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Above: Carrie Straub, executive director of education research & programs, Mursion

How Immersive Learning Technology Is Transforming Workforce Training and Driving Social Impact

Startups and growth-stage companies are creating scalable solutions for corporate talent leaders to deliver on the double bottom line — positive returns for businesses and workers.

By Stephen Yadzinski, acting general manager, JFFLabs & Tyler Nakatsu, manager, JFF.

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted traditional labor and education systems. While we are all still working to sort through all the ways in which this crisis will impact our lives, one thing’s for certain: Work and learning will be forever changed, and they both will remain more distributed and involve more online activity than they have in the past.

Now more than ever, we need easy-to-use and effective workforce and education technology. We need to prepare workers and learners for the jobs and careers of the future with immediately accessible upskilling, retooling, and talent platforms as the labor market and the economy spiral.

We believe the current global health crisis has pushed us to a tipping point, challenging us to boldly reimagine how to use technology to train more people, faster, than ever before. In this moment, companies and schools need more effective, extraordinary tools as they make the unforeseen and rapid-fire shift to virtual learning and training. Immersive learning technology is poised to meet that need.

Immersive learning — which includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and extended reality (ER) technologies — is being adopted by a rapidly growing number of employers. These technologies deliver strong outcomes for learners and more efficient delivery costs for employers. Immersive learning places individuals into an interactive learning environment, either virtually or physically, to replicate possible work scenarios and teach specific skills. Immersive learning excels in helping people gain skills that are either very challenging, expensive, or even dangerous to learn. For example, some solutions teach home health aides and nurses to provide care to unfriendly patients. Others help managers practice challenging conversations with staff, or prepare workers to deal with dangerous situations, such as accidents or threats.

Immersive learning often involves the use of on-demand training content that can be accessed anytime and anywhere. With immersive technology, training can be done safely and with better learning outcomes, resulting in more competent, confident, and productive workers.

At JFFLabs, we identify promising technologies that are poised to transform work and learning, and we expect immersive learning to be among the most important innovations of the past 30 years. A few findings:

Recently, we scanned the immersive learning market to identify startups and solutions poised to generate significant impact as well as value to businesses and organizations. In partnership with Walmart, we recently published our findings in our 2020 Immersive Technology Market Scan.

What we found is that advances in technology and learning science, paired with dropping prices, are rapidly expanding opportunities for immersive learning to provide broader access to quality, effective education and training programs in the United States and around the world.

And entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies are designing, developing, and delivering solutions that are helping companies to align business outcomes with social impact among their workforces.

Developing Leaders and Increasing Access

In what could prove to be one of technology’s most positive social impacts, immersive learning is revolutionizing management training. Learning to navigate complex and potentially high-stress situations, such as working with challenging employees and delivering performance reviews, can now be done in safe and private virtual environments — even from one’s home.

Immersive learning is also providing people from underserved populations with broader access to high-quality education and training opportunities. Models have demonstrated strong outcomes for people who may have struggled with traditional training methods, or who simply have a need for basic skills that will lead to a job.

As hardware continues to advance and adoption increases, we will undoubtedly see an uptick in positive social impact in the form of access to jobs and careers, skills development, and sustained employment — especially as the economy begins to recuperate.

Notably, immersive learning technologies can help employees develop the soft skills required for outstanding customer service, such as empathy, patience, and listening. These skills, in turn, help to heighten the focus on inclusion and diversity, as well as other dimensions of equitable employment.

Mursion is blending human and artificial intelligence to improve users’ interpersonal skills. Its content development utilizes live human interaction to enhance and personalize virtual immersive experiences that employees encounter on the job.

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Above: Carrie Straub, executive director of education research & programs, Mursion

Through the use of human-controlled avatars, Mursion provides simulations that focus on the complex interpersonal skills professionals master to be successful in high-stress careers. Trainees using the simulations are challenged to interact with their colleagues, customers, students, or patients and learn to perform at the highest standards of their professions.

Via systems ranging from high-end hardware installations to setups that involve nothing more than a computer, an internet connection, and a webcam, Mursion tools help users cultivate essential workplace skills in targeted and safe environments. Mursion works across a wide range of immersive reality platforms.

In response to increased employee demand for honest conversations about diversity and inclusion at work, T-Mobile launched a comprehensive company-wide diversity and inclusion training initiative that utilized Mursion’s virtual reality simulations to mimic difficult conversations employees might encounter on the job. Reaching more than 5,000 branch managers, the program helped drive awareness of bias and gave professionals the knowledge and ongoing practice necessary to be effective, empathetic, and inclusive leaders.

And Mursion was recently ranked №2 on Fast Company’s 2020 list of the world’s most innovative workplace companies, demonstrating how even during these unprecedented times, employers can continue to train, motivate, and support their workforces.

Mursion’s frontline innovations and swift responsiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic illustrate now more than ever how technology can provide workers with connection and collaboration — keeping them engaged and productive as they work remotely.

Customizing Content: Moving Toward Scalable Product Experiences

Advances in technology have moved immersive learning away from expensive, bespoke solutions and toward scalable development of the skills that make us uniquely human.

Improving and assessing the social effectiveness of their employees is crucial for companies that employ frontline and middle-skill talent in specialized areas. These workers may require fully customized training content. Such custom approaches to learning and development are also helping leaders to be more inclusive and more aware of unconscious bias as they manage teams and shape the cultures of their organizations — a valuable return on investment.

