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 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.

What is team-based learning?

Greater workforce efficiency and productivity, higher employee morale, improved employee retention, and increased innovation are just a few of the many benefits of good teamwork in the workplace. This is no secret to business leaders and managers, but what may be new to some is the value of team-based learning in the corporate world. 

Team-based learning (TBL) is a collaborative learning and teaching strategy that was first popularized in the 1970s by Larry Michaelsen, a Professor Emeritus of Management at the University of Oklahoma. Similar to problem-based and case-based learning, TBL presents teams with complex problems rooted in real-world situations.

Team-based learning was initially developed as an educational strategy for academic settings. By engaging students with the kinds of scenarios they will encounter in the working world, TBL is intended to enhance critical thinking and active learning. It has been incorporated into Masters in Business Administration (MBA) curricula for the last decade, and MBA programs using a team-based approach have unlocked enormous potential by allowing diverse students to collaborate and learn about different viewpoints and working styles.

While the team-based learning approach has seen wide adoption in the educational sphere, more and more businesses are realizing the value of TBL for a wide range of corporate learning objectives. As the global pandemic forced employees out of the office and into virtual environments, the need for new forms of collaboration and organization has highlighted the importance of ongoing team-based development opportunities. 

Team-based discovery learning is here to stay (yes, even for the hybrid workforce), and it’s time for the corporate world to catch up. 

Key characteristics of team-based learning

The team-based learning approach in business satisfies three important criteria that promote optimal learning:

  1. Learners are immersed in a practical, ongoing activity
  2. Learning is multi-directional, with feedback from other learners and the instructor
  3. Learning is functional and based on a real problem

It is through this process of reflection and collaboration that learners are able to engage and become active participants in their own learning. 

New skills require a new approach

The World Economic Forum identified the top 15 skills needed for 2025 in its “The Future of Jobs”report:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality, and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring, and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation
  11. Emotional intelligence
  12. Troubleshooting and user experience
  13. Service orientation
  14. Systems analysis and evaluation 
  15. Persuasion and negotiation

By leveraging the strengths and experiences of all team members, team-based learning is well-equipped to develop many of these skills more effectively than traditional instructor driven formats, or individual learning experiences.

Another key advantage of TBL is the benefit of team brainstorming, which increases the number of possible ideas to solve a problem. While an individual may see a problem from a limited number of perspectives, a team is able to increase the quality of deliverables and hone critical skills through divergent thinking. When a learning team is comprised of individuals who work together in a business unit, enhanced team rapport and collaboration capabilities is a natural offshoot of any team-based learning experience.

The challenges of team-based learning

The backbone of the entire team-based learning approach is the creation of effective team exercises. In practice, this can also be its greatest challenge.

Michaelsen et al. (2004) indicate that a well-conceived TBL exercise should:

  • Promote a high level of individual accountability
  • Motivate vigorous discussion
  • Present teams with a set of specific choices that requires the use of course concepts to arrive at a decision
  • Prompt individual thinking, which contributes to intense intra-team discussion
  • Encourage individual accountability
  • Promote closer physical proximity during the team discussion
  • Promote a high level of interaction and discussion within the team

To achieve these objectives, team-based learning activities need to present a careful choice of problems and scenarios to help reveal common misconceptions and promote lively interaction and debate among team members.

The other challenge is one of proximity. A team must be able to interact freely in a safe space where all team members are engaged and attentive. The best way to create such a space has been on many learning leaders’ minds over the past two years, but in truth global teams have been figuring out how to best work together long before the onset of the pandemic. The rise of stable tech platforms that enable remote collaboration is one significant factor. Today’s conversation has less to do with the tech itself and more to do with ways to engage geographically dispersed team members.

Effective team-driven exercises for the hybrid workforce

Effective team-driven discovery learning requires a thorough understanding of the requirements and desired outcomes. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM platform delivers immersive learning experiences that are custom-designed to address a specific organization’s needs. The end result: a richer and more relevant learning experience in a team environment. 

