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Why Extended Reality (xR) is Poised to Disrupt Corporate Learning and Development – Part IV: xR Behavioral Skills Applications, and Recommendations

Note: If you missed Parts I, II, and III of this blog series, catch up and read

This is part of a four-blog series exploring the psychology and brain science behind the potential for extended reality tools to disrupt corporate Learning & Development.

xR and Behavioral Skills Learning: Whereas hard skills learning involves knowing what to do, behavioral skills learning involve knowing how to do it. People (aka soft) skills, such as the ability to communicate, collaborate, and lead effectively, or to show empathy and to embrace diversity, are behavioral skills. Similarly, technical skills, such as the ability to learning how to use new software, to upskill to a new software release, or to use and maintain a piece of hardware or equipment, are behavioral skills.

Behavioral skills are some of the hardest to learn because they require extensive physical practice and repetitions. In many cases, time and cost considerations restrict the amount of time available for training. For example, to learn the behaviors associated with effective people skills, one can use role play or simulation but this requires multiple players, and it is challenging to role play or simulate a broad range of gender, ethnic or corporate situations effectively and repeatedly. Similarly, to learn how to use and maintain a piece of equipment requires that the equipment is readily available and a trainer is present. Although these training approaches engage behavioral, emotional and experiential learning systems, time and cost considerations rarely allow the amount of training necessary to achieve mastery, and the number of situations trained is usually small, restricting the ability to train situational awareness.

With respect to xR training of people skills, imagine putting on a VR headset and being transported into an interview, a performance review or a large meeting with one or many avatars or people. Imagine that you are the interviewer or interviewee, manager or employee and that the other individual can be of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and can exhibit any personality or level of frustration. Imagine that they are responding (either via artificial intelligence or a live actor) to your behaviors and you to theirs and you are receiving real-time interactive reward and punishment feedback, all in a safe virtual environment that you can repeat to develop mastery. Offerings of this sort with a live actor driving the avatars exist today. AI-driven offerings also exist in limited domains (e.g., unconscious bias).

With respect to xR training of technical skills, consider the manufacturing sector and the need to train technicians to fix expensive pieces of equipment. One can hold classroom training sessions and hands-on equipment training at a few central locations around the country with technicians flying in and missing work to attend training, or a group of technicians can don virtual reality headsets and can be trained virtually from the comfort of their home or office. They can also be trained on a broad range of situations with and without time pressure and can be allowed to repeat the training at their leisure.

In both of these examples, the use of xR engages the experiential learning system. The interactive real-time feedback on the learner’s behavior engages behavioral skills learning. Finally, time pressure incorporated in technical skills, and social pressure, as well as the social nature of the people skills setting engages the emotional skills learning system in the brain, all in synchrony. The xR training approach will lead to faster, stronger behavioral representations that will be retained longer. Each of these experiences can be repeated to ensure proficiency and to facilitate the development of expertise and situational awareness in a broad range of settings.

It is worth emphasizing that all of this training occurs in a completely safe environment. Whether the skill to be trained involves real-world danger, is rare or expensive to train, such as a nuclear or chemical disaster, a factory fire, how to deal with an unruly customer, or deliver a baby in the back of a cab, the training is safe and one can practice any scenario as long, and as many times as they need to become proficient.

Big Data: The Hidden Bonus of xR Training

The focus of this report has been on the psychological and brain-based advantages of xR in corporate hard and behavioral skills training. There is another advantage of xR technologies that is equally important and that is the promise of actionable data. With these technologies one can quickly obtain subjective ratings of confidence, satisfaction and engagement. One can develop objective tests to determine whether learning has actually occurred and to challenge the learner. These can be combined with eye gaze and heat map patterns that provide a direct window onto attentional processes and engagement. These data can be used to speed iteration toward optimal training solutions and to help quantify the ROI associated with effective corporate training.


Chief Learning Officers, L&D Directors and Managers, and Corporate Trainers should explore xR Learning & Development offerings. The learning science suggests that xR technologies have the potential to improve the quality and quantity of training by broadly engaging multiple learning systems in the brain in synchrony, especially experiential learning systems.

xR trains hard skills by simultaneously engaging the cognitive, emotional and experiential learning systems in the brain. This leads to faster, stronger brain-based representations of the hard skill that will be retained longer. xR training experiences can be repeated to ensure proficiency and to facilitate the development of expertise and situational awareness in a broad range of settings.

A similar situation holds for behavioral skills training such as people and technical skills. xR behavioral skills training simultaneously engaging the behavioral, emotional and experiential learning systems in the brain, and speeds the development of expertise and muscle memory. When real-world simulation training is difficult, and situations to be trained are rare and dangerous, xR technologies can provide the perfect solution by offering realistic virtual training in a safe environment.

Corporate learning professionals should also leverage the actionable data that derives from xR technologies that include subjective and objective metrics of satisfaction and performance as well as the attention and engagement metrics derived from eye movement and heat map data.

If you would like the consolidated and comprehensive report on extended reality for corporate learning, the report that these blogs are based on is scheduled to publish on April 3rd and the Analyst Insight will be available via the following link, Leveraging Learning Science: Why Extended Reality (xR) is Poised to Disrupt Corporate Learning and Development.

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