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.