Our ExperienceBUILDER digital design platform takes the team-based learning methodology to the next level by presenting learners with complex challenges based on real-world dilemmas. Learners work in teams to consider important concepts, determine critical variables, and anticipate potential impact on a combination of business metrics to make a collective decision. These simulations offer multiple paths and no clear-cut right or wrong answers, which means that learners must engage in deep discussions and vigorous debate to move forward. 

By immersing and engaging hybrid and remote teams of learners in team-based learning experiences, ExperienceBUILDER is transforming the way that businesses build new knowledge and skills.

Would you like to learn more about how team-driven discovery learning can support your business objectives for the hybrid workforce? Contact us to schedule a consultation. 

What is a learning simulation?

Learning simulations are a valuable tool for organizations looking to develop their teams. Simulations allow learners to advance their skills in a controlled environment with the use of fictitious scenarios. Using simulations increases the engagement of learners, and also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Simulations can be used in various types of industries, across all departments, in order to provide people with the opportunity to learn and practice a wide variety of skills. 

What is a simulation?

Simulations place learners in lifelike scenarios that often lack clear-cut answers and enable the opportunity to experience the outcomes of choices without invoking real-world consequences. Flight simulations are a classic example, in which pilots can react to various weather, takeoff, and landing challenges. They can discover the consequences of a broad range of actions without literally crashing a plane. The simulation is programmed to react to pilots’ mistakes, allowing them to learn the appropriate and safest solutions to challenges that they are faced with in flight. When they’re later flying real planes, they’re better equipped to make split-second decisions and arrive safely at their destinations. Flight simulations give pilots the opportunity to gain confidence, experience, and knowledge without the cost or possible negative consequences of a real flight. 

Simulations are also commonly known for being used in medical practice, as well as armed forces and police departments. However, they can be applied more broadly than these high-profile examples. The same techniques used to simulate a medical emergency or hostage crisis can also be adapted to interpersonal conflict, leadership skills, and just about any other situation that involves critical thinking and decision making. Sometimes referred to as experiential learning, simulations can take many forms, such as role-play, games, and team-based experiences. A simulation can be equally effective in an in-person learning environment or remote. 

When can a simulation be used?

Organizations have been using simulations as a part of their training programs for decades. They can be a great opportunity for team-based learning across every department. Learning organizations find simulations to be very fitting for developing interpersonal and customer-focused skills. They’re often applied to leadership development, management, sales and marketing, and customer service. While a simulation can be used to teach a consistent process, they’re commonly used for situations with a lot of gray area, lacking clear-cut answers. Simulations can also be very powerful when a decision may have both positive and negative consequences, and they can show the ways that one choice with multiple facets has a wide-ranging impact.

For example, in a customer-focused training simulation, learners can see how their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions affect their outcomes in customer interactions. What happens when you greet a customer with a friendly smile and welcoming tone of voice, as opposed to folded arms and a negative tone of voice? Rather than telling people to smile and be welcoming, the simulation gives them the opportunity to explore the possibilities and come to the desired conclusion without any real-world consequences of alienated customers. While this example seems like a black-and-white decision, the power of the simulation is that the learners must deal with the consequences of their choices. Can they rescue the customer interaction after a rude greeting? Might there be situations where an over-the-top greeting is actually off-putting to the customer? Simulations enable explorations of many possibilities.

Why use a simulation?

Simulations are used for a variety of purposes and have many benefits. They promote the use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, both independently and as a team. Simulations force learners to think deeper, have thoughtful conversations, and be open to listening to others’ ideas and points of view because there are often no clear answers. In many cases, learners will be faced with issues that directly concern themselves, but also involve those around them and the organization as a whole. Learners need to be able to think for themselves, but also to be open to working through issues that arise with the help of others. 

Simulations have become a popular learning tool for organizations due to the fact that they allow people to learn from experience without the risk of wasted resources or lost customers. Working through complicated scenarios reduces the need to spend time in real-life situations figuring it out on the spot and learning from (costly) mistakes. These learning experiences can be done in a controlled environment, custom-designed specifically for the organization, desired outcomes, and learning department. 

