The Future of VR for Soft Skills

Virtual reality is increasingly positioned to meet the needs of modern soft skills training. How will the technologies, and the training itself, evolve to be more interactive? What is the future of VR for soft skills?

There are a host of things that make us human–sentient thought, the ability to process and express emotion, creativity, language, and communication, among other physical and emotional identifiers. Some of these characteristics enable us to excel in our professional careers and interpersonal relationships, which, according to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, is why training for soft skills is the number one priority of professionals. Yes, this is an article about soft skills. But it’s more than just soft skills. This article is also about the future of VR for soft skills training.

With the rising interest and applicability of VR training, companies have been experimenting with how VR can be used for soft skills training. We are going to take a look at how the learning industry is using and applying VR for soft skills now and how it can be made more interactive and impactful for the learner in the not-so-distant future.

The here and now

In PWC’s CEO Survey of Global Talent, “seventy-seven percent of CEOs say they see the availability of key skills as the biggest business threat.” When further questioned about the key skills mentioned, soft skills outweighed the demand for hard or technical skills.  

CEOs are in search of employees who possess creativity, problem-solving skills, adaptability, leadership, and other such soft skills because these skills bring integrity and ingenuity to the workplace. These skills are the foundation for creating the next big emotionally inspiring ad campaign or leading a sales team to their best quarter. These skills are unique to us; they allow us to do what machines cannot. 

Since we alone possess these capabilities, companies are willing to invest in training to further sharpen them. This is where VR steps in. 

With an already explosive revenue rate, VR is projected to have another large increase with an expected five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 78.3%. Dominic Mallinson, senior VP of R&D at Sony gave a presentation at Collision 2019, stating “rapid improvements in VR tech will further widen its appeal,” i.e., VR’s appeal will extend far beyond gaming. 

Considering that nearly half of VRs’ enterprise users are educational companies and institutions, virtual reality has now established itself as a valuable educational and training tool. From manufacturing to retail companies, VR has been used to immerse learners and trainees in common workplace situations to practice daily tasks and skills. 

For reference, Roundtable Learning has used VR to create training courses for companies’ specific training needs. We have built immersive training courses ranging from instructing employees at a nation-wide amusement park chain how to operate a point-of-sale (POS) system to training employees on how to operate a complex piece of machinery at a national beverage distributing plant.

VR training allows companies to place employees in common workplace scenarios and practice tasks or hard skills, all while lowering cost, risk, and even increasing the portability of training. 

What does VR for soft skills training currently look like?

Historically, virtual reality has offered a passive experience for the user. Users are immersed in environments where they are limited to observation or completion of simple tasks. For example, VR training delivered on how to safely operate a delivery vehicle. Users don the headset, complete the task, and are ready for real-life application.

But what about the more complex, emotional tasks? What about developing workplace skills that require critical thinking and decorum? How can VR assist with training for these soft skills?

As mentioned above, VR allows training at a lower cost, lower risk, and an increase of portability for training. So, if VR training for hard skills can be achieved with these benefits, of course, companies would be interested in this for soft skills. 

Through virtual reality, one can participate in an expansive range of social interactions through virtual embodiment. Alice Bonasio for Tech Trends writes, “Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab have shown how embodied VR experiences can affect meaningful behavioral change from reducing implicit racism bias to priming altruistic behavior to making domestic abusers less likely to recidivate.”

With VR training for soft skills, virtual reality combines eLearning with the experience of human, person-to-person training. It eliminates environmental stressors, allowing participants to focus on the situation and to act without pressure or external influence. It gives learners the freedom to experiment and test their existing skillsets, all while providing them with an independent, risk-free environment to do so. 

