Learning effects in online communication training

If we describe the development of professional communication skills as a learning curve, we can see which interventions are effective during the learning process and when they are. Online simulations of DialogueTrainer can be applied at various moments during this process; not only as a simulation environment, but also by presenting background information, videos, weblinks etc. Below we will describe four phases in which our online simulations can strengthen the learning process.

Phase 1: Awareness

Online conversation simulation can make the player aware of not having all the knowledge and skills that are necessary to make the conversation run smoothly. By becoming familiar with this situation, the dilemmas that occur and the effects of the various options, professionals acquire an image of what is required to bring about a successful conversation.
Though at first the professional might have a kind of naive self-confidence, he now might come to realize that improvement is possible and that learning objectives can be formulated to help develop realistic self-confidence.

Phase 2: Test present skills and feedback

The online simulations allow for the effect of choices to be felt in practice: e.g. a virtual actor might get angry or frustrated after the wrong response. This experience may lead to the formulation of concrete and specific learning objectives. During the game the professional scores on the skills which are related to the behaviour and the intentions that apply to that specific situation. Scores are a challenge and are therefore an element of the game. During this phase we give additional instruction through video, text or other sources of information, whenever this seems relevant.

Phase 3: practising

During this phase playing different online simulations stimulates and deepens the player’s knowledge, skills and self-confidence. The professional grows into her or his role and gives further shape to it. Additional information, links, videos etc. to support this role can be supplied in the learning environment to further extend the player’s knowledge.

Phase 4: Command and final test

In a final online simulation the professional can demonstrate the newly developed skills. This may result in a final score with which he qualifies as a professional with good conversation skills. Scores can also be used to make a professional’s profile, to formulate new learning objectives or for the sake of management information on follow-up training.

Learning effects DialogueTrainer

The communication training platform of DialogueTrainer is currently being used in various professional training programmes. The user experience in business, at Samsung and at the Dutch Ministry of Justice is positive. The results of a scientific study of the platform’s effect on knowledge development and motivation are currently being analysed by Utrecht University.

Other studies provide a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of the use of virtual characters in training programmes in healthcare and among professionals.

Researchers find positive effects compared to non-intervention on a large range of subjects and students (1). In another study participants mention increased communication skills, as well as knowledge and self-confidence. This is not true for empathy.

The training platform has been developed in collaboration with prof.J.C.Jeuring of Utrecht University, who has published on the project.


  1. Computerized virtual patients in health professions education: a systematic review and meta­-analysis.A. Cook, P.J. Erwin, M.M. Triola, Academic Medicine, 2010, 85(10), 1589–1602.
  2. Student self­reported communication skills, knowledge and confidence across standardised patient, virtual and traditional clinical learning environments. Quail, S.B. Brundage, J. Spitalnick, P. J. Allen and J. Beilby BMC Medical Education (2016) 16:73
  3. Demo: Communicate! — a serious game for communication skills. Johan Jeuring, Frans Grosfeld, Bastiaan Heeren, Michiel Hulsbergen, Richta IJntema, Vincent Jonker, Nicole Mastenbroek, Maarten van der Smagt, Frank Wijmans, Majanne Wolters and Henk van Zeijts. Proceedings EC­TEL 2015: 10th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, 2015.
blended communicatietraining

The power of a blended approach in communication training

Communication training is gaining interest, and rightly so. More than ever, soft skills are high on the agenda at many organizations. Communication, and in particular conversations, is perhaps the most important soft skill to improve services and increase job satisfaction. Yet we see that education and training are still traditionally approached, often in a classroom setting with trainer and actor. The question is whether this is sufficient. And is it still of this time?

At DialogueTrainer we believe in a blended approach to communication training. One in which you combine traditional, often classroom training, with individual online training. New technology makes it possible to train conversations and conversation situations with virtual training actors. This gives you insight into the conversation method, the course of a conversation and you learn more about the effect of your choices. Combining these insights with traditional training creates a communication training that is very powerful and responds better to individual learning objectives.

Why a blended training?

