Tech, Yes!

L&d will continue to embrace evolving training technologies post-pandemic.

As technology in general gets increasingly sophisticated in all aspects of our work and personal lives, training tech is keeping pace.

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has been a 35 percent increase in the use of tech in training, including immersive simulations, virtual and augmented reality, 360 video, wireless communication headsets, chatbots, and more.

Training tapped a variety of industry experts who explain on the following pages some of the latest training technologies and how organizations can—and are—successfully implementing them, plus some tips and takeaways to keep in mind.

Our TechLearn 2021 Virtual Conference (October 25-29—live and online) will offer deeper dives into how to effectively use the latest training technologies such as those mentioned in this article. Register at: https://virtual.techlearnconference.com/

A NEW ERA FOR VR

With millions of employees expected to continue working from home as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, new immersive tools are required for more effective training and remote collaboration in design and development workflows.

Personalized experiences based on analytics and actionable insights have been found to increase retention rates for training and learning and to improve well-being, according to research by HP Inc. (hp.com). The face camera and sensors on the new HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition headset (on the cover and p. 14) enable it to capture physiological responses such as muscle movements, facial expressions, pupil size, gaze, and heart rate. The integrated HP Omnicept SDK, powered by advanced machine learning algorithms, then interprets the data and allows developers to create a user-centric virtual reality (VR) experience that provides realtime actionable insights into how end-users engage and respond during the experience. In fact, the SDK can indicate cognitive load—how much brain power a learner exerts in a VR session—and how well a learner knows and understands the content.

Notes Jim Nottingham, GM and global head, Advanced Compute and Solutions, HP Inc., “Our adaptive solution aims to open new possibilities for VR development and its impact on training, remote education, collaboration, R&D, and well-being.”

CASE STUDY: VR Storytelling

Lena’s Journey, a new virtual reality (VR) mini-series, is the cornerstone of inpatient psychiatric facility Western State Hospital’s (WSH) revamped two-week employee training program. The five-part series was created to immerse employees into the lives of those living with severe mental illness. The goal is to help staff better empathize with patients. The training program is the first of its kind to leverage 360 video technology and storytelling in this way.

On the first day of training, new employees are introduced to Lena, a single mom and a musician who is living with schizophrenia. Due to her disorienting illness, she makes a terrible mistake. Through VR, trainees go with Lena on her journey through the legal system and eventual admittance to Lakewood, WA-based WSH, which provides evaluation and inpatient treatment for individuals with serious or longterm mental illness.

Intense Experience

The hospital partnered with Chocolate Milk & Donuts (CM&D), a VR/AR creative agency that specializes in immersive storytelling, to bring the story to life in a headset. Collaboration between CM&D staff, hospital employees, mental health professionals, and even a few hospital patients brought Lena’s debilitating mental illness and character traits to life.

“Telling a story about the struggles of mental illness can work in any medium, but telling it in VR allowed us to do something that no other format can do. It lets the viewer experience the symptoms and confusion that Lena deals with,” explains Wes Evans, creative director at CM&D. “This gives hospital employees the opportunity to grow as individuals and better help patients suffering return home to their loved ones.”

Terry Stevenson, a registered nurse who recently took part in the training, says the VR experience is intense and gives a strong feeling of how Lena is suffering. “I’ve heard people say they hear voices,” Stevenson relates. “But I’ve never seen something make it so real. I think this will help me when I’m talking to a patient and they’re not responding.”

Working together for six-plus months, the project team’s efforts resulted in more than 45 minutes of high-quality cinematic 360 video content and two immersive meditation experiences. The final experience is distributed to learners via 75 Pico G2 4k VR headsets and a custom streaming solution powered by ShowtimeVR software.

To view the trailer, visit: https://youtu.be/UbqT4aXtaCA

CASE STUDY: AR/VR Training for Field Service Teams

FieldCore, a field services maintenance business wholly owned by GE, does challenging work servicing heavyduty power-producing equipment across the world’s largest gas and steam plants, renewable energy sites, oil refineries, and offshore pumping and drilling facilities.

