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Coaching, Soft Skills

Video: Performance Review Role-play in Virtual Reality

Role-play is a highly effective learning method through actual practice of real-life interpersonal situations. It is a type of experiential training commonly used for professions that require high emotional intelligence and advanced soft skills for interactions, such as executives and managers on appropriate engagement with employees, colleagues, and clients, doctor-patient, teacher-student, and social-worker engagement with families and kids.

Yet, role-play simulations, which usually take place in-person, have some limitations. For example, colleagues are familiar with each other and find it difficult to pretend they are someone else; instructors cannot provide direction in real-time without interrupting the conversation; and recording interaction for later reflection and learning makes participants self-conscious and requires equipment and a cameraman.

Virtual Reality (VR) technology, on the other hand, revolutionizes role-play practice by offering features that are not possible with in-person coaching. VR makes simulations easy, realistic, immersive, and engaging. With the right implementation, Foretell Reality’s platform leverages VR exactly for that purpose, as shown in the video example.  

Considering that a top reason employees cite for leaving a position is the relationship with their manager, investing in management coaching is key for retention. I designed the following role-play scenario to address a very common and high-stakes component of a manager’s job: delivering a negative performance review. From my experience of coaching managers, there is a tendency to avoid or sugar-coat negative feedback. It may feel more comfortable in the moment, but deprives the employee of the opportunity to learn and grow from the criticism. On the other hand, delivering negative feedback is understandably difficult and may lead to a highly tense dynamic. Managers should become familiar with and acquire certain techniques that make the delivery of feedback effective and receptive to the receiving employee. VR role-play is a type of realistic exposure that, if designed properly, desensitizes participants’ fear and anxiety to engage in candid discussion, thereby facilitating more productive in-person conversations.

By giving the participants background and objectives prior to the role-play on their personal virtual “tablet” I prepared them to have a realistic conversation, similar to what they experience on the job. Participants were instructed to customize their avatars and were given the option to modulate their voices, which allows them to get into another character and more easily ignore the fact that they know each other. When the role-play begins, I ”leave” the room so that it feels more realistic, but I am still able to discreetly whisper in participants’ ears to give them a nudge in a productive direction if they are stuck. 

Another unique element Foretell offers is a playback “hologram” feature. Role-play sessions can be recorded and participants are given the opportunity to observe  their avatar following the exercise. Rather than a coach giving feedback regarding lack of eye contact, for example, the participant actually observes her avatar avoiding direct gaze by looking down or to the side. Foretell’s software can even measure the time each participant looked at others.

Through watching the hologram recording, trainees more objectively observe their verbal and non-verbal behavior. They might be surprised to realize that they came across as rather aggressive through their hand gestures or tone of voice. Experiencing epiphanies via direct observation is more powerful than hearing feedback second-hand from a coach. Of course, the coach plays an instrumental role by helping the participant process their observations and imparting helpful guidance for the next practice round. The video in this article was edited for time, but a training session usually involves several rounds of recording, observation, and incorporation of new learnings. A full session would also include the switching of roles so that managers stand in the (virtual) shoes of the employee, thus increasing their capacity for empathy. They can understand what it feels like when feedback is indirect, vague, or too harsh.

As you watch the video, also consider the logistical hurdles that VR solves. Given the global nature of modern companies, it often isn’t feasible for an executive team or for regional managers to gather in one place for management coaching. This difficulty has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is an evolving trend of companies offering employees a work-from-home or hybrid (remote/office) model to attract sought-after candidates. VR coaching offers a unique solution: through multi-participant VR simulations, trainees can gather in an immersive 3D space, such as a boardroom, without needing to leave their homes. 

Body transfer
Industry News, Soft Skills, VR-Related

VR Body Transfer for Animal Empathy

As environmental catastrophes are increasing, Daniel Pimentel at the University of Oregon wondered whether Body Transfer using virtual reality (VR) would help humans to identify with other animals and increase the empathy required for strong conservation efforts.  

Body Transfer, sometimes referred to as body ownership, is an illusion that tricks the mind using visual and sometimes haptic input into experiencing the embodiment of another human or animal. Through an immersive 15-minute VR simulation participants in Pimental’s study experienced the plight of an endangered loggerhead sea turtle as it navigated (often man-made) hazards from birth to adulthood, including treacherous obstacles like fishing nets. Participants were given a firsthand perspective through a specially designed chair that mimicked a sea turtle’s paddling posture (they perceived their own arms as flippers), and through haptic vibrations along their spine when they encountered motor vibrations of nearby boats.