What exactly could this look like? A London-based immersive reality technologies agency has developed a virtual reality soft skills training simulation that allows employees to navigate highly pressurized workplace scenarios and experience these scenarios from another employee’s perspective. For example, a trainee can function as a manager delivering negative feedback or as a female in a male-dominated working scenario. Once the trainee completes the scenario, they can playback the same experience but from the perspective of the person, they just interacted with. This method not only allows trainees to practice their soft skills but also allows them to have empathetic experiences when the roles are reversed. 

Roundtable has developed a VR experience designed around the Social Style Model. The Social Style model asserts that four main social styles have both positive and negative qualities associated with their behavior: driving, expressive, amiable, and analytical. The idea of this VR experience is to incorporate social styles awareness fundamentals and a difference in personalities, as well as how managers can best understand these and allocate projects, hold meetings, and deal with employees appropriately.

In this soft skills VR experience, learners put on a VR headset and are met with a group of four people. The learner can make decisions based on these four people from their body language, words, and interactions. Learners can ask questions, and listen to the dialogue between the people. The learner must then determine their respective social styles within a limited time. If they choose the wrong social style, the experience then walks the learner through the body language, speech, and indicators that define each social style and how to identify it. 

VR training experiences like these allow learners to develop their communication, listening, adaptability, and problem-solving skills without relying on face-to-face roleplay or other potential socially undesirable situations. As this can reduce the cost of training and increase retention, it’s win-win for both employer and employee.

What to look forward to

We know what virtual reality is and what it has looked like for soft skills training, but what’s next? What does the near future of VR look like? Scott Stachiw, an industry expert and the multimedia director at Roundtable learning weighs in on his thoughts and projections for the next 12-24 months in the VR industry.

When asked what excites him about the future of VR and how VR will be used for soft skills training, Scott listed these three things without hesitation: 

  • Wider accessibility
  • Image or voice recognition with Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Multi-participant immersion. 

Wider Accessibility 

By wider accessibility, this mostly means more cost-effective equipment. With its increasing popularity, VR training is extremely attractive to most companies, but the price-tag? Not so much. The current market price for VR kits sits at roughly $500+ per set., Companies are looking at developing higher capacity yet more affordable kits though. 

For example, the Oculus Quest. Facebook’s Oculus has released an all-in-one VR kit to the tune of $399. Quest allows a fully immersive experience that can operate independently of a PC or smartphone. There are other lower-priced kits available ($150-300), but their capabilities are restricted. These kits differ to the Quest as they aren’t self-contained and typically require a computer or smart-phone to operate. 

More affordable equipment can yield more opportunities for companies to incorporate fully immersive training, giving employees risk-free environments to sharpen both soft and hard skills.

Image or Voice Recognition 

As for image recognition? “It’s not quite marketable or sustainable yet, but motion capture and recreation of motion without the need of controllers is a pretty exciting development,” he explains. “By this, I mean fully manipulated VR experiences without gloves or controllers. There is a device called Leap Motion which already does this, but it is not built into headsets. This development will create a more accurate, fuller field of view, and will allow for more precise movements. For example, built-in motion capture can be really useful for someone who is working with really small, dextrous tasks. This is what I’m looking forward to.”

The development of voice and body recognition for VR can especially aid in soft skills training courses. AI could potentially track your body language, speech and vocal tone to then better animate simulations or create tailored interactions for soft skills training. 

Multi-Participant Immersion 

“Multi-participant immersion for collaboration is also super exciting. With this, you can have a group of twenty people experiencing a shared virtual reality experience. Let’s say there is a VR training course for aircraft maintenance. With multi-participant immersion, you can have a group of people ‘standing’ outside of an aircraft, watching an instructor take the engine apart, and then each complete the same task without waiting to take turns,” says Stachiw. Right now, for AR experiences, it’s up to three people at the moment, but growth is incoming.  

Conclusion

The future of VR training for soft skills is both important and exciting, and as the VR industry grows, so does the capacity for soft skills training. Does your company have an interest or need for VR training for soft skills? Get in touch with our industry experts to see how Roundtable can help your employees craft their communication, creative, and leadership skills.