Training is of paramount importance to the company, as many of FieldCore’s field engineers are required to travel across borders to maintain power-generating equipment for customers to supply electricity for countless crucial services.

“We needed a solution that guaranteed an engineer working on a job in Pakistan would complete the work using the same standard process as someone in Kuwait,” explains Guillaume Camard, IT director for FieldCore Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Many traditional training methods were heavily paper and lecture based. “As a manager, it’s my responsibility to identify training solutions that work well for all of them,” Camard notes. “We’ve found that group expects a tech experience at work that closely resembles what they’re used to in their personal lives. With smartphones, voice assistants, and immersive entertainment, the standards are high. We knew we had to look at new methods of delivery—such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and gamification—if we were going to reach the business goals associated with safety training.”

The safety journey includes strict in-house training requirements that meet the company’s safety field procedures and international requirements, as well as certification.

The Solution

Camard brought in Pixaera (https://www.pixaera.com/life-saving-rules-training/) to do a hands-on demonstration of its AR/VR system. “We presented the solution to our regional general manager, CEO, and CIO, showing them the possibilities of what could be done, and the rest is history, as they say,” Camard relates.

One plus was the system’s flexibility. Effective user options exist for training with Pixaera via an AR/VR headset or on a PC.

“With traditional tools, like PowerPoint, employees read about what their jobs entail,” Camard says. “With Pixaera’s gamification features, they walk through the process: Turn right, turn left, etc. That way, they gain a clearer understanding of what they have to do.”

After a successful prototype phase, FieldCore is rolling out “Lock Out Tag Out” training to more than 2,000 engineers worldwide, with plans to expand leveraging Pixaera’s technology. By taking advantage of immersive simulations, a limitless number of variables can be experienced in training, Camard says. “Plus, we are able to deliver and administer this amazing content in a secure environment.”

Results

Immersive training has delivered many benefits for FieldCore, including:

  • Cost reduction: By reducing travel needs, FieldCore can potentially cut training costs by at least 50 percent.
  • Strong reporting: Managers track learner progress in real time and offer coaching when necessary.
  • Close the training gap: Both younger and older workers are comfortable with the technology. High marks and rave reviews are the norm.

Two to three years from now, the AR/VR approach is going to be much more common, Camard believes, “because it’s efficient and effective and the best option for many types of training.”

A FUTURE-READY WORKFORCE

While organizations are investing $1.2 trillion in digital transformation, many overlook the culture and people-related changes that transform how people work and the business performs. According to Accenture’s findings on the “Fast-Track to Future-Ready Performance,” those that are future-ready take steps to redesign ways of working and invest in the skills and training required to work differently. Here are three tips to keep in mind:

Augment and bring power to people. The pandemic was a tipping point for the use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) tools as enterprises adapted to social distancing requirements. Some 38 percent of the business leaders Accenture surveyed said that supporting remote workers with AI and automation has given them more time for creative and strategic tasks. The opportunity at hand is for businesses to build on this foundation and transform how work gets done. This, in turn, requires an agile workforce strategy, which, Accenture research suggests, only half of CEOs have in place. These companies have a significant competitive advantage over their peers across employee retention and the customer experience.

Create a collaborative workforce strategy. By freeing employees from mundane tasks and giving them the insights and information they need to do their job, AI and automation help create a more engaged and productive workforce. But to unlock these benefits, businesses need to ensure they have the right workforce strategy in place—one that enables people and machines to work collaboratively and drive the best results. The goal should be to use intelligent machines and AI-derived insights as tools for streamlining the employee experience and empowering workers to deliver for the business.

Unleash human productivity and creativity. Futureready organizations understand that intelligent technologies can simplify and accelerate business processes, automating lowvalue transactional tasks so people can focus on more creative and interesting work. Leaders in this space now will seek to transform how work is done so people can focus on what we do best, and machines can be depended on for what they do best. Accenture’s research found that leaders at businesses that have implemented intelligent AI and automation over the last three years report improvements in the speed of product and service innovation (83 percent), employee engagement (80 percent), and in the employee talent mix and reskilling efforts (68 percent).

