people who take surveys on the Momentive platform each day. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States aged 18 and over. The results were then compared to those from a similar survey conducted in 2021.

Perhaps the most insightful finding from the survey is that people desire the autonomy to choose where they work, and many are unafraid to leave jobs with strict location requirements. The finding highlights the prerogative of organizations to fully support hybrid work with resources and initiatives that enable teams to collaborative productively.

Where do knowledge workers want to work?

Interestingly, more employees would prefer to work full time from the office in 2022 (38%) than in 2021 (20%). More would also prefer to work fully from home (19% in 2022, vs 15% in 2021). Of those already working remotely, 28% said they would prefer to stay remote, up from 15% in 2021. What’s clear from these data is that more employees know what they want, since the hybrid options of working mostly from the office and working mostly from home decreased by 13% and 12% respectively, in favor of the fully on- or off-site options.

What influences the choice of work environment?

When asked about their ideal work environment—remote, on-site, or hybrid—some workers tend to choose the work environment that their colleagues are choosing:

  • 64% of workers whose colleagues are working remotely full-time say they would also like to work from home
  • 48% of workers whose colleagues are working on-site full-time say they would also like to work from the office

Employee choice is paramount

Regardless of preferred work settings and styles, Momentive’s report demonstrates that employees would like to have the option—69% of respondents said they want to be able to decide where and how they work. Of those already working remotely, 85% said it’s essential for their employers to let them choose where they work. 

And what if they are not allowed to work in their preferred locations? Almost half (45%) of workers said they would likely look for a new job, a number that jumps to 55% for those already working from home.

How would they like to attend meetings? 

Those who have been working remotely would prefer to attend most meeting types remotely. However, there are some exceptions: 

  • Meeting one-on-one with people you supervise
  • Meeting new clients or customers
  • Team bonding activities
  • Interviewing job candidates

Training resources are crucial 

When preparing employees in hybrid or remote environments, access to resources and technology for training and development is essential for employee and company success. In the survey, 42% of respondents said they’d received training or educational materials on how to work in hybrid or remote environments. From our experience, we feel that this number should be higher, and that every company should prioritize employee training to prepare them for the new way of working. 

One of our clients, a large pharmaceutical company, was navigating the new hybrid working environment with a mix of on-site and remote working arrangements. The client needed to prepare leaders to address common challenges, lead hybrid teams effectively, and avoid proximity bias.

To help them achieve this, we used Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design and delivery platform to produce two robust simulations made up of a total of twelve of the most likely dilemmas that leaders would face, including issues such as:

  • Ensuring equality of opportunities and information
  • Preventing proximity bias 
  • Dilemmas that may arise and how to fix them
  • Giving feedback
  • Monitoring performance when you’re not working in the same place
  • Concerns individuals were likely to have about their work arrangements

The participant response to the immersive and collaborative learning experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The client continues to use the simulations we developed to enhance their hybrid working environment dynamics. 

Empower your workforce as the world of work transforms

As the world of work continues to evolve in 2022 and beyond, organizations will need to decide how to support their employees and customers. One of the best ways of doing this is to provide opportunities for training and development that equips leaders and employees with the skills they need to navigate the dynamic work environment. 

Get in touch with the Blueline Simulations team to learn more about how we can help your organization become future-fit for the new world of work. 

New Leadership Standards for the Future of Work

Introducing new leadership standards and employee behaviors to support the future of work

The pandemic has led to unprecedented changes in the world of work. The skills required for many jobs are changing, and people are rethinking how, where, and why they work. These changes necessitate the introduction of new leadership standards and employee behaviors to support organizational sustainability in a post-covid future. 

In this blog post, we look at some of the challenges today’s leaders face, and how we’ve supported our clients’ needs with team-based learning solutions that help power the future of work. 

Enhancing hybrid working dynamics

One of the biggest demands on leaders is to manage the way remote working has transformed the ways teams innovate, communicate, collaborate, and build relationships. With workers split across virtual and physical spaces, not to mention time zones, leaders need to come up with new ways to build inclusive and connected teams.