Talespin uses virtual reality to help people become more emotionally intelligent, empathetic leaders who are also trained in having difficult conversations. The workforce of the future needs culturally sensitive leaders with strong communication skills, who can learn and lead, creating a model for work that is collaborative, inclusive, and productive.

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Learn More About Talespin

Talespin’s approach to learning is multidimensional and it brings together technical, process and human skills development in a unified learning context. Talespin guides learners through real-world situations in a way that is engaging, exciting and personalized. Comprehensive analytics and deep insights help Talespin to empower organizations to shape their cultures and manage their teams. In a nutshell, Talespin’s platform and tools help workers and organizations to thrive.

And just last month, Talespin raised $15 million to grow its business and now has plans to specifically target less conspicuous industries like insurance for revolutionized workforce training.

With new and confident corporate investors like Farmers Insurance — as well as Cornerstone OnDemand and HTC — Talespin has successfully shown that the critical need for state-of-the-art training tools and technologies transcends industry lines. A new generation of insurance claims assessors and investigators at Farmers have now been trained using Talespin’s immersive platform, and Cornerstone’s partnership will allow for even more product expansion.

“Creating better alignment between skills and opportunities is the key to solving the reskilling challenges organizations across the world are facing.”
- Kyle Jackson, CEO and Co-Founder of Talespin

In a VR training collaboration with Farmers Insurance, 82% of employees gave positive feedback to their training developed by Talespin.

“Not only did they report they felt more prepared to go out in the field, our employees found it to be an incredibly fun learning experience. Many said they wished they’d been able to do this training earlier on in their careers. Our custom VR experience from Talespin really pushed our workers to be the best they could be.” — Jessica Decanio, head of claims training, Farmers Insurance

Trend: Immersive Applications Span Industries

While there is significant potential for immersive learning in training frontline, entry-level, and middle-skill workers, dramatic adoption of the technology is occurring across a variety of industries, including highly specialized fields in health care and education. For example, for neuro-diverse learners, immersive learning is a game-changer.

Families, clinicians, and educators who support people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an array of tech tools to choose from, but many of those products haven’t been vetted in clinical studies. Research shows intensive behavioral interventions using technology can improve long-term outcomes for people with ASD, but such treatments are expensive and often are not administered consistently. Immersive learning systems like Floreo’s are more cost-effective and can be delivered at scale.

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Above: Vijay Ravindran, CEO, Floreo

Floreo has built a VR platform for teaching social and life skills to individuals with ASD. Schools, therapy practices, and parents are using Floreo’s growing library of lessons, backed by collaborative science-based studies from medical institutions, including the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the National Institutes of Health.

As most schools and clinics have now closed in response to COVID-19, families who care for those with ASD have been left largely on their own. In response, Floreo has announced teletherapy capabilities that allow for the continued practice of social, behavioral, and life skills for clients, students, and children alike.

In short, Floreo is even more accessible than before. Although Floreo is designed to be used in supervised settings, a teacher, therapist, or parent can now lead a Floreo session with an iPad from anywhere in the world via the internet while the learner experiences immersive VR lessons using an iPhone and a mobile VR headset at home.

Trends like these are creating exciting opportunities for additional sectors that are primed to benefit from immersive technology.

Market Sectors: Career and Technical Education on Deck

Career and technical educators are using immersive technologies to bring the complex world of work into classrooms. The technology allows students to explore a range of careers and skills through a single device, at scale, potentially making immersive learning the fastest way to build a skilled workforce.

Interplay Learning offers both off-the-shelf and highly scalable custom solutions to solve workforce training challenges and address skills gaps in the trades.

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Above, Right: Doug Donovan, CEO, Interplay Learning

The company provides an online skilled-trades training platform called SkillMill that features a catalog of on-demand, video-based lessons, 3D simulations, and VR-enabled training scenarios. “Learn, practice, repeat, advance” is Interplay’s formula for successful, consistent, state-of-the-art training in trades such as HVAC, solar power, and facilities maintenance.

There is currently an even more pressing need to train new technicians and scale up current technicians in ways that do not require them to be physically present. Interplay’s platform allows workers to engage, train, and practice safely — all on their own.

Tech, Transformation, and a Tipping Point

Today, we see learning and talent development at a tipping point. The technological capabilities are sophisticated enough and the costs of development and adoption are low enough that immersive learning will transform every aspect of education, work, training, development — you name it.

Where once these technologies were only accessible to huge enterprises like Walmart or Ford Motor Company, within five years almost every small to midsize business across the United States will in some way be using immersive technologies to train their employees. Maybe even sooner than that.

In light of the global health crisis we are now experiencing and the breakneck speed at which the realities of work and learning are changing, immersive learning will likely take center stage as a primary training tool and driver of social impact.

We are witnessing historic upheaval and unparalleled opportunity. And we are committed to continuing our partnerships with innovators, investors, employers, learning providers, educators, and others as we work to revolutionize learning and help people gain the skills needed for sustained, fulfilling, and secure careers. We are just beginning to understand the power of these technologies and solutions, and we hope you will join us as we witness this revolution in learning.

For more information about immersive learning, and our scan of the market, visit JFF.org/immersivescan.

Written by

JFF (Jobs for the Future) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States.

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