OhioGuidestone has been serving Ohio for more than 150 years, offering services that range from youth mental health services and foster care to substance abuse counseling. In 1999, OhioGuidestone added another community support service to its portfolio: a workforce development program called Workforce 360°.
The program focused mainly on 18- to 24-year-olds, teaching them job readiness, soft skills, financial literacy, digital literacy, leadership skills, academics, and occupational skill training. The classes, taught in person by OhioGuidestone employees, technical providers, or other educational institutions, can last from six weeks to six months.
Learners spend four full days a week in intensive instruction to prepare for secondary educational opportunities or full-time employment. The goal of Workforce 360˚ is to provide an educational experience for learners who need more assistance or a new way of learning. While the program content was created to meet the needs of learners and future employers, it wasn’t easy to track the learners’ progress throughout the program through completion.
To continually improve their program and best serve the evolving needs of the community, program leaders in the Northeast Ohio region of OhioGuidestone began exploring the possibility of incorporating virtual reality (VR) into the Workforce 360° program.
Part of the decision to move toward using VR training, in addition to their traditional modalities, was to adapt the experience to suit individuals’ unique learning styles. The team wanted to give their learners the ability to practice the concepts they are learning before entering the workforce. With this experiential learning component to the program, they hoped to improve their learner experience by making the program both accessible and engaging for every type of learner.
“We serve a population of learners who are coming to us for a different type of learning opportunity,” said Nicole Rosenbaum, program manager at OhioGuidestone. “VR provides visual learning, as well as scenario-based, real-world training, which adds value to our program through higher engagement.”
OhioGuidestone leaders wanted a better option to track how well the training was going through a series of after-module evaluations, which would provide them with valuable information future employers of these learners might find beneficial.
Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic required a radical rethinking of how services were delivered. COVID restrictions made it essential for these services to be provided remotely because learners could no longer gather safely in traditional classroom settings.
As OhioGuidestone began its search for someone to help them create their VR training program, they had a few specific qualifications in mind. First, they wanted a company that had long-standing experience in immersive learning and could do everything from live demos to in-person meetings while also involving OhioGuidestone staff in the preparation of the materials. They also wanted a local company that understood the needs of the local community with whom they could build a long-term relationship.
In this pursuit, they decided to work with a company located in their own backyard: Roundtable Learning, an Ohio-based immersive learning organization. Together, leaders of the two organizations got to work, figuring out what concepts would work best for VR training and developing content for each.
The team at Roundtable Learning designed custom eLearning modules and a VR activity to integrate into six key focus areas while still allowing for in-person instruction. This created an immersive, blended learning program. The six focus areas are:
- Interpersonal Skills: Developing communication and problem-solving skills useful in high-tension situations.
- Professionalism: The ability to follow through on promises and appropriately discuss workplace issues with other staff without getting management involved.
- Initiative: Appropriately showing enthusiasm toward accomplishing tasks without hampering workplace structure.
- Dependability and Reliability: Becoming an asset to the workplace and to fellow employees.
- Integrity: Following workplace rules and expectations appropriately without causing issues with other staff who may not do the same.
- Lifelong Learning: Developing individual skills and growing professionally within their workplace while also leaving a positive impression.
Over the next few months, intensive work between the Workforce 360° team and Roundtable Learning led to the development of the eLearning series, which, along with 360° VR activities, will supplement the in-class learning that continues on a hybrid basis.
The new eLearning modules and VR activities provide opportunities for OhioGuidestone to collect data on how their learners are progressing through metrics such as completion rates, time to completion, number of attempts, and choice selection, which are automatically collected and compiled into usable data for Workforce 360° staff.
By integrating these new learning modalities, OhioGuidestone has an opportunity to further engage its audience. This blended learning approach can help reach learners where and when they learn best, whether it’s in instructor-led workshops, at home with eLearning modules, or physically practicing in virtual reality. It can also help staff make more intentional decisions with program development and delivery.
Another essential element to the program’s success was getting buy-in from staff on VR training before it was rolled out to the learners. Given their ability to manage their Oculus headsets in one portal and their eLearning modules in another learning management system (LMS), the team has found the new technologies incredibly user-friendly and adaptable to both navigate and deploy.
“One of the silver linings of COVID-19 was that it made us flexible and adaptable,” Rosenbaum said. “It has expanded our staff’s learning as well, which is great. When you have role models for participants who are learning right alongside them, it creates a positive, motivating learning environment.”
First rolled out in Cuyahoga County in 2022, OhioGuidestone has four additional counties that will be adopting the eLearning modules and Workforce 360° VR activities in the near future.
With the new additions to their program, Workforce 360° staff can cater their training to individual groups of learners. By using eLearning modules and tracking data in the LMS, staff can quickly identify areas of improvement and make calculated changes to the program, ensuring learner success. Furthermore, instructors are seeing more engagement from learners who are intrigued by the use of technology commonly associated with gaming in a learning environment.
In short, OhioGuidestone has been pleased with its VR experience and is looking forward to expanding these programs to other subjects.
- OhioGuidestone has found that a transition to eLearning and VR learning in an era of COVID has allowed them the opportunity to provide more instruction for their learners remotely.
- Buy-in from the instructors is critical to the success of any VR program, and OhioGuidestone’s instructors are all-in on this new learning modality.
- Learners are engaging more than ever before with the new VR technology being woven into the overall program.
- The VR training modalities provide more flexibility to tailor the learning to individual learners, which allows them to focus on building up weaker skills through additional emphasis.