One of our clients, a Fortune 150 pharmaceutical company, looked to Blueline for help navigating the new hybrid working environment and defining the future of work. The client needed to prepare leaders to address common challenges, lead hybrid teams effectively, and avoid proximity bias.

Based on insights uncovered through interviews with key stakeholders, we used Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design and delivery platform to produce two robust simulations made up of a total of twelve of the most likely dilemmas that leaders would face, including:

  • Leading teams in the hybrid workplace
  • Ensuring equality of opportunities and information
  • Preventing proximity bias
  • Giving feedback
  • Monitoring performance across physical locations 
  • Concerns from individuals about remote and hybrid work
  • Monitoring team health and members’ wellbeing

By exploring best practices and collaboratively coming up with solutions to these problems in a real-world context, leaders were able to learn to be productive and efficient leading in the new hybrid environment by ensuring fairness and equality in work, development, and career opportunities. The participant response to the immersive and collaborative learning experience was overwhelmingly positive, and the client continues to use the simulations we developed to help leaders prepare for and embrace this new way of working. 

Strengthening company culture 

Culture is critically important to company success; those with more effective and defined cultures realize multiple benefits, such as employee satisfaction, retention, and even revenue growth. But as the workforce became more geographically dispersed, many leaders became concerned about creating and maintaining a company culture across physical distances. Today’s leaders need to continue to foster and nurture company culture, but they need to do so while people are working in multiple places. 

We helped one of the world’s best-known consumer brands transform its culture by ensuring employees at all levels understood and could apply new expectations of leadership standards and employee behaviors. The company had communicated and reinforced the core behaviors and leadership standards the year before, so people knew about the new vision, mission, and behaviors. However, they often struggled to connect these concepts to their daily work. 

Blueline’s goal was to put the company’s vision, mission, values, and behaviors in the context of each individual’s job role, and to help leaders demonstrate the new leadership standards. 

To achieve these objectives, we created two workshops that leveraged a combination of our BlueprintTM learning visuals and our ExperienceBUILDER simulations. The first workshop (for all employees) focused on exploring the company’s vision, values, and behaviors by using a learning visual as a launch pad that invited employees to go on a metaphorical journey. The second workshop was designed specifically for leaders, who needed to be equipped to lead by the key principles and reinforce desired behaviors. The workshop consisted of two parts: a learning visual that invited leaders to explore the new leadership standards, followed by an ExperienceBUILDER simulation in which participants explored ways to apply what they had just learned to the specific challenges they would likely face in the transforming organization.

The program successfully helped to reinforce the company’s culture in a practical way. Leaders assess themselves on their proficiency with the new knowledge and skills before and after the training. Their scores jumped from 51% pre-training to 99% post-training with 91% of leaders stating that they would recommend the program to their peers. 

Key to the success of culture transformation initiatives is the ability to deliver them effectively in a hybrid work environment. Blueline’s team-based, immersive learning experiences are equipped to do just that. In fact, the need to deliver scenario simulations to a hybrid workforce was one inspiration for ExperienceBUILDER, which delivers highly immersive and engaging synchronous learning experiences to teams of learners, regardless of physical location. 

The need for softer skills 

Specialized interpersonal skills will be in high demand in the new hybrid workplace, where on-site interactions are becoming less frequent. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of employees’ mental wellbeing, and training for empathy has taken on a new level of meaning and priority. Empathy training has been proven to drive significant business results through a positive impact on employee motivation, innovation, and retention. Leaders in a post-pandemic working world must be able to empathize with their colleagues to be successful.

Our clients have seen significant improvements in empathy development using our immersive, discovery-based approach. Our ExperienceBUILDER simulations help guide individuals into meaningful conversations, resolve complex interpersonal issues, uncover biases and prejudice, and improve inclusion efforts, all of which are essential to ensuring empathy stays at the forefront in the future of work.

