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Will VR Solve the Learning Riddle?

Imagine you are a new employee in the industry where your success depends on memorization of multiple processes and scripts.  You have never done this type of work before and now have a monumental task in front of you to memorize pages upon pages of different conversation scenarios.  If you are in the industry that relies heavily on face to face sales you might be able to relate to this.  Now imagine you were given this task and were told you need to practice and then role-play in-front of your sales coach or worse yet, in-front of a group of your peers.  Oh, you forgot about role-play?  Sorry to remind you about this form of public speaking.  Just like speaking in front of a crowd, there are very few people out there, who feel comfortable being publicly humiliated in front of their peers.

Often times simple script memorization can be a difficult task.  Add variables into any script and it becomes extremely difficult to learn fast.  Additionally, most sales positions rely on the speed of the conversation and if one has not practiced it thoroughly, they tend to be left with one very expensive option – practice on their customers.  The lack of achieving rapid success in sales is one of the main reasons most don’t succeed in that field.  These multiple challenges add to the dilemma for most organizations with sales staff.  The answer to this learning riddle may be found in the new and emerging technologies, specifically, Virtual and Augmented Realities platforms.

In my 2500+ platform hours of doing training, I found that people memorize and retain information differently.  Everyone, learns at their own individual pace.  Additionally, three things are for sure, majority have a difficult time memorizing scripts, do not enjoy role-play activities and struggle with practicing new conversations.  Since most scripts involve conversations, practicing with another person is crucial in order to create a real-life environment, receive a feedback and the verification of information learned.  Other questions also arise.  Who will spend time with a new associate to help them learn new information?  What is the schedule look like for them to attend training?  In many cases, managers are too busy managing sales activities and have limited time to invest into successful training program for new employee.  Corporate or outside trainers can help, but their formal training programs are only available at certain times.  Online training can be available on-demand, yet it rarely represent an opportunity to role-play or practice.  This is where VR technology can be a great solution.

During the last couple of years, VR technology is making its ways into consumer world.  Early applications were video games and movies.  With a “whole-body” activities VR can replicate certain tasks that lead to skills that might be harder to acquire otherwise.  After significant research, Science Direct suggests that these activities “lead to significant learning gains and  higher levels of engagements”.   University of California study reports that “…people learned more in the immersive virtual reality system than in the 2D video system.”  When it comes to measuring accuracy of skills, Yale University medical study highlights “gallbladder dissection was 29% faster for VR-trained residents.  Non-VR-trained residents were nine times more likely to transiently fail to make progress and five times more likely to injure the gallbladder.”  When it comes to “reality” of a virtual reality for soft skills, a study from University of London, concluded that subjects of their study experienced the same public speaking phobia when they spoke to live or virtual audiences concluding, “the result was strong in spite of the relatively low fidelity of the virtual characters.”   Based on these studies and reports it does not take a strong leap of faith to see how VR can be a game changer when learning new sales skills.  But, is there such a thing?

There is a group of young developers in Europe, who recognized the potential of VR learning platform.  Specifically its impact on creating a learning environment and facilitating faster learning.  To date they created a prototype of VR Learning Platform.  This VR setting creates a realistic sales environment that in essence becomes a sales “batting cage” for an employee to gain confidence through unlimited on-demand sales skills practice opportunities.  Various customer scenarios are designed to simulate real-life sales situations to provide a healthy dose of reality in a virtual world.  The gamified sales world also allows participants to record interactions with their virtual customers and share those results with managers or sales coaches.  The virtual role-play aimed to raise confidence and develop or improve sales skills regardless of participant’s skill level.  With consumer version on the way, its application in any sales environment will be a true gamification of learning.  The question is will sales industries be open to adapting this new technology into their training strategy?  In a recent survey sales professionals were asked if they would “take advantage of on-demand training through new technologies like VR” – 82.7% of respondents said “yes”.  This may not be an indication that VR will be massively adapted by entire industries, but one thing is for sure, there will be many early adapters.

Each and every day technology is changing the way we do life.  The day is coming, when using VR sales “batting cage” will be the easiest way to tackle new hire’s fear of role-play, helping them learn multiple scripted conversations and make interactive learning available to them on their schedule.

by Tony Troussov