Making Soft Skills A Virtual/Augmented Reality

Are you ready to put some goggles on and really learn?

I admit it: I’ve never used virtual reality or augmented reality—and especially not in a learning context.

So what are virtual reality and augmented reality? Julia Tokareva, executive manager at software development firm RubyGarage, penned a great explanation in a Forbes article. She described virtual reality (VR) as a computer-generated, fully artificial virtual environment where a learner is fully immersed. More advanced VR technology provides freedom for users to move within their digital environment and even hear sounds. Special hand controllers can be used to further enhance the VR experience.

If your kids haven’t already shown you, you have to wear special VR headsets to experience the virtual reality effect. Most VR headsets are connected to a computer (Oculus Rift, for example) or a gaming console (PlayStation VR). But there are also standalone VR headsets that work with apps through your smartphone so you can immerse yourself in virtual reality.

In contrast, augmented reality (AR) operates by overlaying virtual objects onto the real-world environment through technology. You’re essentially enhancing the real world with digital objects. You may recall Pokémon Go when it launched in 2016. Millions of people went on digital scavenger hunts tracking down and collecting cartoon characters. The company used basic augmented reality techniques by showing virtual objects through the lens of people’s smartphones.

With augmented reality, users see and interact with the real world while digital content is added to it. Similar to VR methods, the AR system requires special headsets such as Google Glass. Through AR headsets, the digital content is displayed on a tiny screen in front of a user’s eyes with the real world around him or her. Think of the Princess Leia hologram in the first Star Wars movie.


VR and AR are used to help in many learning situations. They help teach technical skills such as those needed in the construction, manufacturing, and health-care industries. One example would be learning intricate medical surgery or trauma patient assessment with VR. And the military uses it with fighter aircraft flight simulation.

Anders Gronstedt, from digital training consultancy The Gronstedt Group, says VR “not only allows people to step into another world but also lets them walk a mile in the shoes of another person.” This explains why VR also is used to train civilian police officers how to handle mentally ill individuals or how to respond to a bioterrorism threat. “VR has been hailed as the ultimate empathy machine,” Gronstedt notes. “Softer skills training just requires a bit more thoughtfulness and creativity in how to apply it.”

What’s really bringing VR learning to the forefront is the ability now to track this type of learning through a Learning Record Store (LRS) or in your learning management system (LMS) because of the xAPI protocol. This permits learning statements to be created so learning and performance metrics can be captured throughout a virtual reality course.


Interactive skills training typically relies on peer-to-peer role-playing or passive learning through videos. What’s missing is the ability for more practice and replicating the different scenarios a person experiences.

Consider the research being done with Responsive Virtual Human technology (RVH). This uses an intelligent agent framework that combines virtual reality, natural language processing, and behavior modeling. RVH creates a full-body animated, conversant agent with whom the learner interacts. The RVH exhibits emotional, social, gestural, and cognitive intelligence.

Computer-based RVHs actually gaze, gesture, intonate, and use body posture and verbal feedback just like a real person. Learners experience the desired skills in a more realistic encounter.

Now the learner has the chance to practice learning interaction skills in numerous case-based scenarios. You can design these scenarios to meet the needs of different work groups in an organization, whether on the manufacturing floor, out in the field, or in a corporate setting.

It’s amazing that computer-generated information can create behavioral models for a learner to interact with. The RVH replicates emotional, physiological, and cognitive states, and responds based on a learner’s input over time while taking the course. Learning design specialists specify how the RVH should act given a particular state.

For instance, the RVH will know to shake its head or hold up its hands when disagreeing with the learner. In addition, the emotional or physical state can temper or amplify the reaction. Similarly, an answer to a query on how the RVH feels will depend on whether it represents a depressed person, a confused person, an injured person, or someone in a neutral state. This leads to a realistic learning application as the learner has to deal with each interaction individually.

Measuring learning success becomes straightforward. What is the outcome from the learning simulation? Did the learner meet the required level of skill proficiency? How did the learner respond to the RVH’s needs in each situation? Were all required guidelines or established protocols followed? And, if needed, more detailed, contextspecific linguistic analysis also can be performed.


Virtual and augmented reality training would allow you to augment any classroom-based training for easier transfer of learning. Or you simply could acquire new skills directly using VR or AR learning.

Learning soft skills through VR or AR provides a greater opportunity to develop and gain practical experience. The learning courses can be designed to create a safe and supportive environment for the learner. By allowing the learner to practice, repeat, and correct the targeted skills, greater confidence in the new skill can be gained.

Think about how you could practice public speaking, communication skills, or negotiation skills in a variety of designed contexts and situations. You could more readily apply these skills sooner in the real world. Ultimately, learning by VR or AR may be your next reality.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at or visit

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