Through a series of four experiments, Pimental and fellow researchers concluded that virtual embodiment of a sea turtle can offset compassion fade, which is an inverse relationship wherein empathy actually decreases as the (human or non-human) casualty victim count increases. Moreover, Body Transfer allowed participants to see other turtles in the simulation as part of their in-group, thereby facilitating reciprocal altruism, and that embodiment of the sea turtle increased the threat perception, influencing the amount of money that participants donated to hypothetical conservation efforts. 

Soft Skills, VR-Related

Three Examples of Virtual Reality (VR) in the Courtroom

An increasing number of educators and attorneys are bringing immersive virtual environments (IVE’s) to the courtroom in different ways. Below are three examples of how VR is being leveraged in legal settings.

Moot Court

The law school at The University of Ottowa is among the first programs to conduct moot court sessions in VR. Moot court simulates a court hearing in which students argue to appeal a case. They must prepare legal research, write briefs, and complete oral arguments in front of a panel of judges. Although these simulations are typically held in classrooms made to look like courtrooms, the COVID-19 pandemic halted all in-person trials, forcing the university to explore other options for holding moot court. They decided to implement VR into their curriculum to solve this problem, but as physical courtrooms became available again, faculty pushed to continue using the technology. According to Ritesh Kotak, a third-year Juris Doctor student, virtual reality “includes everything you can imagine from customizing a courtroom” to “doing training, and getting students excited.” Kotak asserts “The metaverse is here to stay so, from an educational perspective and a judicial perspective, there’s a lot of merit to using it.”

Crime Scenes/Evidence Viewing

In a recent study at the University of South Australia, researchers measured the discrepancy in jurors being shown a crime scene through a series of photographs versus being immersed in the same exact crime scene in virtual reality. Two groups of 15 participants were asked to come to a verdict on a deadly hit and run scenario. Not only were the VR participants “significantly more accurate in remembering the correct placement of evidence items”, but they came to a nearly unanimous decision, while the other participants were completely divided in their decision. Overall, 13 of the 15 participants who viewed the crime scene in VR ruled “death by dangerous driving”, while 8 of the 15 people who only viewed photographs voted on a more lenient “death by driving without due care.” Because more information can be presented in VR, participants were able to better understand the situation at hand, and thus were 9.5 times more likely to choose the “death by dangerous driving “ verdict. Although some people may be hesitant to implement VR due to its high price tag, the cost would be negligible juxtaposed to the immense cost of organizing on-site crime scene visits. Between transporting the jury and scheduling the trial to work with everyone’s schedules, it can cost thousands of dollars, whereas recreating a crime scene in VR is relatively inexpensive. If virtual reality presents the evidence of a crime in a more accurate manner, thousands, if not, hundreds of thousands of trials could reach different, more just verdicts. Dr Andrew Cunningham, from UniSA’s Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments, believes that this study “provides unequivocal evidence that interactive technology leads to fairer and more consistent verdicts, and indeed could be the future of courtrooms.”

Pre-trial Exposure for Lawyers and Those Taking The Stand

From a preparation standpoint, VR offers benefits to both lawyers and those taking the stand. Lawyers typically practice their cases in front of other experts to test their performance under the pressure and stress that they will most likely face in the courtroom. With the help of virtual reality, lawyers can practice arguing their case in front of a virtual crowd, which is proven to simulate a similar emotional experience to that of a real courtroom. Furthermore, if lawyers view a crime scene in VR, they will have a better understanding of the witness’s perspective pre-trial and may even increase out of court settlements. With VR, witnesses can also prepare themselves for questioning and depositions. By running through a trial beforehand, they will be better prepared to tell their story, be questioned by lawyers, and avoid experiencing the emotional rollercoaster that many witnesses face.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform for simulations and role play training including features like personalizable avatars, realistic environments, and 360 video viewing. Visit us today for a demo.