Our ExperienceBUILDER™ simulation learning platform enables an equally effective experience whether teams are co-located, remote, or both. ExperienceBUILDER sims are custom-built or tailored to suit the needs of the organization, and the platform itself meets the needs of a hybrid workforce by facilitating team collaboration from anywhere. Learners work together on teams to impact such metrics as resolving conflict, allocating resources, increasing engagement, and developing their staff. Multiple teams can go head-to-head, seeing their performance against one another on a live leaderboard.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss how simulations could benefit your organization and the way in which your learners develop their skills. Our custom-designed learning programs have been producing notable business results from some of the leading worldwide organizations for over a decade. Contact us today to schedule a meeting. 

Five classic signs your training lacks empathy

Stepping into someone else’s shoes to see things from their perspective can have maximum impact in both personal and professional situations. We have discussed empathetic learning design, and how to teach empathy, but how do you know if your learning initiatives need an empathy makeover? Below are some signs your training lacks empathy. If you’re noticing these, you may be in need of an empathetic learning approach to take your organization to the next level.

1. Your actual learner population isn’t reflected in the course visuals. 

If your staff comprises more than one gender, culture, or background, yet all of the visuals represent a single category, you may need to change things up. Corporate training frequently makes heavy use of stock photos, which isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s when those images lack diversity that the whole program can come across as generic and not applicable to individual learners. Your course visuals should represent the learner population in all its diversity. If they don’t, learners will have a harder time picturing themselves in the scenarios, and may even feel excluded and undervalued. 

Ideas for representing your learners in course visuals

There are a few ways to take a more inclusive approach with your visuals. First, if you’re going to use stock photos, choose images that represent the learner population. Sites like iStock and Shutterstock have come a long way in offering photos of people in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Even royalty-free stock photo sites offer cultural diversity that has come a long way over the past few years. Alternatively, consider using photos of actual employees in your company. Although it’ll require more effort to shoot or collect photos, the payoff of learners seeing themselves represented will make the work worthwhile.

Another work-around is to avoid using photorealistic visuals at all. There are many other visual art styles that can be effective without looking cartoonish. Sometimes it can be an effective design technique to help learners step away from interpersonal situations by representing them in an entirely different way. Even colors, animals, and textures can add visual interest while side-stepping the need for photos of people. Alternate images can also help learners through situations that have no clear answer by eliminating the bias that many images with humans can represent.

2. Difficult interpersonal situations are treated as having clear-cut answers.

When conducting training that involves challenging situations between people or teams, evaluate whether clear-cut answers are truly representative of the real-world situation. In most cases, navigating situations that require emotional intelligence can’t be boiled down to right vs. wrong. The gray area is what leads learners into thoughtful conversations, discussions of ideas, feelings, and perspectives. If you remove the gray area and limit learners to a right or wrong answer, you will have missed the opportunity to develop empathy. 

How to embrace the gray in learning simulations

It is possible to design training that encourages exploration of topics without a hard right or wrong answer. Traditionally these types of initiatives took place in classroom workshops, or may have required a high-end gamified scenario. New learning modalities adapted to the hybrid workforce are enabling companies to provide safe environments for teams to grapple with complex problems. That need is exactly what led to the development of our ExperienceBUILDER platform. In brief, we create space for learners to assess non-absolute questions by creating multiple scoring parameters for each decision. The real magic happens as teams interact to solve these problems together, competing against other teams using metrics that reflect real-world constraints.

3. You aren’t using accessible design principles.

Organizations need to understand accessible design principles, not only for their customers’ needs but also for their employees. Just like your customers, learners also need to have content that is accessible. If you’re avoiding these design principles for your learners, you could be completely excluding certain individuals or making it harder for them to learn. 

Having empathy toward learners means ensuring that everyone is equally included, regardless of any disabilities. Imagine if you were color blind, and your training was designed in colors that make it impossible for you to see. Chances are you would feel discouraged and would struggle to fully immerse yourself in the learning. Meeting learners where they are increases buy-in, leading to higher adoption and enhanced learning rates.

