Soft Skills, Virtual Reality, and Conversational AI.

How are VR and AI poised to transform soft skills training in the modern workplace?

Soft Skills training is challenging to administer and effectively develop. By nature, soft skills concepts have nuance, ambiguity, and emotion. These scenarios and the emotional expressions they mimic are complex and challenging to recreate realistically.

Learning and development have developed soft skills training through different mediums to varying levels of success. Limitations in delivery methods reduce effectiveness and realism. Learning soft skills through a multiple-choice menu is not the same as an actual interaction with a human person. Interactions during soft skills training are notably more difficult to measure than hard skills. They require repetition, role-playing, and reflection, and involve personalities, habits, and modeling behaviors off of others. Traditional learning and development approaches struggle to address these challenges.

Looking outside of traditional development and working with virtual reality is a more effective way to simulate and overcome those challenges. A fully simulated space can be created within virtual reality to reflect a more realistic environment for soft skill development. Avatars can be made and customized to interact with the user. Simulated conversations can take place in unique locations. However, there are still inherent limitations to the interactions. Users are required to use controllers to lead the narrative and interact with the varying user interfaces. Even in a fully immersed environment, immersive breaking actions are necessary. In the film industry, this is known as the suspension of disbelief. Becoming so engrossed within the story, you start to believe that it is happening. That is until something so out of character or jarring brings us back to the real world. The same applies to our immersive experience. Users need to be engaged and invested with as few events or actions that pull them out of the story and detract from the experience. The first step to improving soft skill training is moving it into virtual reality. The next step is to capture and keep the suspension of disbelief. This comes with the integration of conversational AI.

Conversational AI is a set of technologies that allow an AI or machine to listen, understand, and coherently respond to a user’s voice input. Conversational AI has two elements –  intents and entities. Intents are the actions or purpose behind a spoken phrase or word. Entities are the objects mentioned in the phrase or spoken word relevant to the intent of that word. For example, “How do I get to the main office?”. The intent in this phrase would be to “find.” The entity would be the office. Intents and entities allow the AI to recognize, understand, and choose a proper response based solely on that phrase. No clumsy interface. No break in the simulation. The conversational AI stays on topic allowing for a truly immersive experience. Motives Storyflow authoring tool allows conversational AI implementation.

When developing for a conversational AI experience, a scenario should act in a call and response format. Imagine the typical phrases, words, and interactions a user might use in the developed design. These can include standard vocabulary terms for an industry, recognized phrases, and lingo spoken at events or meetings. This experience allows for the practice of industry-specific tasks or processes. How many different responses could there be? Think about all of the potential ways a user could engage. They could be positive, negative, apathetic, indifferent; the list of possible response types can be lengthy. They can be recorded and input into Storyflow, allowing the user to dictate the scenario direction. No selections. No next buttons. No multiple choice. Just an immersive experience.

IBM’s Watson powers conversational AI in Storyflow. While the user is practicing soft skills, the Watson assistant monitors the intents and creates AI-enhanced interactions. The developer is responsible for creating as many potential responses as possible and then loading them into Storyflow. Once there they are available and ready to be called upon depending on the user’s query. From there, the conversational AI listens for the intents and entities to choose the appropriate response to a user’s conversational queries.

Conversational AI has a very beneficial place in VR as outlined in this blog, but it’s never to soon think about its future potential in the overall AR/VR landscape. Avatars will be able to learn and respond outside of the pre-populated options, allowing for an even more immersive and unique training experience. In AR, conversational AI could act as a virtual assistant on any number of journeys. Assisting with directions, it could predict and suggest your road type and scenic route tendencies. While shopping, it could indicate a more specific color and style choice based on your previous purchases. As our knowledge and technology grow, so do the possibilities for the application of AI in immersive learning solutions.

Training soft skills within virtual reality allow users to learn faster, develop a deeper emotional connection to the content, and practice soft skills in a realistic situation (PWC, 2020). Once conversational AI is incorporated, these interactions become seamless, immersive, and useful for training and development, ensuring that soft skills training will never be the same. 

Destery Hildenbrand

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