Coaching, Soft Skills, VR-Related

Virtual Reality (VR) Provides Unique Opportunities for Coaches

Role-play is an integral part of a child’s development and a potent tool for the continuation of skill acquisition and honing long into adulthood. Because it allows participants to learn, not by reading a book or listening to a lecture, but by actually doing and practicing, role-play is experiential learning – an accelerated learning method. Medical students, teachers, and in more recent years, managers, have all benefited from role-play scenarios. Coaching managers using role-play scenarios helps them to build skills through rehearsal and direct feedback. 

Effective managers require competence in many areas with communication as the common denominator across the skillset. Considering that the number one reason employees cite for leaving a position is the relationship with their manager, investing in management coaching is paramount for retention. All types of communication can be rehearsed in role-play scenarios, but of particular significance is navigating difficult conversations, such as delivering a negative performance review. Difficult conversations are inherently uncomfortable for most people, and thus are often avoided or rushed in order to minimize discomfort. Role-play is a type of exposure that desensitizes the participants’ fear and anxiety to engage in conflict, thereby facilitating more productive conversations. 

Given the global nature of modern companies, it often isn’t feasible for an executive team or for regional managers to gather in one place for management coaching. This difficulty has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is an evolving trend of companies offering employees a work-from-home or hybrid (remote/office) model to attract sought-after candidates. Virtual Reality (VR) coaching offers a unique solution: through multi-participant VR simulations, teams can gather in an immersive space, such as a boardroom, without needing to leave their homes. 

Coaching in VR is not just logistically convenient, but it offers features that are not possible with in-person coaching. Foretell Reality’s platform allows users to build their own avatars. This can be an empowering experience but also allows participants to switch roles easily. By choosing a different avatar and playing the role of the employee on the receiving end of a negative performance review, managers can stand in the (virtual) shoes of the employee, thus increasing their capacity for empathy. They can understand what it feels like when feedback is indirect and vague, for example. 

Another unique feature Foretell offers is a playback “hologram”. Role-play scenarios can be recorded and participants are given the opportunity of observing their avatar following the exercise. Rather than a coach giving feedback regarding lack of eye contact, for example, the participant can actually observe her avatar avoiding direct gaze, perhaps by looking down or to the side. In fact, Foretell’s software can even measure the amount of eye contact during conversations. Through  watching the hologram recording, participants can more objectively observe their behavior. They might be surprised to observe that they came across as rather aggressive through their hand gestures or tone of voice. Having these epiphanies through direct observation is more powerful than hearing the feedback second-hand from a coach. Of course, the coach can play an instrumental role by helping the participant process their observations and imparting helpful guidance for the next practice round.  

Recording and playback in Foretell Reality.

Additional features include a personal tablet for each avatar that is not viewable by other participants. This creates a potential for dynamic role-play scenarios wherein each participant has an objective that they need to achieve during the exercise. The tablet may contain information about their role-play partner, perhaps related to their background and performance issues. The coach has the ability to change an objective at any point during the scenario. Additionally, Foretell’s VR software includes a “whisper” feature that allows a coach to speak to one of the participants, and only that participant can hear the feedback. In the middle of a heated scenario, a coach might whisper a tactic to help diffuse tension, for example. 

The potential for virtual reality coaching is limitless. It does not require travel or other logistical hurdles. Rather, managers can be instantly transported to a shared space with a coach, to build the confidence and skills needed to be more effective managers. Foretell Reality’s features create the perfect environment for creative role-plays and instant feedback. 

dating
Coaching, Soft Skills

Update with Video: Dating Coach Leverages VR to Improve Relationships from the Start

Dating is hard. It was hard before the pandemic, but especially now as many singles are resuming in-person dating, it’s tough to ignore the social skills which atrophied over quarantine. While social encounters like first dates were always awkward, social anxiety is particularly (and predictably) acute post-pandemic, illustrating how many people could benefit from practicing social skills in safe, controlled, simulative environments. The pandemic saddled us with a “new collective experience of social anxiety,” prompting many to seek help reintroducing themselves into the dating pool.

Video captured during one of Grace Lee’s sessions in Foretell Reality.

That’s where someone like Grace Lee comes in. Grace is a dating coach who specializes in online dating: she helps curate your online profile, diagnose first date successes and mishaps, deepen your ability to connect on dates, and ultimately equip you to present a fully realized version of yourself to others. Her line of work falls into the category of soft skills training, forming the foundation of her partnership with Foretell Reality. Foretell Reality specializes in creating tools in Virtual Reality (VR) for soft skills development, corporate training, executive coaching, group and individual therapy, peer support, and other social situations where participants benefit from participating and practicing in VR.