How to design online training with accessibility in mind

This is a huge topic of ongoing importance for all of us, and too much to address here in a brief blog post. There are many resources online that can help you navigate the basics of accessible design. Two we recommend are Sheryl Burgstahler’s 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course and 10 Tips for Creating Accessible Course Content from Iowa State. To continue to exercise empathy in this area, evaluate the needs of the people in your learning audience. Are there specific concerns or needs that require more than the most basic accommodations? To get started exploring this area of the workforce, talk with your partners in HR.

4. People aren’t given adequate support to grapple with complex problems and implement changes back on the job

If you’ve launched a training program and expect to see results on day one, you may want to reevaluate your expectations. In order to help learners make improvements and implement desired change back into their jobs, you must give them grace, encouragement, and provide ongoing support. Learners will then feel comfortable implementing what they have learned where they see fit and when they feel it is right.

Build post-event support right into the training

What this looks like will really depend on the topic of the training itself. For example, many leadership development initiatives are now paired with ongoing coaching and mentorship programs. In other cases, a follow-up training event is appropriate. Considering what learners need after they’ve completed the initial program will go a long way toward adoption and overall impact.

5. You’ve assumed you understand what people need but have missed the mark

This is oftentimes one of the greatest challenges facing a leader. You may feel as though you know what people need, how they feel, or what will help them, but in reality you don’t see the whole picture. Lack of empathy and emotional intelligence can lead to missing the mark in all sorts of scenarios, and it’s particularly important for us to be aware of as learning leaders. We’ve all dealt with the classic challenge of being asked to build training for something that is actually a process or management problem; assuming you know exactly what learners need in a complex situation is the other side of the same coin.

How to overcome bias when assessing training need

There are many ways to get to the root of a need or problem when designing training; what they all boil down to is getting outside of your own perspective (i.e., showing empathy for the learner’s perspective). An empathy map is one helpful tool for working through the questions from the perspective of the learner. We also use a process called the Voice of the Business to bring in disparate perspectives. You may know what the organization needs as a whole, but your learners quite possibly know what is needed at their level better than you. Take the time to ask questions, offer anonymous questionnaires, and practice active listening. 

It’s important to develop empathetic learning practices, and also to help your learners develop empathy as a key skill for emotional intelligence. Nobody overtly tries to create training that lacks empathy, which is why it’s so important to look out for the signs. If you’re guilty of any of the above-mentioned items and unsure of the way forward, reach out to us. We can create a plan customized for your business needs that will help to incorporate empathy into the organization. 

Managing to Develop Talent… the Challenge Is on!


Today’s managers face a long and varied list of demands and challenges – not the least of which is coaching and developing their employees. After all, if their employees don’t succeed, they don’t succeed.

It’s no secret what needs to be done – to mentor, develop and grow employees to their highest level of competence. For most managers, however, the trick lies in how to do it… how to capture the hearts and minds of employees in a way that makes them open to development and want to contribute their best.

Enter Abilitie’s Management Challenge™, a dynamic team-based simulation designed to help new and experienced managers build their talent-management skills – identifying, motivating, coaching and developing employees – in response to everyday challenges.

Managers quickly learn to elevate their teams to deliver high performance and grow their capabilities as they practice crucial skills such as:

  • Onboarding new employees
  • Coaching high performers
  • Navigating the aftermath of a termination
  • Coaching behavioral disruptions
  • Motivating disengaged employees
  • Addressing distracting rumors

Management Challenge™ kicks safe experiences with predictable outcomes to the curb as it isolates key competencies and provides an environment where managers are free to explore, practice and gain experience in real-world management situations – without real-world consequences.

I’m sold on Management Challenge™, and I think you will be too. Feel free to watch our recorded webinar to learn more and see first-hand how this revolutionary program will change the way you develop talent managers!

I also invite you to contact us today to learn more about Management Challenge™ or any of our custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 13 years.