The time for virtual reality (VR) in leadership development has arrived.
VR simulations are becoming more immersive. Equipment and development costs are falling. Leaders are busier than ever. And the pandemic has scattered workforces and required social distancing.
A Giant Step for Leadership Development
VR represents such a giant step in leadership development that it’s worth reviewing the past. Ten years ago, most leadership training happened in face-to-face classrooms. Over the last few years, much of it has evolved into online training modules and stretched learning journeys. While these modalities are more accessible to the learner in a moment of need, these online modalities came with the difficult challenge: how do you allow people to practice new skills and reinforce new concepts in an e-learning design?
VR for leadership development addresses these challenges by integrating learning into the flow of work. New concepts and skills are immediately reinforced. This turns theory into behaviour.
That’s just the beginning. We are truly at a watershed moment.
Learning Becomes Behaviour
What makes VR so powerful is that it is experiential. It sticks with the learner as a lived memory. In scientific terms, experiential learning creates episodic memory. For the purposes of learning, episodic memory results in unmatched retention and behavioural change. That makes VR one of the most powerful ways to turn learning into behaviour.
Another powerful benefit of VR is that behaviours in real and virtual worlds are easily transferred. L&D professionals can create experiences that intentionally cultivate specific behaviours in learners. And what learners practice in simulation is likely to be demonstrated in the workplace. In fact, VR is so powerful that skill transfer can happen spontaneously and unconsciously.
Safe Practice Builds Skills
VR lets leaders practice new skills without worrying about real-world consequences. While this “safe sandbox” benefit applies to any type of online training, the stakes within leadership development are often much higher, as they can have ramifications across an organisation. VR defuses much of the performance anxiety a learner might have.
VR is also less likely to produce anxiety in learners. People aren’t as worried about making a mistake or saying something stupid. When the brain is less preoccupied with stress, it can learn more easily.
VR Gives Objective Feedback
It’s common for trainers in face-to-face workshops to facilitate 20 to 30 people, with ten or more table teams or breakout groups to coordinate. Even the best facilitators will struggle to keep track of how all the learners are faring and to give each learner thoughtful and objective feedback. Additionally, learners can be biased and ill-informed when they evaluate themselves and their colleagues.
VR removes any subjectivity and inexperience from learner evaluations. Every learner choice is scored, every individual receives a thorough diagnosis, and every leader receives impartial feedback.
It also ensures consistency of experience. When you’re partnered with another learner, your experience is largely dependent on the aptitude of your partner. With VR, you’re always working with the perfect partner.
VR is accessible when you need it. It offers a risk-free proving ground. It enables real learning and behaviour transfer. And it provides personalised, accurate feedback every time. Put leaders in a well-designed simulation and they can quickly master skills that may have eluded them for some time.
VR has changed the way pilots and surgeons train. Leadership is next in line.
About the authors:
Jay Campbell is Senior Vice President of Products and Content for The Ken Blanchard Companies, responsible for the development and management of the company’s product offerings.