Seize the opportunity to define the future of work

By changing their mindsets, listening to their people, and using different tools and technologies, leaders can create a brighter and more positive future of work in the world of hybrid teams. Contact the Blueline Simulations team to learn more about how we can help. 

How Technology Defines the Hybrid Employee Experience

One of the big questions today’s leaders face is how to meaningfully connect, communicate, and collaborate in a hybrid environment. As companies vie for talent and adapt to new ways of working, technology has become one of the dominant features of the employee experience. With a distributed workforce, it has become more important than ever for employers to provide technology solutions that can reduce barriers to information, increase growth opportunities, and foster employee engagement. 

With the Great Reshuffle and the Great Resignation at the forefront of many leaders’ minds, creating new technology categories to enhance the hybrid employee experience is high on the priority list. Engaging and communicating with dispersed employees goes far beyond setting up video conferencing—transformative technological transitions will require business leaders to consider how legacy, existing, and emerging technologies can be leveraged to rebuild organizational culture in a hybrid world.

For all intents and purposes, technology tools have become the new workplace. Yet, many employees are underwhelmed by their current experiences with technology in the hybrid or remote working world. Research by Qualtrics revealed that only 30% of employees feel that their company’s technology exceeds their expectations. This is a massive missed opportunity, especially seeing as employees are 85% more likely to stay beyond three years in their jobs and are 230% more engaged if they feel they have the right technology to support them at work. 

So, how should employers use technology to improve the hybrid digital workplace experience?

Listen to what employees need and want 

All employees have valuable insights and feedback to share to help improve the collective workplace experience. We use our Voice of the Business (VotB) process to unlock and harness insights from inside your business, and it accomplishes two equally important things. We gain deep insights into the problems people are facing on the job, and we build alignment to the eventual solution for those problems. While building custom training is our core area of expertise, we’ve found that the listening and aligning process can be beneficial in a wide range of business applications. Listening to your people is an important step in uncovering your employees’ needs, the challenges they face, and what’s most important to them. Measuring and understanding how employees feel is essential to building a productive and desirable workplace in this new hybrid era. Building alignment ensures everyone is on the same page, driving toward a common end goal.

Assess current work processes 

The hybrid and remote working environment relies on technology to get work done. Key to sustainable business transformation is assessing current work processes and how they can be streamlined to increase efficiency and productivity.

Ask your employees if they have the right tools and technology to do their jobs in the new working environment, and see if other technology can help them be more productive, wherever they may be working from. 

Questions to consider: 

  • Have any of my team’s tasks become redundant? 
  • How can technology be used to automate tasks? 
  • How can we collaborate better across various locations?
  • Are there any bottlenecks preventing work from getting done? 

Ensure people are equipped with the skills they need to be successful

Regardless of where people are working, they require ongoing skill development in order to succeed and grow. Examine your training offerings to ensure they’re meeting current and future needs, and also to ensure that teams are supported regardless of whether they’re co-located or remote.

Studies have shown that opportunities for development are a strong driver of engagement, particularly when the training enables people to develop new skills that help them advance in their careers. A Pew Research Center survey identified “no opportunities for advancement” as one of the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year. On the other hand, employees who have access to development opportunities are 15-20% more engaged than those without. 

Use technology to create an engaging hybrid learning experience 

New learning and development (L&D) technology has a significant role to play in training and engaging a hybrid workforce. In a hybrid world, the impact of L&D is no longer confined to onboarding or professional development, but has the potential to influence all aspects of the employee experience. 

Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design platform delivers immersive and engaging collaborative learning activities custom-designed for your organization’s needs. Regardless of location, device, or language, your small teams of learners around the world are given the opportunity to explore ways to solve your company’s most pressing challenges. The team-based learning model is designed to keep hybrid and remote teams of learners communicating and collaborating—interactions that foster a culture of commitment and help to bridge gaps between the dispersed employees.

Contact us to see first-hand how ExperienceBUILDER platform is helping some of the world’s largest global companies adapt and thrive in the new normal.