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How virtual reality is redefining soft skills training

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Summary

  • Companies need employees with the right mix of skills, including “soft” skills like leadership and resilience.
  • The prevalence of remote work makes effective digital training approaches more crucial than ever.
  • VR training offers an affordable way to upskill employees faster and with better results.

The VR advantage

Employers are facing a dilemma: Their workforce needs to learn new skills, upgrade existing capabilities or complete compliance training, but may not be able to do so in person given the current environment. Yet, training is especially important now, with employees so keen to gain skills, and it may become even more critical when workers start returning to a changed workplace. So how can employers deal with the challenge?

One solution to this training problem comes from an unexpected place: virtual reality (VR).

VR is already known to be effective for teaching hard skills and for job skills simulations, such as a flight simulator to train pilots. But many employees also need to learn soft skills, such as leadership, resilience and managing through change.

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Tech effect

So how does VR measure up as a training tool for these and other soft skills?

PwC set out to answer this question with our study of VR designed for soft skills training. Selected employees from a group of new managers in 12 US locations took the same training — designed to address inclusive leadership — in one of three learning modalities: classroom, e-learn and v-learn (VR).

The results? The survey showed that VR can help business leaders upskill their employees faster, even at a time when training budgets may be shrinking and in-person training may be off the table, as people continue to observe social distancing.

VR learners were:
Statistics: VR learners

Five top findings about the value of VR in soft skills training

Here are five takeaways that can help you support your employees’ digital learning needs:

1. Employees in VR courses can be trained up to four times faster

US employees typically spend only 1% of their workweek on training and development, so employers need to be sure that they use that time productively. That’s where VR can help.

What took two hours to learn in the classroom could possibly be learned in only 30 minutes using VR. When you account for extra time needed for first-time learners to review, be fitted for and be taught to use the VR headset, V-learners still complete training three times faster than classroom learners. And that figure only accounts for the time actually spent in the classroom, not the additional time required to travel to the classroom itself.

Time to complete training
Pie chart: Employees VR courses

2. VR learners are more confident in applying what they’re taught

When learning soft skills, confidence is a key driver of success. In difficult circumstances, such as having to give negative feedback to an employee, people generally wish they could practice handling the situation in a safe environment. With VR, they can.

Because it provides the ability to practice in an immersive, low-stress environment, VR-based training results in higher confidence levels and an improved ability to actually apply the learning on the job. In fact, learners trained with VR were up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned after training — a 40% improvement over classroom and 35% improvement over e-learn training.

Bar chart titled
Improvement in confidence discussing issues and acting on issues of diversity and inclusion after the training
Discussing issues
Acting on issues
Classroom
%
%
E-learn
%
%
VR
%
%
Source: PwC VR Soft Skills training Efficacy Study, 2020

3. Employees are more emotionally connected to VR content

People connect, understand and remember things more deeply when their emotions are involved. (We learned that during the VR study and multiple BXT experiences, where we gathered different viewpoints and worked together to identify what matters most.) Simulation-based learning in VR gives individuals the opportunity to feel as if they’ve had a meaningful experience.

V-learners felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more connected than e-learners. Three-quarters of learners surveyed said that during the VR course on diversity and inclusion, they had a wake-up-call moment and realized that they were not as inclusive as they thought they were.

Bar chart titled
Average emotional connection felt to learning content
Classroom
E-learn
VR
Source: PwC VR Soft Skills training Efficacy Study, 2020

4. VR learners are more focused

Today’s learners are often impatient, distracted and overwhelmed. Many learners will not watch a video for its duration, and smartphones are a leading cause of interruption and distraction.

With VR learning, users are significantly less distracted. In a VR headset, simulations and immersive experiences command the individual’s vision and attention. There are no interruptions and no options to multitask. In our study, VR-trained employees were up to four times more focused during training than their e-learning peers and 1.5 times more focused than their classroom colleagues. When learners are immersed in a VR experience, they tend to get more out of the training and have better outcomes.

 

Comparison chart: How focused are VR learners?

5. VR learning can be more cost-effective at scale

In the past, VR was too expensive, complicated and challenging to deploy outside of a small group. Today, the cost of an enterprise headset ecosystem is a one-time fee of less than $1,000, and these units can be managed like any other enterprise mobile device and can be used repeatedly to deliver training. Studios of all sizes are developing compelling content, while vendors are creating software packages to enable non-VR developers to create their own content in a cost-effective way. Elsewhere, some big learning-management-system players are enabling VR content to be easily integrated into their platforms.

The value VR provides is unmistakable when used appropriately. In our study, we found that, when delivered to enough learners, VR training is estimated to be more cost-effective at scale than classroom or e-learning. Because VR content initially requires up to a 48% greater investment than similar classroom or e-learn courses, it’s essential to have enough learners to help make this approach cost-effective. At 375 learners, VR training achieved cost parity with classroom learning. At 3,000 learners, VR training became 52% more cost-effective than classroom. At 1,950 learners, VR training achieved cost parity with e-learn. The more people you train, the higher your return will likely be in terms of employee time saved during training, as well as course facilitation and other out-of-pocket cost savings.

Training modality cost per learner
Line graph: Training modality cost per learner

Building a blended learning curriculum

While VR will not replace classroom or e-learn training anytime soon, it should be part of most companies’ blended learning curriculum. VR learning differentiates itself by combining the elements of a well-planned BXT experience: business expertise to tackle challenges, a human-centered experience and the right technology to boost productivity without sacrificing quality. Ideally, an entire team would take this training and then have follow-up discussions to determine how they can apply the learned skills in their jobs.

VR can help people make more meaningful connections by allowing learners to practice skills that help them relate to diverse perspectives in the real world. For example, PwC developed a VR soft skills course that enables executives and staff to practice new sales approaches. Learners get to make a pitch to a virtual CEO, but if they rely on business-as-usual sales techniques, the virtual CEO asks them to leave her office. However, if learners apply skills that demonstrate how they can bring value to the CEO’s company, they get a “virtual contract” at the end of the conversation.

The simplicity of this technology is another good reason to start using VR at scale in your organization. In the study, our team was able to provision, deploy and manage a large fleet of VR headsets with a very small team. That success makes it easy to imagine a day when all employees will be issued their own headsets, along with the requisite laptops, on their first day on the job. That would be a truly new way of working.

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Scott Likens

Partner, Trust Technology, PwC Labs, PwC US

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Daniel L. Eckert

Managing Director, Aurora, PwC US

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