CASE STUDY: Immersive Onboarding

By Shaun McMahon, founder and president, Illuminate (www.illuminate.net)

The remarkably swift development of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines by our colleagues in the life sciences has allowed a careful return to life somewhat as we knew it. But the monumental shifts we’ve all gone through, in terms of how we live and work, have many wondering whether some changes might be worth preserving.

As a sales and marketing training program developer, I’ve been impressed by one change in particular: the development of ambitious and immersive online training platforms, which I believe should be preserved as a standard complement to in-person learning.

For one of our clients, the onboarding training process for new hires is an essential foundation for their success. When the initial COVID-19 lockdown began, we immediately moved their new hire training online, primarily using Zoom. But Zoom training sessions didn’t allow new hires to experience the company in the way past new hires did in person. The client has a dedicated training facility that includes informational displays and other design features that help new hires absorb company history and culture. Being unable to use this building left a big hole in the onboarding program.

Creating a Virtual Environment

Our client had a brainstorm to use simulation technologies, like the world-building tools familiar to gamers, to create a virtual environment that would perfectly replicate the physical training facility at their headquarters.

We launched into action. Team members toured the building to photograph, film, and document every element, from room layout to chair fabric, so that learners visiting virtually would be as familiar with the facility as those who’d been there in person.

We collaborated with leaders in the event planning and meeting production spaces to design the most engaging program layout, with layers of interactive content, unexpected experiences, and fun opportunities for movement. We also ensured that access to Zoom and other meeting applications would be integrated into this virtual world.

The resulting virtual training center includes many features intended to encourage exploration. For instance, the physical training center includes a wall with tiles detailing key information about the company, its products, and its leadership. This has been replicated in the simulated training world, where users can tap tile icons along a virtual hallway to launch the same information they would have read onsite. Between training sessions, participants can “wander” the facility and even go “outside.” They can tag another participant and join that person for a virtual one-on-one.

Next up: Our client has requested additional interactive features, including a “patient wall” featuring real-life case studies and a social interaction wall, or bulletin board, to prompt more camaraderie, knowledge-sharing, and community-building among trainees.

THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR TRAINING

By Ginger Ackerman, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Jigsaw Interactive (jigsawinteractive.com)

Virtual training is commonplace today and will continue to expand as the world changes to a more remote workforce. According to a recent study, more than 80 percent of U.S. workers would be happier working remotely. Another study reflected a 47 percent increase in productivity when workers had to move to remote working due to the pandemic.

When it comes to virtual training, the key is having all the right tools for trainers and participants. A fundamental change in how we approach virtual training is required for companies seeking a valuable outcome. This requires:

  • Letting learners own their learning experience
  • Trainers playing the role of a producer/coach while having participants work on activities or projects
  • Continual in-class assessments to confirm knowledge transfer and understanding
  • Customizable small group rooms where different case studies can be used for active and recordable role-playing
  • Utilizing multiple screen sharing for hands-on software training

Finally, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. For Learning and Development (L&D) teams to continually improve and modify programs to get the best outcome, they need data. Whether it’s test results or learning, behavior, and performance analytics, data is king. The data needs to include what the trainer utilizes and what the participants do because they are interdependent.

Jigsaw Interactive, for example, empowers L&D teams with a virtual solution for all types of training. Some large consulting companies have changed how they do sales training after utilizing the engagement tools within Jigsaw. Other companies rolled out a virtual software training program to train employees on a new enterprise-wide business system.

Jigsaw’s multi-dimensional platform allows each individual to actively look at information the way they learn and work. It offers immersive opportunities for trainers to engage participants on an individual or group level through desktop sharing, customized layouts, webcam, follow me, annotations, chat, breakout rooms, videos, presentations, and surveys.

The end goal is to empower the trainer and the learner—which results in better performance and productivity.

SKILL UP ON WIRELESS COMMUNICATIONS HEADSETS

By Chris Clarke, Communications Consultant, Sena Industrial (http://www.senaindustrial.com/)

Not all training can be done in a classroom or on Zoom. Sometimes trainers must deal with noise, distance, and extreme locations.

