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.