EIRA Funding and the University of Suffolk
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My own first experience with entering the world of virtual reality made me realise we needed to research how we would deliver soft skills training using this technology.Quote Mark

Trudy SoreTrudy Sore
Learning and Development Director
Blue Novation

VR Research – University of Suffolk

Delivering soft skills training at scale can be costly both in time and money. Virtual reality training scenarios simulate realistic workplace scenarios and are a highly sophisticated form of role play.

Using virtual embodiment, the learners interact with a virtual character, then swap bodies and watch an avatar of themselves as the situation is played back. The impact of this new perspective encourages self-reflection and embeds learning from practical experience within a virtual environment.

Securing a New Anglia Growth Through Innovation Fund (GTi) grant in 2020, enabled us to research and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to understand and utilise virtual reality as a delivery platform for learning.

Part of this funding was used for software packages and training to produce blended learning programmes, i.e., content to go around the VR scenarios in addition to live training from an instructor.

We also used the grant to purchase licences for the Bodyswaps platform, a VR and mobile platform we had identified for soft skills training. Since 2019, London-based Bodyswaps has helped a wide range of organisations deliver measurable value by building more empathic workplaces and fostering greater inclusivity.

 

Working with the University of Suffolk

In addition to the GTi funding, we also secured a grant from EIRA, (Enabling Innovation: Research to Application), an organisation that supports innovation in the East of England. This enabled us to work with academics from the University of Suffolk to investigate how virtual reality scenarios could improve the delivery of soft skills training in the workplace.

The objectives of the usability testing were:

1) To understand the experience of engaging in training utilising embodied virtual reality and conversational artificial intelligence;

2) To explore the possible contribution of embodied virtual reality and conversational artificial intelligence in a training context;

3) To identify any issues experienced/observations made by the users during their training experience.

Research participants were given access to an immersive VR coaching tool developed by Bodyswaps. The mean age of participants was 39.6 years (SD = 10.09), and their ages ranged between 29 – 58 years.

At the end of the day, it’s not about technology. It’s about creating engaging learning experiences that give people the skills and confidence to grow.

By partnering with Blue Novation and running this study with the University of Suffolk, we were able to demonstrate learners’ eagerness to engage and pave the way for a new generation of transformative experiential learning.

Christophe Mallet

CEO, Bodyswaps

Results

Once training had been completed, the participants engaged in a focus group. Participants’ own subjective experience was overwhelmingly positive about the value of using VR for skills development. Also, all participants unanimously agreed that they would learn more effectively in an immersive environment, confirming that VR is effective for delivering training of this type.

From the project, we also understand the necessity of giving participants enough time to get used to the headsets and virtual environment before beginning any training scenario.

 

If you’d like to find out more about our research collaboration with the University of Suffolk on the use of VR for soft skills training, then please click this link Blue Novation – VR and Soft Skills to download our PDF.

“For many people, Virtual Reality is perhaps just a game or a novelty – so you too can explore the surface of Mars in the comfort of your own living room courtesy of NASA. Organisations have been employing virtual reality for training of “hard” (technical) skills very successfully for years to train pilots, healthcare professionals and others working in safety-critical roles or hazardous environments.

Being able to fail safely and learn from mistakes, and being able to repeat this process until the skill has been mastered are clear advantages. Ever-increasing sophistication and verisimilitude of VR environments and more affordable hardware/software packages has widened the opportunities and the accessibility of this technology.”

Professor Nicholas Caldwell

Professor of Information Systems Engineering, University of Suffolk

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