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It's 'Game On' for Training in Virtual Worlds

June 7, 2010
Related Topics: Training Technology, Future Workplace, Featured Article, Training & Development

A new book depicts growing corporate support for using virtual worlds, particularly Second Life, to deliver certain types of employee training.

In Training and Collaboration With Virtual Worlds, authors Alex Heiphetz and Gary Woodill trace how computer-simulated 3-D games have evolved to embrace specific business functions, including immersive learning, recruitment, orientation and employee collaboration.

Tire maker Michelin Group, along with IBM Corp., advertising firm TMP Worldwide and microchip maker Intel Corp. are among well-known companies whose Second Life learning projects are featured in the book, which is published by McGraw-Hill’s professional division.

Heiphetz and Woodill contend that virtual worlds, once viewed merely as a curiosity, are gaining adherents among businesses. They say the interactive format is especially helpful for teaching complex concepts and procedural or technical training, such as surgery, operating sophisticated equipment and safety-related training.

“There are a whole bunch of areas in which using virtual worlds has showed excellent results and higher return on investment than could be achieved with other approaches,” Heiphetz says.

Woodill says virtual worlds, like any new technology, have undergone a “hype cycle” that caused some companies to have unrealistic expectations. Some abandoned Second Life altogether, but those that stuck with it realized the need for more targeted uses.

“People often tend to use it to do the exact same thing they do in real life, and of course that usually doesn’t work. What they should be looking at are its unique uses,” Woodill says.

The book discusses the seminal work of Linden Labs, the San Francisco-based company that created Second Life in 2003. Other virtual-world software platforms that are featured include Fonterra Systems’ Olive, the Open Simulator project, Teleplace and Proton Media Photosphere.

Included are chapters on selection criteria, technological requirements and identifying practical uses for virtual training.

Excerpts highlight some notable projects, including Intel’s drive to connect more than 600 software developers. Heiphetz and Woodill say that compared with webinars and even live meetings, Second Life events led to far more meaningful and deep conversations.

“Audiences would get deeply involved and start side conversations using instant messaging, texting and voice.” That resulted in “highly productive conversations” that otherwise would have been “almost impossible to have during a webinar or even a live meeting.”

Another example: Michelin spent about $100,000 on a virtual training environment for 200 employees in charge of developing Michelin’s global information systems. Using Second Life provided “a clear reduction in training time, as well as significant improvement in quality, learning results, user acceptance and user satisfaction.”

Using avatars enables virtual participants to assume different personas, thus giving them courage to take risks they otherwise would avoid. Since each gesture or action is recorded during virtual sessions, Woodill and Heiphetz contend it helps companies better identify people with leadership qualities and other hard-to-measure skills.

Rounding out the 249-page book is a discussion of evolving potential uses for virtual worlds, including the need for companies to integrate the technology with e-learning and other training.

Workforce Management, May 2010, p. 4 -- Subscribe Now!

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