For example, at a school that trains power linemen, high on electrical towers, the trainers hover in helicopters. At a sailboat racing school, coaches give tips from a chase boat. Manufacturing plants have noisy machinery where hearing protection is required. Even in a normal workplace, where people are masked and socially distant (still the case in much of the world), poor communication can interfere with learning.

In these circumstances, wireless communication headsets are emerging as an alternative to bullhorns, two-way radios, and mobile PCs. These devices use long-range Bluetooth or Mesh technology to link multiple headsets together to build a communications network. Instructors can easily set up a network without involving Wi-Fi or an IT department.

Bluetooth headsets use the Bluetooth frequency around 2.4 GHz. The headsets pair to each other like pairing a smartphone to a car. Up to four devices can be on one network, so the technology works well for training small groups.

New Mesh headsets, such as those using Sena Industrial’s proprietary Mesh Intercom protocol, are a solution for training large groups. In a Mesh network, each headset routes the signal to the next, to an almost unlimited number of devices. The headsets connect themselves after one button push—no pairing is required.

Another feature of Mesh headsets is the ability to switch to different channels, so instructors can speak privately with a student or create breakout groups. Unlike two-way radios, which allow only one person to speak at a time, wireless communication headsets use full-duplex technology. So students and trainers can speak at the same time, like on a phone call, experiencing high-resolution digital sound. For noisy settings, models are available with built-in hearing protection and noise-cancelling technology.

A variety of options give instructors flexibility. Using an optional adapter, a Bluetooth communications headset can pair to any Bluetooth-enabled device, such as a smartphone, PC, or tablet. This came in handy for one instructor, who was unable to be on-site to train workers to operate a new machine. One student held a tablet so the remote trainer could see what the students were doing. It is similar for a Mesh system, although via a different adapter.

Many students already own Bluetooth ear buds or headsets for making calls and listening to music. An adapter allows students to use the gear they are comfortable with, connecting them to the network, and reducing the cost of the system.

ETHICAL GUIDELINES FOR LEARNING CHATBOTS

By Vince Han, CEO and Founder, Mobile Coach (www.mobilecoach.com)

Did you hear about the incident of a self-driving vehicle striking and killing a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018? This event, along with other incidents of such cars running red lights and not adhering to safe driving practices, has shone a spotlight on the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). If a self-driving car finds itself making a decision of harming either person A or person B, who is responsible for programming the values the car uses to choose?

Considering ethical effects of AI is of paramount importance when any organization implements such technology. Chatbots that support learning are becoming increasingly popular as enterprises look to deliver more frictionless learning experiences and scale learning resources. But what are the ethical boundaries Learning and Development (L&D) teams need to watch out for? Here are three tips to keep in mind:

  1. Establish a transparent privacy policy. Believe it or not, some learners are more comfortable confiding in a chatbot than in a real person. For example, I may be more willing to tell a chatbot that I don’t understand a particular concept than telling my manager so as not to risk them thinking less of my abilities. But how do I know my manager isn’t checking in on my chatbot conversations?
    That’s why it’s important to decide your policy in advance and share this policy with your learners. For example, if you decide on a policy to keep user conversations confidential, make sure your chatbot platform does, indeed, make it impossible to disclose a learner’s identity.
  2. Tread carefully when influencing behavior. Computers are now smart enough to learn your habits and tendencies. Is it ethical to take advantage of this to manipulate and influence your behavior? It may feel easily justified, especially if you are trying to influence positive behavior. But organizations need to tread carefully and be transparent about the algorithms and the purposes behind each chatbot deployed.
  3. Avoid artificial empathy. Empathy or acknowledgement can go a long way to help someone needing emotional support, but what if this empathy comes from a chatbot? Chatbots don’t really feel anything, so is it disingenuous to program the chatbot to imply that it does? Organizations should be careful not to program the personality of a chatbot to portray feelings it doesn’t have. In short, honesty is the best policy in the long term.

The continuing progression of chatbot technology creates exciting opportunities for L&D, but with such advancements, the right amount of care should be taken to make sure our human values are correctly represented.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine, owned by Lakewood Media Group. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training Top 100 and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 29 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.