But while soft skills like communication and empathy are increasingly valuable, both professionally and personally, they are very difficult to develop. Testing grounds like mock interviews and other role-play scenarios can be awkward at best and intimidating at worst. Trial-by-fire education, meanwhile, can lead to a slew of bad experiences and missed opportunities with little sense of progress being made. The convenience, accessibility, and anonymity VR offers address many of these issues, but even Foretell Reality General Manager Dror Goldberg acknowledges that “no matter how awesome the VR experience is, it eventually comes down to the specific curriculum and the specific instructor” helming the ship. Foretell, meet Grace; Grace, meet Foretell.

Recently, I interviewed Grace and Dror to learn more about the new partnership between Foretell Reality and Grace’s company, A Good First Date. We talked about the advantages VR offers for date coaching and soft skills development, the importance of virtual embodiment, and how the pandemic changed the worlds of dating and VR. From the outset, Grace made it clear that they were not working toward dating in VR. Grace firmly maintains that “through all of these changes,” both technological and epidemiological, “people who are looking for a real relationship want to meet in the real world.” VR is instead a revolutionary tool, improving elements of date coaching like conversing in a safe space, first date scenarios in romantic settings, live feedback between coach and trainee, and reflection by playing back a recording of the scene. 

Given the importance of physical attraction in dating, it may seem counterintuitive that anonymized avatars are a key advantage of VR. But remember that this isn’t VR dating, it’s VR date coaching: you’re training for a date in-person by simulating dates in VR. “The use of avatars is of critical importance because of the anonymity it provides,” Grace explains. Avatars “take away the anxiety people have about their appearance,” allowing you to instead “show up as a neat representation of yourself and act more like yourself” for the simulated dates. Dror agrees that avatars “eliminate the obstacles to behaving naturally,” in VR scenarios, stripping date simulations down to the trainable elements: the dynamic of conversation and the art of getting to know someone.

Virtual avatars are a boon to soft skills training in general, as they allow users to feel more comfortable practicing social skills and sharing personal experiences in group settings. Embodied in a new persona, users can feel safer and behave more naturally without feeling exposed or judged. Avatars, as Dror puts it, present “a way to liberate yourself when you want to share emotions, when you don’t want to be stigmatized, when you don’t want to be judged,” a crucial advantage for date coaching in VR compared to coaching in-person. Dating is particularly personal and intimate, and the more comfortable individuals feel when practicing their first dates, the more effective date coaching will be.

The medium of VR also benefits instructors, as it transforms how instructors occupy space during simulations and equips them with quantifiable data for in-the-moment feedback. The ability to record and playback sessions beat-by-beat is highly valuable for instructors. How many times did you interrupt during a conversation? How many closed-ended questions were posed? Instructors in traditional settings may pick up on these trends in broad strokes, but with video feedback, “date coaching can become a measurable, iterative process.”

Watching replays of past date coaching sessions could be uncomfortable for users, but avatars provide a degree of separation which allows users to objectively self-reflect. Grace explains that with avatars, “people will be able to observe themselves, but in a way that doesn’t feel as embarrassing as it might if it was an actual video from real life.” VR also smoothens the trainer-trainee dynamic: normally, an instructor hovering over you while you try to ignore their presence leads to mixed results at best. In VR, however, the instructor can remain entirely invisible while observing the first date interaction between two participants. Instructors can choose to what extent they’re engaged in the simulation: they can remain entirely unheard and unseen, they can participate as an explicit third party, or they can provide live feedback to individual participants without the other knowing. 

Toward the end of our interview, I asked Grace and Dror the same question pertaining to their respective fields: how has the pandemic changed dating and VR? Both responded with answers framed by the same theme: openness. Grace described how during the pandemic, “a lot of people started to question the way they were dating,” with social isolation in particular prompting people to “really look more seriously at pursuing a meaningful relationship.” As the pandemic precluded hookup culture and quarantine drastically constricted social circles, people became more open to the idea of forging a deep connection with a partner. A successful and genuine first date becomes even more important in a world where real-life social interaction is limited.

