Using Virtual Reality to “Teach” Empathy, Retain Learning Experiences

28 Jul

A new Stanford Study shows that virtual reality can make people more empathetic. Learners who underwent a short virtual reality (VR) experience, “Becoming Homeless,” became more empathetic toward the homeless to the point of taking action on their behalf. VR proved more effective in changing pro-social behaviors than reading or simple two-dimensional desktop scenarios.

Other Studies Agree

A recent PwC study on VR designed for soft-skills training showed similar findings. V-learners felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners. They were also 2.3 times more connected than e-learners. Three-quarters of learners surveyed said that during the VR course on diversity and inclusion, they realized that they were not as inclusive as they thought. Additionally, VR learners are more confident in applying what they’re taught, as training delivered via virtual reality produced “40% greater improvement in confidence than classroom learners and 35% improvement over e-learners to act on what they learned after training in VR.

Emotional Involvement is Key

At Enspire, we often employ similar techniques to immerse learners in training to reach them on a personal and emotional level. We have found that involvement, often in the form of interactive storytelling, role playing, and personal involvement in character situations, makes learning memorable, relatable, and even emotional.

We’ve used stories and simulated experiences to help train CASA volunteers for the emotional work of advocating for children who find themselves in the child-welfare system.  We’ve used this technique to help employees of several international companies relate to, and properly react to, safety and security issues at work, while traveling, and at home.

We’re now taking our storytelling and immersion experience into the virtual reality realm to tackle diversity and inclusion issues in corporations. One project we’re currently designing will employ VR to bring about global change within one organization on topics such as:

  • Unconscious bias
  • Micro-aggression and harassment
  • Privilege
  • Insider/Outsider dynamics
  • Gender role conditioning
  • Anti-racism and racial bias
  • Physical ability bias

VR’s Place in Learning

Our experience, and the opinion of our VR partners, tells us that VR has an important place in learning experiences. However, we are very aware that not everyone reacts well to these experiences, and VR attention spans are often limited. It is best to use this growing technology for carefully selected training elements, to maximize its effect, and maintain face-to-face, team, and instructor/learning engagement in other activities.

This opinion is confirmed by the experiences of other organizations tackling bias. For example, Shannon Schuyler, co-lead of CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion recently said “there’s something about having the ability to experience [learning] in different ways. A lot of companies… have multiple-hour unconscious bias training, whether online or in-person, and you’re doing it alongside other people, so it’s hard to really focus on yourself.” Through VR and gamification, learners aren’t spoken to, they are experiencing it firsthand and practicing healthy skills.  

More on Schulyer and the “Check Your Blind Spots” traveling bus (a fascinating read) here: 

More on the Stanford VR Study here:

Dwight Johnson

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