The soft skills training industry is projected to reach a market value of USD $38B by 2027. This begs the question – which method is the most effective?
PWC recently released a report on the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) training as the primary method for teaching inclusive leadership to its new batch of leaders. VR soft-skill training led to a manifold improvement in learning, confidence, and focus, compared to classroom and e-learning methods, and importantly was cost-effective and scalable.
Research conducted with Fortune 500 CEOs by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation found that 75% of long-term job success depended on people skills, while only 25% on technical knowledge. LinkedIn believes that future employers will be hiring for the person with the right soft-skills. It is therefore unsurprising that the soft skills training industry - coaching/mentoring, classroom training, online training, and immersive training, is projected to reach a market value of USD $38B by 2027.
This begs the question – which method is the most effective in instilling soft skills in employees?
PWC attempted to answer this question when training its new leadership cohort on inclusive leadership – hypothesizing that effectiveness of soft-skill training delivered through an interactive virtual environment would be more effective in achieving learning outcomes than the traditional (classroom, and e-learning) methods.
Sixteen-hundred new managers and leaders located at 12 different PWC locations participated in one of three types of trainings in inclusive leadership:
c) training in a virtual environment (v-learning).
In v-learning, the learner was immersed in interactive scenarios involving responsive virtual humans, and made decisions regarding hiring, staffing, and staff performances. Learner’s actions triggered in-built branching narratives and feedback related to inclusive leadership, allowing them experience, in real-time, the consequences of their actions.
Classroom-learning involved viewing videos, facilitator-led reflection activities, while the e-learning involved viewing videos, and reflecting on the material using multiple-choice questions.
WHAT DID THEY FIND?
In comparison to classroom and e-learning, v-learning resulted in a 44-82% reduction in training duration, 35-40% increased confidence in implementing learned skills, and a 50-80% reduction in number and duration of distractions. Classroom and e-learning training were associated with poorer engagement, lower confidence, provided less flexibility and satisfaction, and kept employees away from their work for longer.
A preference for the v-learning method was also self-reported by 91% of learners previously exposed to one of the traditional methods. Interestingly, when immersed in the realistic VR environment, participants reported making decisions that mirrored their real-life behaviours. These findings are consistent with the advantages of experiential learning, for which VR technology provides an excellent medium.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
The advantages came at a sizeable cost – 47% greater cost for course creation (compared to classroom and e-learning), and significant costs for equipment, facilitation and on-boarding.
Looking at the long-term return on investment, cost of implementing v-learning was equal to classroom-learning when at least 375 learners were trained. For v-learning to achieve cost parity with e-learning, a five-fold increase in number of learners (n= 1950) was required.
While VR is deployable at enterprise scale, VR training for individual organisations depends on
a) The number of learners
b) Cost of employees/facilitators being away from work
c) How quickly teams need to be trained
ANOTHER PAUSE FOR THOUGHT
These results make a strong case for the investment into VR training to teach soft skills. There are, however, methodological gaps that need to be addressed. The lack of information about group allocation, differences at baseline, details of the measures used to assess the outcomes, and the impact of subjective can diminish the claim for “effectiveness”.
However, observations that participants “felt” more confident, less distracted, and more connected to the content during VR training is noteworthy since belief in innate abilities i.e. self-efficacy, is correlated to workplace performance, and shaping staff behaviour.
The report also provides key insights into the logistical and pragmatic considerations involved in implementing the v-learning program – from the choice of the head-mounted display, software and hardware requirements, network designs, data security, to the sanitization protocols. PWC’s lessons can guide the choices organizations need to make to establish an effective and efficient VR training platform.
When training is effective, employer and employee satisfaction is greater, leading to higher employee retention. VR training may be the right fit for your organization if you want to train a large number of employees on similar topics without diminishing the heterogeneity of behaviours emerging from inherent differences between individuals. While VR training will not replace classroom or e-learning for the myriad soft-skills training needs out-there, its unique advantages must be considered when deciding what is best for your organization.
- Gayatri Aravind - Learning Scientific Advisor and Dark Slope Science Director