Blended training is a combination between online and offline learning. A combination that – in the right composition – forms a logical learning approach around a skill to be trained. In the blended communication training, the participants play an online conversation simulation prior to the classroom training. An important condition is that the online simulation matches the situation and the context in which the participant works.

By working on the simulation, the participants develop insight into the conversation approach before the classroom training. What does the conversation look like, what phases are there and how do you go through them to achieve the intended result? Immediately after playing, the participant receives extensive feedback on the choices he or she has made, which are linked to individual scores. This makes the personal learning goals clear and negotiable.

In an online conversation simulation you get individual feedback on your choices.

Effective classroom training through online training in advance

Thus, each participant has his or her learning goals in mind when they start with the classroom training. This gives direction and at the same time deepens the offline training. The scores from the online platform can also be made transparent to the trainer and / or training actor, which means that this extra focus can also be placed on the personal learning objectives. This creates a training that is more relevant and effective, because it directly responds to a clear individual learning question. A blended communication training therefore really means getting started with your personal learning goals.

You learn from each other in class

In the classroom training, participants come together in a training led by a trainer and / or actor. Before practicing with the individual learning objectives and questions, the online simulation can first be played together. This creates the same picture of the situation within the group. This makes it possible to have an effective discussion about the steps in the conversation and the considerations you make. You learn from each other through this discussion.

Playing an online simulation in advance has advantages for the classroom training.

Get more out of role plays

Playing an online simulation in advance has another advantage for the classroom training. As a participant, you already have insight into the conversation approach. You know what the conversation looks like, what phases there are and how you can go through them to achieve the intended result. This prior knowledge makes the classroom training more effective because it can focus on personal learning goals, and because the classroom role plays are therefore less tensive. And thus evoke less resistance. Because although role play is a good method to train conversation methods, they do evoke stress in people: some of their attention is lost on participants’ ‘survival’ for the group. And stress comes at the expense of overview, while getting an overview in the conversation is important. Foreknowledge from the online simulation gives the participants more confidence to enter the classroom role-playing games, and to learn even more effectively.

Permanent follow-up and targeted follow-up coaching

In the blended communication training of DialogueTrainer, participants are given the opportunity to play an online simulation again after the classroom training. From a different case or context, which makes it challenging again. Using the scores and personal feedback, the participant can determine his or her progress. In addition, these scores can also be shared with supervisors to enable them to coach on-the-job by discussing individual learning questions of employees. As a manager, this gives you a grip on the performance and learning objectives of employees. And targeted follow-up training becomes possible.

Want to know more?

Geïnteresseerd in het versterken van jouw huidige cInterested in strengthening your current communication training? Please contact us and we are happy to think along with you!

Why online training with virtual training actors has future

Technology is all around us, giving us opportunities to develop new ways of learning. Such as using virtual avatars for communication training. A very interesting application of technology, but also one that raises questions. Because does it work when you see it is fake? In this blog we answer these and other frequently asked questions about our approach and solutions. And we take you through the benefits of using virtual training actors.

What do most communication training courses look like nowadays?

Common methods are – in addition to discussing theoretical models – the deployment of training actors and role-playing. The participants practice conversation situations, in which the training actor (or another participant) assumes the role of client for example. After the conversation, the actor gives feedback to the participant: How did it go? What went well and what could be better?

Why would you want to change that?

Existing communication training courses provide professionals with insight into the conversation and the conversation techniques. You will find out how your approach is experienced by your conversation partner and whether it is effective. Which is of course very valuable and useful.

But many people experience role playing as very stressful. Part of their attention is lost on ‘survival’ for the group, which means stress. And stress comes at the expense of overview, while getting an overview in the conversation is important. Moreover, it is difficult to do a role play if you do not yet know how such a conversation works. And not everyone can practise: certainly not with a training with a larger group.

What is the advantage of training online with a virtual training actor?

In our online conversation simulations with virtual training actors you practise in a safe environment, and you can experiment with a new approach without snoopers. This also gives you a better overview of the conversation and you can see the right approach. By seeing the effect of choices, you develop insight into the dynamics of the conversation and what you can achieve if you do it right.