Dror’s answer echoed similar sentiments. Connectivity was what people missed most during quarantine, and many are now recognizing the need to develop technologies which bring people together digitally. Dror identifies how the pandemic “prepared the hearts and minds” of consumers to adopt VR technology. With restrictions lifting and many reentering the dating pool with a fresh mindset, now is the ideal time to learn how to bring substance and meaning to a relationship from the very first date. Substantial first dates can now be practiced and perfected in VR, equipping users with the experience and confidence to go from a good first date to a great new relationship. 

virtual reality (VR) empathy
Soft Skills, VR-Related

Virtual Reality (VR) For Teaching Interpersonal and Professional Skills in Special Needs Education

With its ability to simulate real world learning exercises and ‘teleport’ students to historically accurate or imagined worlds, Virtual Reality (VR) is being used to teach academic subjects ranging from STEM to Shakespeare. These same features of VR are also being explored to teach a different type of subject matter to those with learning disabilities.  One that focuses more on interpersonal development and professional skills development.

Spaulding Academy & Family Services is among multiple special education schools implementing VR into their curriculum and seeing measurable results. Their goal was to meet the needs of all their students, centering their experiences around “physiological and sensory regulation, emotional regulation, skill-building, social interaction, and transitions.” Students with limited mobility were directly catered to; their sensory needs being met by using a VR headset and essentially “tricking” the “vestibular-ocular system into feeling that it is receiving needed movement stimulation.” From an emotional regulation outlook, VR provides a calming experience if students are overstimulated throughout the day, ruling out the possibility of heightened emotions or a classroom crisis. Results have been very promising for Spaulding Academy; VR has opened the door for students to control their emotions, find a safe space when needed, and strengthen their communication skills. 

Implementation goes beyond emotional control – students on the autism spectrum are also utilizing VR for job preparedness. A pilot study was conducted in an effort to improve interview skills among autistic adolescents. Participants were divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group underwent 10 hours of interview training with a virtual avatar, resulting in overall improved interview skills and employment outcomes. Further research will likely be conducted to predict the efficacy of implementing VR training into special education programs across the country. 

A study conducted back in 2018 was one of the first indicators that VR technology could be used for more than just gaming – Using virtual reality to train emotional and social skills in children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers studied 94 children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and displayed poor social and communication skills. One of the most significant obstacles faced in this disorder is responding with appropriate facial expressions when in conversation. The subjects took part in “six VR scenarios depicting the daily lives of typical children in Hong Kong”, followed by a debriefing session to apply what they learned in real life. Results suggested that “children from [the] training group scored higher on emotion expression and regulation” as well as “higher on social interaction and adaptation” following the training. In the weeks after the study, “many parents expressed that their children were much more proactive in greeting and communicating with neighbors and relatives,” which led to engaging more in conversations and subsequently making more friends. Since the results of this study were released, there have been countless other studies with similar results – increased self-awareness, communication skills, and expression recognition.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform that provides safe, secure environments, customizable environments, and tools for trainers and educators to facilitate role play and simulation training for skills for the real world.

Empathy
Soft Skills, VR-Related

6 Examples of VR Increasing Empathy

Virtual Reality (VR) is often called an ’empathy machine’ for its ability to alter ingrained perspectives and unconscious biases. Unlike watching a video, reading a book, or hearing a lecture, VR acts as a focused lens into a fully realized world and, through that lens, provides experiences that are deeply moving and difficult to ignore.

What does this mean in practical terms? Here are six examples of how VR is being used right now to increase empathy both personally and professionally.

#1: Business

With the state of the current job market, employees are leaving businesses faster than ever in search of a better company culture. According to a recent survey of U.S. employees, HR professionals, and CEOs, 93% of employees reported they would stay with an empathetic employer, while 82% of employees would leave their position to work for a more empathetic organization. Major companies like Accenture are already using VR empathy training for their leadership and employees to increase retention, morale, and productivity. And Bank of America recently launched VR training programs in 4300 financial centers for the purpose of “strengthening and deepening relationships with clients, navigating difficult conversations, and listening and responding with empathy.”

#2: International Relations

In a recent study out of France, a team of researchers analyzed the effectiveness of VR empathy training to increase global empathy and interest in learning about other counties. This included exposing U.S. high school students to cultures and environments around the world.

In that case, researchers found that VR allows “users to literally step into the shoes of others and see the world from their perspective,” which has “shown significant plasticity of empathetic abilities even after the experience by decreasing implicit racial biases and increasing of mimicry of outgroup members.” The team ultimately concluded that immersive VR experiences are a powerful tool in developing empathy, awareness, and altruistic behavior.

