The term soft skills is applied to skills which are needed for effective social interactions, including customer service, negotiating, sales pitching and business networking. These enterprise skills are essential for the effective functioning of businesses and are what managers are looking for from prospective employees. With automation increasing, being proficient in these skills is necessary. A study by Manyika et al. (2017) for McKinsey estimates that up to 30% of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030 and it is the uniquely human skills, which will become ever more valuable in years to come.

Traditionally, soft-skill training usually takes one of two forms: in-person training and online training. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but in a progressive world neither is considered a perfect solution.

The way this used to be

Until now, soft skills have usually been learned on the job, through interactions with colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders and it has been difficult to measure progression. Teaching soft skills is hard because people react and behave differently in similar situations, so traditional teaching methods, which typically follow a one size fits all approach, are not very effective. They are also expensive and usually requires travel to the training center. With a global workforce, standards of training can vary widely.

High-quality virtual reality (VR) equipment has become more affordable during the past few years, leading to its wide-scale application in a number of industries. One of the main areas in which VR is being used is in training. With the help of VR, assembly-line operators to brain surgeons are developing new skills and an increasing number of people are using virtual reality to enhance their soft skills. VR provides an affordable, scalable and measurable way for companies to train employees in the transferable skills they need to operate a successful organization.

What limits e-learning

While traditional e-learning can effectively impart facts and concepts, the experiential and performance-based practice employed to change interpersonal behavior are typically obtained in person under the guidance of a skilled facilitator. However, such training is often cost prohibitive, especially when teams are geographically distributed.

Meanwhile, the opportunity costs of stopping work to attend a scheduled, human-mediated training, even if delivered online, can exceed the cost of the training itself. Finding time for follow-up guided practice to reinforce new behaviors is rare. Today’s soft skills training simply does not scale. Virtual reality with artificial intelligence can help.

Then come VR

Enhanced experiences are realized using dedicated standalone VR headsets. The most powerful capabilities and realistic experiences require headsets connected to a laptop or desktop computer and cloud computing.

VR headsets and controllers support three or six degrees of freedom, allowing users not only to turn their heads or hands but also to move along axes in the virtual world. Along with spatialized surround audio and controllers featuring haptic feedback, the overall effect is one of a compelling sense of immersion in an alternate reality. Research demonstrates that VR simulations can be designed to provide powerful learning experiences that yield changes in cognition and performance applications in the real world.

Practicing soft skills in VR can provide the authentic experience needed to develop these skills, especially when traditional learning methods have been too difficult, or unsuitable. This is because VR creates a strong sense of presence and immersion due to the fact that it provides realistic, multi-sensory and interesting experiences that traditional teaching methods cannot replicate. When those learning these skills are able to continually practice real-world situations, in the safety of the virtual world, they can learn through experience and more easily apply their learning to the workplace.

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