People can learn and practice new leadership skills just as well with a virtual person as with a real one. A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Virtual Reality came to this conclusion after comparing the effectiveness of computer-generated characters in a training scenario to that of real people playing roles in a traditional setting (Suárez et al., 2021).
Sometimes, role-playing and other practice-based training methods are used to help improve the results of training. But it can be expensive to use these methods, and sometimes you need specialized knowledge or even professional actors to make training environments that are like the real world. Some trainees can also feel scared in these role-playing situations.
Researchers from the University of Canterbury wanted to see if computer-generated role-players in virtual and mixed-reality settings could be just as effective as traditional training methods and help fix some of their problems.
VR, which stands for “virtual reality,” lets people live in a digital world. In mixed reality (MR), parts of the digital world are put on top of the real one.
For the study, the researchers made eight virtual people and real-looking VR and MR environments by using software and hardware that are already on the market. They chose 30 people and put them into three groups. Each group would be trained using a well-known model for leadership.
In one group, leadership trainees talked to two people who played the roles of their subordinates. In the second group, the trainees interacted with virtual human subordinates in a VR world, and the third group met in an MR environment where people could see virtual humans in a real office space.
Before and after they got coaching, the trainees were given a score based on how well their leadership style fit each situation. The result was that all three groups got better at what they did between the pre-training session and the post-training session, but only the MR group got better by a statistically significant amount on average.
Gonzalo Suarez, the lead author of the paper, said that the most surprising finding was that virtual human role-players were just as good as real human role-players at helping people practice their leadership skills.
Suarez said that one reason the MR setting might have led to better results is that it was a mix of reality and virtuality, which gave participants a safe place to learn with known features.
“Participants were aware of their real bodies and the features of the real room where the experiment took place,” he said. “This was true even though they were interacting with virtual humans.” “On the other hand, the VR scenario gave the participants something they had never done before.”
Suarez says that past studies of extended reality (XR) technologies, which include all environments with computer-generated graphics and wearables, have shown that they can be used to teach both technical skills and social skills. XR is helpful because it lets people practice their skills and knowledge in different situations that might be too dangerous or expensive to do in the real world.
XR technologies could also be used to deal with the current pandemic. Suarez said, “Institutions like schools and universities can benefit a lot from using these technologies.”
But there are still things that make it hard for the technology to be widely used. For example, the equipment needed to make high-quality XR experiences can be expensive, and making them could require the skills of several different types of professionals.
Suarez said he thinks those problems will be solved in the end. “Over time, more advanced and automated tools for making content will become available, and their use will only help to increase the use of XR technologies to make learning experiences that are more effective and interesting,” he said. “In fact, projects at the HIT Lab NZ are working on many of these topics right now.”