What is a soft skill?
According to Dictionary.com, soft skills are desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge. This includes common sense, the ability to deal with people, a positive, flexible attitude and more. In simpler terms, soft skills, often called people skills or interpersonal skills, are intangible qualities responsible for one’s personal growth in a career.
That said, if you google the words soft skill, you will find yourself in the 1960s, when the US Army found that although their soldiers knew how to fly a jet, few knew how to lead a team and communicate with fellow soldiers. Jump back to 2021; many educators and leaders around the globe still find their students/employees lacking effective social interaction, collaboration and networking skills. All together there are more than 30 soft skills; some of the common ones are empathy, motivation, communication, leadership, time-management, and teamwork so there can be quite a bit to learn.
So, now that we know what soft skills are, let’s deep dive into the need for soft skills training and why VR soft skills training in colleges should become a norm.
Why do we need to have soft skills training in college?
Imagine you visit your favourite restaurant wherein the host greets and guides you to your seat. Once seated, you are greeted by a server who presents the menu and provides detailed information about the food whenever asked as well as cracking a few good jokes. He takes your order and submits it to the kitchen staff. The cook prepares your food and hands it over to the same employee who took your order. He places it on the table, which he had arranged before you were seated. As you are about to exit, the employee asks you about your overall experience, and listens carefully to your feedback.
What just happened here? You might think how excellent the food was, but other factors resulted in your positive experience too. For example, one of the employees greeted you once you stepped inside the restaurant, highlighting employees’ etiquette & presentation. Secondly, you were shown a list of cuisines in a delightful manner, based on which the kitchen staff prepared your food. This scenario highlights employees’ communication skills with the guests and the kitchen staff and the teamwork among themselves. Thirdly, while you gave feedback, the empathetic staff member listened to you carefully, acknowledging your suggestions/advice.
Now, imagine what your experience would have been like if all those qualities were missing. For example, you go to the same restaurant but end up having to seat yourself after a long wait. You ordered a red sauce pasta, but you received white sauce pasta. You call the server who doesn’t apologize for the mistake, instead telling you that you might have ordered the white sauce pasta in the first place. The server angrily takes away the food without explaining the situation, and the time it would take for your red sauce pasta to arrive. In the end the food could be exactly the same but the experience is completely different.
This is just one example of why colleges and universities across the globe should look to implement soft skills training programs. Not just because it’s the skills students need to succeed but because it makes their students stand out to employers and reach new heights in their chosen field, in turn helping your institutions reputation. This is not only beneficial to an institution’s reputation but what is the end goal of an educator if not to go beyond imparting knowledge and instead prepare students for real-life scenarios. Soft skills play a huge role here so that students are prepared for empathetic conversations, tight deadlines, team management, independent work and understandable communication.
How is Virtual Reality a game-changer in training students' soft skills?
There are many reasons to implement Virtual Reality soft skills training at your college. We’re going to focus on three, replication of real-world scenarios, student focus and data driven feedback.
Replication of real-world scenarios
With the assistance of VR eXperts, educators can replicate an almost unlimited number of real-life scenarios in virtual worlds. Soft skills like communication, teamwork and time management can be simulated using an instructor controlled or AI controlled, digital avatar inside a workplace or any 3D environment, which can evoke behavioural responses within the students using VR. For example, a business student could practice difficult manager conversations, boosting their EQ before actually needing to manage anyone. As another example, a soon to be nurse could practice their communication skills with virtual patients to understand what questions people respond best to and ultimately ensure they can do their job better.
PwC’s latest VR study found students’ focus was 4x higher in a VR learning environment when compared to a traditional learning environment. Since students are learning in a VR headset, there are no distractions from the outside world, meaning their entire focus is on the content. Beyond blocking out distractions, VR engages learners as it is experiential in nature which helps them recall information for a longer time, resulting in heightened motivation and confidence among learners. On this note, the same PwC study found that students retained knowledge learned in VR for up to a year whereas most students learning in a traditional classroom struggled to maintain the same amount of knowledge for just 2 weeks.
VR combined with biofeedback devices such as VR suits and eye-tracking can help track learners’ heartbeat, gaze, confidence level, emotions in the form of visual and auditory signals. Allowing educators to track students’ progress and give them personal feedback. This can help boost students motivation as they understand where they are succeeding and where they need to improve. For teachers, it helps increase confidence in what they’re teaching and acts as a way to check where they may need to make improvements.
Building Students’ Cohorts
Based on students’ performances, educators can build cohorts, where students can learn from each other, support and challenge one another, and work together all the way long from the beginning till the end of a semester.
Make Informed Decisions through Predictive Analysis
In this process, students’ experiences in VR can be segregated into different predictive models, which can help educators assess students’ learnings. For example, it can allow teachers to determine if the student needs more training on a particular task or has gained the necessary knowledge to perform the task.