#3: Social Work

Social work is a profession that often requires empathy on a daily basis. A recent pilot study from a New York social work program leveraged 360 video to transport students to a realistic urban environment “with the goal of helping them learn about how its history, resources, demographics, and physical space impacts its inhabitants. The study found that participants felt that the experience, combined with reflective questions, “made them feel engaged and thoughtful, and able to better learn social work concepts.”

VR also provides the ability to virtually embody an avatar and enter a simulation with other students in order to practice various scenarios in real time. The ability to personalize the avatar opens up exploration of biases in dealing with different genders and races in a safe, practice environment.

#4: Medicine

It can be difficult for doctors to empathize with their patients for a variety of reasons. It is also essential to a healthy recover for doctors and patients to have a strong, trusting relationship . In a recent study, medical students leveraged VR technology to simulate being in the shoes of a patient with age-related conditions such as macular degeneration, high-frequency hearing loss, or even Alzheimer’s disease.

Following VR exposure, students exemplified a stronger “understanding of age-related health problems and increased their empathy for older adults” with various diseases or disorders. Another way VR is being applied in medical education is by staging difficult conversations with family members about terminal illnesses or end-of-life steps. By witnessing a variety of different reactions, doctors can tailor their delivery in order to be accommodating, patient, and prevent overly chaotic interactions. 

#5: Law Enforcement

Empathy training has also been a staple for many law enforcement agencies. In a recent study, a group of police officers underwent empathy training, which significantly affected their behavioral patterns and led to “roughly 26 percent fewer arrests one week after the training.” Officers were also “over 50 percent less likely to use force in an encounter,” which increased cooperation and strengthened communication between officers and citizens. Overall, empathy training is leading to better outcomes within the community as a whole.

#6: Conflict Zones

Empathy is especially crucial in conflict zones and disaster response. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently ran an immersive VR workshop in order to generate empathy for those affected by conflict and violence. By the end of the session, participants were equipped to “understand humanitarian approaches to storytelling in conflict zones and representing people affected by violence.” Aside from the storytelling aspect, emergency responders are given the tools to understand other people’s pain and trauma responses before being thrown into a conflict zone or responding to a natural disaster.

Promising results in many research studies across multiple fields and professions show that VR is an effective method of empathy training. Now that headsets more prevalent and affordable, it is time to bring VR empathy training from studies into the forefront. Foretell Reality is a VR platform that provides safe, secure environments, customizable environments, and tools for trainers and educators to facilitate role play and simulation training for empathy and other human skills for the real world.

Soft Skills, VR-Related

Virtual Reality for Learning a Second Language

A recent study asked twenty-one university students who were studying Spanish as a second language to compare the experience of practicing face-to-face with the experience of practicing in Virtual Reality (VR). Students carried out three sets of two dialogues each, one dialogue in VR using a head-mounted display and one with a fellow student in a physical space. Each set of dialogues was completed with different partners and content and participants. At the end of the experience, students were asked to fill out a survey about their experience.

According to researchers, “the survey showed overall positive experiences with social VR, and comparisons between F2F and VR conversations also yielded statistically significant findings indicating that VR can be a more fun way to practice speaking that can also reduce feelings of self-consciousness. A thematic analysis of the survey’s open-ended responses supported quantitative findings by highlighting lower stress when speaking in VR, increased enjoyment of being in virtual environments, and heightened engagement when speaking in VR.”

Virtual Reality offers various features which make it a unique tool for practicing spoken language and contextual word learning. Below are a few benefits that VR provides over video and even in-person learning. As with any other learning tool, the effectiveness of the instructional design and the instructor are fundamental to engagement and retention.

Expressive Avatars

Role play is uncomfortable in person and nearly impossible on Zoom. Trying to speak another language during role play adds another level of discomfort and distraction. By wearing the mask of an expressive avatar, language learners can focus on dialogue over how they act or appear. This was noted in the aforementioned study by students who described the “lower the stress when speaking in VR.”

Beyond reducing stress, avatar customization allows students the opportunity to take on different gender and identity roles during role play offering a broader range of interactions and scenarios. And, as noted below, combining personalized avatars with a library of interactive environments allows participants to play different roles while also interacting with other people, objects and media in the scene.

