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How virtual reality can benefit soft skills training

Virtual reality can support soft skills training in a number of ways. Learn why more companies and their HR departments are turning to VR simulations.

Virtual reality can help companies train employees in multiple areas, and the technology could be particularly beneficial for helping workers learn soft skills.

VR can simulate common scenarios that employees encounter at work. It lets participants to practice their soft skills in a low-stakes setting, enabling them to practice scenarios multiple times if necessary. Because of that, it offers a number of benefits, including accelerated learning and confidence building.

Here are some of the main benefits that virtual reality can bring to soft skills training programs.

1. VR can accelerate learning

Using VR technology for training can result in faster class completion rates.

Participants in PwC's 2020 study, "The Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Soft Skills Training in the Enterprise," completed training using VR as much as four times faster than classroom sessions and up to 1.5 times faster than e-learning.

Scott LikensScott Likens

Participants may finish a virtual reality-based learning course more quickly because the learning experience is completely immersive, said Scott Likens, innovation hub and trust technology leader at PwC, a research and advisory firm headquartered in London. Participants can't look at their cellphones or be distracted by interruptions while class is in session. Speedier training completion also saves companies money.

2. VR helps learners build more confidence

Using virtual reality in soft skills training also has the benefit of safe confidence building.

Stephen FromkinStephen Fromkin

Participants were up to 275% more confident in the skills they developed through VR-based soft skills training, according to the PwC report.

This learner confidence happens because VR enables employees to practice soft skills repeatedly in a safe, comfortable environment, Likens said. Role-playing in a classroom isn't as effective because people may feel awkward or embarrassed, and they usually only run through a scenario once or twice.

The ability to practice in a safe space, to fail and learn, is important.
Stephen FromkinChief content officer, Talespin Reality Labs

That repetition is key to learning.

The opportunity to practice builds stronger soft skills because repetition lets people make mistakes, said Stephen Fromkin, chief content officer at Talespin Reality Labs, a VR platform developer located in Culver City, Calif.

"The ability to practice in a safe space, to fail and learn, is important," he said.

3. VR enables people to learn by doing

VR-based training requires employees' active participation, which can result in better learning overall.

Sage KrombolzSage Krombolz

When employees practice soft skills in a virtual reality setting over and over, they are more able to naturally apply them in a real-world scenario, said Sage Krombolz, product manager at Development Dimensions International, a leadership development consultancy located in Bridgeville, Pa.

According to Krombolz, soft skills simulations that are well suited for VR training include the following:

  • A manager must give feedback to a direct report who is performing poorly.
  • A manager must lead a discussion with a direct report with whom they are experiencing conflict.
  • A manager must facilitate a discussion between two direct reports who are in conflict.
  • A leader must announce a major organizational change, which may or may not be popular, to a larger group.

VR can also serve as a good tool for empathy training, Krombolz said. She cited an example where a simulation brought to light exclusionary behavior.

"This person who previously was ignorant to the fact that this type of exclusion exists in his workplace left the demo with a much deeper understanding and much deeper empathy of what his colleagues experienced," Krombolz said. "[He gained] an increased level of awareness that he needs to be committed to making changes to help ensure that people don't have to go through meetings like the one that he just experienced in VR."

4. VR gives HR feedback about the learning process

Virtual reality simulations can also help participants avoid making the same mistakes in a future learning session.

Some platforms enable learners to view their performance post-session, which could improve the learning process because learners can see their own mistakes, Krombolz said.

Depending on the platform, learners may be able to view their facial expressions, hand movements and other behavioral cues that they don't ordinarily see in an immersive way.

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