Soft Skills

4 ways companies are teaching soft skills in the workplace with VR

Enterprise leaders today are faced with a unique and growing challenge around teaching and building soft skills in their organizations. 

Around the globe, corporate learning experts are pushing the need for soft skills training. Josh Bersin in a recent article casts doubt on “reskilling” the workforce if there isn’t a strategic and targeted approach to build the right skills. He presents the case for changing the paradigm around soft skills – calling them “power skills” instead – and urging companies to find innovative ways to build them in their teams.1

Bottom line is simple. We need to take these ‘power skills’ seriously, and build experiential programs that start at the top.”

-Josh Bersin, global L&D analyst

Amid the clamor, Virtual Reality (VR) has emerged as a powerful tool for many L&D leaders to train their workforce in soft skills. This innovative and engaging VR approach is known as Immersive Learning. Unlike traditional forms of soft skills training like watching videos, reviewing case studies, or even role-playing, Immersive Learning combines VR with expert instructional design and data science, so learners are highly engaged and retain more.

Why Immersive Learning to teach soft skills in the workplace

Scientific research has proven that VR is a better medium for learning and practicing a variety of soft skills.

In VR, learners are completely immersed in a realistic virtual environment meant to replicate their work environment, so that they experience a phenomenon called “presence.” This means their brain is treating the VR experience the same way it would treat real life, which makes their soft skills training more authentic and memorable.

In addition, learners get this experiential training on-demand, which leads to better long-term retention. They can practice soft skills in a realistic environment as many times as needed to feel more confident and capable on the job. With presence and on-demand reps, learners are strengthening the brain connections needed to drive real-world behavior.

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Learn more about the science behind Immersive Learning from Jeremy Bailenson, world-renowned VR expert.

Once learners have gone through soft skills training in VR, L&D leaders can then review detailed data about their performance. They gain access to both traditional data like soft skills proficiency, and deeper insights like attention and engagement.

With complete immersion, on-demand practice, better long-term retention, and actionable insights, Immersive Learning provides the most effective and engaging soft skills training possible.

4 soft skills that VR helps employees learn

Some of today’s leading companies, like Walmart and Fidelity, have had remarkable success teaching soft skills in the workplace using Immersive Learning. Here are the four types of soft skills they are developing.

Case study on empathy


Navigating difficult conversations

Every day, people are required to have conversations at work that often are uncomfortable or emotional. Examples include: 

  • Managers communicating changes with negative impact
  • Employees raising concerns with their manager 
  • Settling disputes between colleagues
  • Handling an angry customer

Store managers for several retailers use VR to practice having conversations with team members on a variety of difficult topics, including tardiness, incorrect customer service practices, and shift changes. Immersive Learning offers repetitions in a safe environment for learners to make mistakes and try again.

In the headset, learners experience a computer-generated simulation that closely mimics the office most store managers have.

Front-line associates also go through soft skills training in VR to experience challenging situations with customers. These modules often recreate actual interactions that have happened, so that associates get to practice handling them even before they’re ever on the job.


Giving feedback

Feedback is critical to effective coaching, healthy teams, and strong company culture. But do your employees and managers know the proper techniques for giving feedback? Whether you have an organizational methodology or use industry best practices, VR training is designed to simulate feedback conversations designed for learning, practice, and evaluation. 

Academic research shows that even when people know a character isn’t real, they can still listen to, respond, and build rapport with that character in a way similar to a real human.2

DDI, in partnership with Strivr, offers Immersive Learning as part of its leadership training. In one module, learners sit across from a direct-report who is struggling to work effectively with a colleague. They are guided through the feedback session in VR, which is recording their speech, as well as head and hand movements. Then, learners have an opportunity to watch and listen to themselves for self-evaluation, an important tactic for long-term retention of the material.


Learning and practicing empathy

In VR, people are able to get out of their own bodies and walk in the shoes of another. This is known as “embodiment,” and is central to why teaching empathy in VR is so powerful. Learners get to experience the world in a new way – perhaps from the perspective of a frustrated customer or an employee who’s feeling down.

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Jeremy Bailenson, VR expert, shares research on teaching empathy in VR.

A powerful example comes from a utilities call center: in the headset, associates are transported from the call center, where they receive a call, to inside the home of the caller. Learners experience the sights and sounds of being the caretaker for an elderly father with emphysema, or the challenge of resetting breakers in 100-degree heat while on the phone with the company.  

These associates are able to experience the lives of their customers in VR, rather than simply read or watch videos about it, which helps them relate more sincerely and offer better assistance.


Diversity and inclusion (D&I)

Diversity and inclusion training is a major priority for most enterprise organizations today. Teaching inclusive behaviors and preparing teams and managers for tough conversations in the workplace is at the heart of creating diverse and inclusive companies.

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Here’s an example of Walmart’s module for diversity and inclusion. Click and drag with your mouse to look around the full environment.

For the most effective learning to take place, modules for D&I first immerse learners in a realistic scenario simply to observe a colleague exhibiting non-inclusive behavior. Then, they participate in an interactive, face-to-face conversation with that colleague to discuss why non-inclusive behavior is out of line with the company’s core values. The learner discovers how to stand up to and counter biases in a constructive way. 

Building soft skills with Immersive Learning

While there are dozens of soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace, not all of them are meant to be taught in VR. It is not a “magic bullet.” But for difficult conversations, feedback, empathy, and diversity & inclusion, enterprise L&D leaders are finding that Immersive Learning outperforms just about anything else out there.

Next steps: Watch our webinar with VR expert Jeremy Bailenson on why VR for training



2 Gratch J. et al. (2006) Virtual Rapport. In: Gratch J., Young M., Aylett R., Ballin D., Olivier P. (eds) Intelligent Virtual Agents. IVA 2006. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 4133. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

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