Interactive Environments

It is commonly accepted that immersion into a foreign language environment accelerates learning the language. By going to a farmers market in Barcelona on a daily basis, you will learn the names of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and pretty much every other staple quicker and with greater retention than by memorizing a set of flashcards.

Virtual Reality convincingly replicates real world environments including objects and people you would find in those settings. Instead of flipping through pictures in a book or watching a video animation, you can walk down an aisle filled with items that you would typically find in a drug store, clothing store, or grocery store. The experience can even be gamified. For example, receive 10 points for filling your shopping bag with five specified items and then interacting with the cashier in order to complete your purchase.

And populating these same environments with other students allows for conversational learning under the guidance of an instructor. For example, the role of the cashier above can be filled by a fellow language learner who now has the opportunity to practice interacting with a customer and with the local currency.

Tools for Instructors and Coaches

Virtual Reality offers new and unique ways not only to learn but also to teach a second language. Instructors can schedule sessions in different environments for specific groups of language learners or make spaces available for all levels of students to drop in and practice 24/7. They can participate in role play or observe from afar. Innovative features like direct audio channels allow instructors to speak into the ear of one student so as not to disrupt the scene being played out. And instructors can share audio clips, images, and video as well as lead guided 360 tours that provide insights into other cultures while reinforcing language learning.

Analytics and Playback

Language learning sessions in VR generate a variety of analytics that can be tracked over time. Interactions with objects, time spent speaking, and direction of gaze during role play and other exercises offer tangible feedback on progress and can be used to gamify the learning experience. For example, a student who advances to the next level of comprehension may receive a unique piece of avatar clothing denoting this achievement. This also indicates to other students what level their peers have achieved so they can practice with those at their level.

Additionally, instructors have the ability to record any session and play it back within the actual 3D environment. This allows students to listen to themselves and their peers without being self-consciousness of how they appear in a recorded video.

Access

The most popular VR headset on the market, the Meta Quest 2 had already shipped 10 million units by last November and that was before the holiday season where it was one of the most popular technology gifts. Though often marketed for gaming or exercise, Meta has recently placed an emphasis on supporting educational and training experiences. Additionally, other device manufacturers are rapidly entering the market creating more competition both from a price and capabilities perspective.

Just as the rise of the internet and mobile devices allowed millions of people to learn a second language online, the rapid adoption of VR by consumers offers an opportunity to take second language learning to another level, one that reduces stress, increases retention, and adds an element of engagement not possible through any other medium.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform that provides secure environments, customizable avatars, and instructor tools for interpersonal skills development including second language learning. Please contact us for a demo or with any questions.

Soft Skills, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

The Metaverse Needs Safe Spaces

I think we’ve all heard by now that Facebook has rebranded itself to “Meta.” What many of us have failed to realize, though, is the widespread implications of that. According to Mark Zuckerberg, society will use the metaverse to connect with family and friends, create their own homes, and invite people into it. Zuckerberg believes this will create “the feeling of presence: the defining quality of the metaverse.” Social VR is extremely valuable in this aspect – it’s a fun and exciting way to connect with people, especially in situations where you may be geographically too far to meet with someone in real life. You also have the ability to safely do activities that you may not be able to do in real life, such as extreme mountain biking, skydiving, off-roading, racing, or taking part in shooting games. However, with an increase in life-like realities, comes the ever-so-present threat of harassment. 

Just days after Meta released their platform “Horizon Worlds” to the public, many women came forward about their experiences with sexual harassment. In a recent Bloomberg article, a woman described that she didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, but “was uncomfortable, and there were no clear rules about etiquette and personal space.” Her entire experience seemed to be tainted by the imminent presence of griefers: people who disrupt others just to annoy them. Although there are numerous moderators to protect users from this behavior as well as harassment, it is a considerably difficult task to process a spoken language, visible gestures, and body language, rather than simply scanning a text online. 

In an effort to combat this, Meta offers a “Safe Zone”, but many users have not been informed of this feature, and thus do not have the ability to block their perpetrators.  Zuckerberg’s promise that “privacy and safety will be built into the metaverse from day one” seems to be falling short due to a lack of investment in user education. This isn’t a new problem by any means, though. According to the MIT Technology Review, this began as early as 2016 when a woman was harassed in a VR zombie game. She recalls, “There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching.” It may not seem like a big deal, but a recent beta tester of Horizon Worlds disagrees: “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense.” Researchers of online harassment assert that the fully immersive aspect of 3D environments “tricks the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3D environment,” which is why “VR triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”

So how does a platform that was built on the foundation of inclusivity and an ability to meet people of all different backgrounds can become a threatening place, full of discomfort for some? The common denominator between all of these incidents is unrestricted environments and an abuse of anonymity.

