A picturesque mountain view streams through grandiose floor-length windows. A fish tank quietly bubbles in the corner of the room. Two armchairs rest side by side, the perfect place for a formal one-on-one conversation or a casual chat with a co-worker — using avatars. This scene is just one of many backdrops available within virtual reality (VR) rooms.

VR eLearning platforms are increasingly leveraging interactive avatars to immerse and engage learners. Danny Stefanic, chief executive officer of LearnBrite, says avatars are “changing the dynamic of training” with a shift toward user-centric learning. Let’s consider how avatars can take eLearning — and business outcomes — to the next level.

What Are Avatars?

In the context of corporate training, avatars are animated characters that can help personalize eLearning courses. Often, they act as “real-life human coaches,” offering learners on-demand support in their roles, says Norrie Daroga, founder of Nfinity Avatars, a full-service e-commerce concierge and coaching avatars provider.

Learners can customize their avatar’s appearance and even language settings to create a unique persona that they can use to interact with their peers, trainers and coaches.

How Can They Improve eLearning?

From selecting a hairstyle to exploring the VR room, the use of avatars undoubtedly brings a dose of fun into training. But it also offers three strategic benefits, including:

Increased Engagement

Avatars can help bring eLearning to life through the power of storytelling, enabling learners to interact with life-like characters in a simulated environment, Stefanic says. These personalized interactions can engage learners by “appealing to their emotions,” says Moti Shatner, co-founder of Trenario, a virtual avatars and simulations provider. A Designing Digitally article explains that using avatars in eLearning is a “storytelling approach” that “can create a narrative that gets the learners invested in the problems at hand and the solutions to resolve them.”

To transform an eLearning course into an immersive storytelling experience, Stefanic urges trainers to “explore the path not taken.” In other words, show learners how their decisions may impact the business rather than listing potential risks. For example, a cybersecurity training course could use avatars to simulate how poor data protection can create business risk (i.e., cyber attacks).

By simulating the various scenarios learners may face on the job, avatars can create more engaging and impactful learning experiences.

Human Connection

One benefit of in-person instructor-led training (ILT) is increased human connection, as some learners are more likely to actively participate in and engage with training when it’s face to face. But with the coronavirus pandemic causing a massive shift from in-person to virtual learning, training professionals must find new ways to connect with learners — which is easier said than done. After all, the rapid increase in remote learning was a “huge revolution” in the training industry that many organizations were unprepared for, Shatner says. However, this fundamental shift is also a “great opportunity” for organizations to rethink the way they do training,” and avatars are one way to “make [virtual] training stick.”

Stefanic agrees that interactive avatars can fuel human connection. With this technology, he says, “You can feel [the] presence [of] being with someone across the world.” Since the pandemic started, many organizations have been using avatars to maintain human connection when moving in-person training events online, Stefanic says. Unlike videoconferencing tools, VR-based eLearning platforms offer the networking benefits of in-person training events and workshops, he says. They give learners the ability to “connect and form relationships” with their peers, rather than being “resigned to a chat panel” with limited ability to interact with others during the training.

On-demand Knowledge

Organizations must operate at the speed of change to succeed in today’s rapidly shifting business environment. Avatars can give employees knowledge on demand so that they can quickly and effectively respond to challenges as they arise. They also provide personalized coaching experiences that most learners would not otherwise have, says Daroga. For example, avatars can “listen in” on a sales call and provide reps with instant feedback on their performance, Shatner says.

Like other artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools, online avatars can automate certain aspects of training so that learning leaders can focus on other, more strategic, priorities. For this reason, they are especially effective for product and customer training, as well as certain compliance courses. Dell Technologies, for example, used the LearnBrite platform to train customers on its products. In the virtual environment, customers could ask scripted avatars questions about Dell’s products and receive answers instantly.

The Future Is Immersive

Interactive avatars are an exciting feature within VR eLearning platforms. Stefanic predicts that VR will soon become “the next level of communication in human history,” and he says organizations adopting the technology will see great business benefits in the future.

From on-demand knowledge and feedback to heightened human connection, avatars offer benefits for both learners and their organizations in today’s virtual business environment.

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