By Mark Jankowski, Co-Founder, Shapiro Negotiations Institute
Those who have been exposed to the benefits of training in 3-D virtual worlds have seen the advantages, including: greater participant engagement; a more immersive learning experience; and interpersonal connection between participants. Some (like me originally) ran full steam ahead in promoting and using these 3-D virtual worlds. At first I thought that there would be three main barriers:
In the first year of developing both our training, as well as our rollout strategy, we planned for each of these. We focused on a platform, VirtualU, that required little bandwidth or graphics power. We only did demos in person so we could establish its viability as a learning experience prior to clients “playing around” in the environments. We also created a thorough and easily assimilated one-on-one training process that would guarantee a positive initial user experience.
With these three issues addressed, we thought we were home free. Little did we know that every time we climbed an issue’s mountain, there was another peak blocking our way. To possibly help others anticipate some of the challenges we faced, here are a few additional roadblocks we encountered along the way and how we worked around them.
Issue #1: Time Zones.Training in 3-D virtual worlds is particularly effective for geographically dispersed audiences, particularly those located internationally. So far we have had students from more than 20 countries, and have been doing a significant amount of work in China, Japan, and Australia. Of course, being located on the East Coast of the U.S. meant I had to start my classes at 8:30 p.m. and finish around 11 p.m. As a business owner, I do not have a problem with that type of commitment, but it may be a little much to ask of someone on your training staff.
Issue #2: Phone Lines.We decided to use conference calling as opposed to VOIP not only to keep bandwidth requirements low, but also because not everyone had a headset. We thought conference calling would be a reliable technology that would at least keep us connected, even if there were issues with the 3-D world. We were wrong. In almost half of the programs we ran, there were some issues with the phone systems, ranging from participants randomly dropping off the line and people being able to hear us, but not being heard (although I am convinced they just had their mute button on…) to frequent callouts to “speak louder, I cannot hear anyone!” Who would have anticipated that a 140-year-old technology would be less reliable than one that has not yet reached its fifth birthday?
Issue #3: Consistent Attendance. We scheduled our 90-minute classes every Thursday for a six-week period. We had 10 participants, and not a single program had all 10 attend. While you can record the sessions so people who miss them are able to at least absorb the material, the lack of continuity hurt the learning experience, as people assigned tasks between the classes sometimes were no-shows for reasons related to heavy traffic in the morning, a client meeting running long, or simply forgetting about the session. To address this issue, rather than holding four 90-minute sessions on four consecutive weeks, we now are holding two- to three-hour sessions over two weeks. To avoid the issue of fatigue, we are doing a 90-minute segment, taking a 30-minute break and then doing another 60-minute segment. We have found taking this approach encourages people to block off an entire morning or afternoon, thereby avoiding situations where meetings run late, traffic is bad, or memories falter.
I wish I could say the above three issues (along with technology, negative perceptions, and participant frustration) would be the only ones faced when rolling out a 3-D training program. Unfortunately, they are not. Future columns, therefore, will include other roadblocks and best practices we have learned along the way.
Mark Jankowski co-founded Shapiro Negotiations Institute (SNI) in 1995 and has written two books on negotiation, “The Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins—Especially You!” and “Bullies, Tyrants & Impossible People: How To Beat Them Without Joining Them,” which have formed the basis for SNI’s Negotiation, Influencing, Conflict Management, and Relationship Equity training programs. As a result of SNI’s corporate clients asking for innovative ways to deliver distance learning, in 2008, Jankowski developed a separate division of SNI called Virtual Training Partners. Over the last three years, Jankowski has come to be considered an expert in the application of virtual technology for training and development of employees around the globe. For more information, visit http://www.Shapironegotiations.com.