The good news is that the metaverse is larger than one company and the applications for VR for positive social interactions are game changing. Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and live simulations. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Soft Skills Police
Soft Skills

Three Examples of VR Soft Skills Training for Today’s World

Soft skills have commonly been overlooked in a society that values technical skills, or “hard skills.” Hard skills are more easily measured and therefore often the sole criteria for landing a job. So, the saying goes “hard skills get you hired, but a lack of soft skills will get you fired.” With a changing job market and a rise in social consciousness, employers are increasingly seeking out employees with strong soft skills – disturbed by the lack of communication and critical thinking skills within their current teams. Soft skills are applicable to every profession and give way to more meaningful interactions with co-workers. Let’s dive into a couple of the fields that have utilized Virtual Reality (VR) to strengthen soft skills.

As a police officer, you can expect to face a variety of hard-to-navigate situations over the course of your career. No amount of training can prepare you for high-risk environments involving adrenaline and the requirement to respond quickly. It all comes down to reflexes. The only problem is you can’t train your reflexes; they occur without conscious thought. What you can do is strengthen your soft skills: conflict resolution, communication, negotiation, self-control, empathy, patience, and active listening. The Athens County Sheriff’s Department is among the first of law enforcement agencies who have come to this realization, implementing VR soft skills training into their annual in-service this past fall. Rather than preparing for physical altercations or target practice, officers used VR headsets to immerse themselves in high-risk scenarios, strengthening their soft skills and giving them the tools to de-escalate situations in future encounters. By experiencing multiple different conflicts commonly encountered in the field, officers learned to avoid physical confrontation unless absolutely necessary. One scenario depicted a person in a mental health crisis, threatening self-harm. Officers were given the opportunity to analyze the situation and use soft skills to mitigate any rash decisions from the involved parties, preparing them to respond more accordingly when a similar scenario happens in real life.

Soft skills are often overlooked in career planning as well. Sandwell College, located in England, is among the first of higher education systems to acknowledge the significant absence of curriculum to train and develop the intangibles. Ben Haddock, Emerging Technologies Demonstrator, mentions: “There are a lot of things students aren’t taught about at school. Things like posture, body language, and eye contact. Employers expect work-ready job candidates and there is mounting pressure on institutions to make social skills training part of the curriculum.” The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist. Thus, the University has implemented VR technology that allows their students to record mock interviews, then switch avatars to analyze the behavior and composure that they need to improve upon. Students can become aware of their nervous ticks and shortcomings, then find ways to avoid them in future interviews. Bridgette Bennett, Head of the Professions and Innovations Academy at Sandwell, remarks: “We’re seeing confident students now going off to interviews and getting the jobs.” This comes as no surprise, considering that 84% of students reported higher confidence levels when going into ‘real life’ interviews. The trick is to observe yourself – a simple concept that would be difficult without the help of virtual reality.

Social Work is another great use case for virtual reality and one that has been recently piloted at Michigan State University. Because of the different environmental variations, trainees can experience important simulations that would otherwise be difficult to recreate – walking through a neighborhood, approaching and entering a home, and interviewing a family member. If students are able to prepare for tough situations before they enter the field, they’ll be much more equipped for the real thing. By having the opportunity to re-watch these encounters, students will also notice their mistakes or unconscious bias, making it easier to correct in future simulations. Social work is a stressful, emotionally taxing profession, but by using experiential learning tools such as VR, trainees can experience these challenges and not have to worry about making a mistake or saying the wrong thing. The beauty of VR is that you can repeatedly immerse yourself in an environment until you perfect your response.

There are various methods and approaches for soft skills training in VR. Fully immersive 360 video scenarios from different view points and role play through avatars are two powerful tools but the real power comes from the imagination of instructional designers and educators who employ these tools to make a difference in the real world.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform for soft skills development. We work with educators, coaches, and instructional designers to continuously develop tools and features that support various curriculum and teaching approaches.

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