In an online conversation simulation you get individual feedback on your choices.

The conversation simulations are in line with practical challenges. A proven effective approach (best practice) including substantiation (the conversation model) is central to this. In addition, we offer answer options that match common learning goals, which encourages you to think about dilemmas and choices. And every time you make a choice; you get a response from your virtual opponent. This gives you insight into what works and what doesn’t. During and after the online simulation you will also receive individual scores and feedback, based on learning objectives per conversation phase. This gives you insight into the conversation methodology and your performance. In addition, scores and feedback lead to further practice. the overwhelming feeling is you can do it! You can practise the same conversation, or from another case, as often as you like.

Why do you use avatars ? And not filmed “real” people?

This is a question we often get. This is a conscious choice. A real person is more realistic, but that also makes you see everything. You can notice every detail, including the actor’s strange jacket. This can get you distracted. By using virtual avatars, we leave out the unnecessary details. This way you stay focused on the conversation, resulting in a goal-oriented learning experience.

In addition, the use of virtual avatars gives more flexibility. If you’ve ever made a video yourself, you know how much work it is. And what do you do if you want to adjust a scene afterwards? This is no problem with a virtual avatar: he or she is always available. This allows us to respond quickly to customer questions and further develop simulations based on customer experiences.

Does it feel realistic to talk to such an avatar?

The virtual avatar must of course appear credible. That is why we have developed them in such a way that they can display all kinds of different emotions. By slightly enlarging these emotions, it is extra clear to you as a player which emotions play a role in the conversation. You also empathize with your conversation partner, as you would in a real conversation. Do you know that experience of feeling sympathy with avatars in a Pixar or Disney movie? You often empathize just as hard, or sometimes even more than with filmed actors in live action. While you know it’s not real.

It was surprising to see how quickly participants “forgot” that they were in a simulation and were really “touched” (frustrated or happy or proud, for example) by what happened in the conversation simulation.

Angelique van der Leek, Manager Training & Development by Eurocross

Finally: are training actors no longer needed at all?

In our view, a virtual training actor is certainly not a substitute for a “real” training actor: the combination is what makes them more powerful! Because participants practise conversation simulations prior to a training, they gain more insight into the situation, approach and their learning objectives. In training with a real training actor, you can therefore go much more deeply and really take a next step. The training actor can respond directly to the learning goals of the participants, because he or she can see them in advance in the results of the simulations. And once the “real” training actors have gone home, participants can continue practising online. A good example of an effective blended approach.

Experience it yourself

Would you like to experience what it is like to have a conversation with a virtual training actor? Then try one of the free simulations.

CES 2020

We were at the largest tech fair in the world!

At the beginning of January 2020 the time had come! We were at CES 2020: the stage for global tech innovations. Together with 49 other Dutch start-ups, and accompanied by secretary of state Mona Keijzer and Prince Constantijn, we traveled to Las Vegas. There we introduced visitors to a completely new approach in the field of communication training and of course our virtual training actors.

The largest tech fair in the world

CES is the largest trade fair in the world when it comes to technological ideas and developments. No less than 200,000 visitors come here every year. TechLeap NL has selected us to show our innovation in the field of learning and development to this wide audience, within the pillar “Future of Education”. Our innovative conversation simulations allow users to practice tricky conversation situations online with virtual training actors. Situations that are recognizable and realistic. Where scores and feedback give you insight into your performance and motivate you to practice further.

Part of the Dutch delegation

In total, fifty Dutch start-ups traveled to Las Vegas in January. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and RVO organize the mission; State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Mona Keijzer and Prince Constantijn supervised the mission from the Netherlands.

DialogueTrainer worldwide

At CES, visitors experienced how online conversation simulations can be used to train conversations anytime, anywhere. Our virtual training actors are multilingual, so they can also be used outside the Netherlands. Currently, professionals from countries such as Belgium, England and America already train difficult conversations on our platform. The visit to CES Las Vegas was an important start to expand this.

We look forward to presenting our product and sharing it with the visitors on CES 2021!