Top-Notch Learning Technologies | ATD

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The BEST Awards recognize organizations that demonstrate enterprise-wide success as a result of employee talent development. The winners use learning as a strategic business tool to get results. View the entire list of 2024 BEST Award winners.

Using the right technology in the right way can help talent development teams meet pressing learning needs.

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Workforce learning is rife with opportunities to apply technology. It’s no wonder many L&D professionals are eager to explore how they can apply a new generation of learning experience platforms, authoring and meeting tools, and artificial intelligence to their learning solutions. But it’s important for designers and developers to avoid distraction from the hype.

Simulating leadership

As the business landscape has evolved to respond to emerging technology, hybrid work, and other disruptions, so have employees’ expectations for their managers.

“The ‘new normal’ calls for unlearning and relearning managerial skills,” says Bibhuti Patnaik, global head of talent skilling for Wipro Limited, a Best of the BEST winner (earning a BEST Award more than 10 times). Patnaik adds that managers must now be talent incubators, coaches, and culture champions.

Amid that backdrop, the India-based technology services and consulting firm was keen to initiate an immersive environment in which employees in its midlevel manager training program could learn, practice, and reflect on new leadership skills in a safe space that replicated actual work scenarios.

Using online simulations that mimic a day in the life of a seasoned manager, participants work through scenarios such as delivering feedback to a struggling employee or coaching a team member to achieve performance goals. Other simulation topics include best practices for leading a virtual or hybrid team, strategies for balancing cultural and personality nuances, and methods for meeting organizational priorities.

Learners interact with simulations during online workshops held via Micro­soft Teams. The workshop entails the facilitator detailing new skills and behaviors, followed by participants accessing a simulation. While working through the simulation for 30 to 60 minutes, partici­pants remain in the Teams meeting where they can see one another’s progress through leaderboards and discuss the activity. After the simulation, the facilitator leads a debrief with the entire group.

In 2023, more than 600 season managers participated in the program, and 93 percent said the simulations were relevant to their work. According to Patnaik, “Simulations score high because they are close to reality and provide a mirror to managers. They get to see themselves in action and become aware of their blind spots, leading to awareness and conscious behavior change in the future.”

Enter the metaverse

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), also a Best of the BEST winner, believes innovation and collective knowledge can transform the future for its clients—and its own workforce of more than 600,000 employees spread across 55 countries. In fact, TCS is taking employee onboarding into the metaverse.

Called TCS Talent Metaversity, the immersive engagement platform offers an innovative and gamified approach to onboard and train new hires in an engaging manner. It offers not only a virtual reality experience but also brings together digital heavy hitters such as mixed reality, social collaboration, blockchain, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to reimagine new-hire onboarding.

Metaversity combines 3D-rendered imagery depicting the TCS campuses, learning content, interactions, and game elements. New associates can explore different places through Metaversity as well as connect and creatively interact with other associates as they engage in various learning activities. Learners can also participate in a live trivia game, collect coins as they play, and earn NFTs.

Metaversity has the immersive capability to provide walkthroughs inside facilities from the comfort of learners’ homes, explains Muralitharan V., metaverse consultant and product head. “Lifelike visual avatars, interactive digital displays, and multiplayer quests highlight TCS’s talent development capabilities in a powerful, immersive metaverse experience that enables users onboarding into the organization.”

More than 4,500 associates and 300 customers have engaged in Metaversity and rated their experience 4.8 out of 5. Further, the TD team is training HR and TCS leaders in innovative technology so they can explore how stakeholders can apply it to their lines of business.

“The interest and momentum generated by this initiative opened doors for the talent development function to deliver training in Metaversity to TCS’s leaders. It also created new opportunities for sales teams, industry advisors, and technical experts to use the metaverse to create new business models and consumer experiences for our clients,” states Vivek Ravichandran, North America TD head.

Learner immersion

The US Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Training and Development, which provides learning for the agency’s 65,000 employees, found that some of its traditional training was limited by safety concerns and the ability to simulate realistic scenarios. VR enables developers to create a controlled, immersive environment that they can tailor to a wide range of high-risk situations such as active shooter incidents or hostage negotiations.

Collaborating with officers, the L&D team identified various learning needs VR could effectively address, such as the use of firearms, tactical decision making under pressure, and the operation of specialized equipment in different environmental conditions. After the L&D team piloted programs and made adjustments, the resulting program is a virtual training system that uses a series of projection screens to depict fast-paced events that train officers how to judge a situation in real time, exercise de-escalation and negotiation skills, and choose the proper actions to ensure the safety of citizens.

“The diverse catalog of scenarios provides officers with a rich learning experience that would be difficult or dangerous to replicate in real life. VR also gives them the flexibility to practice complex situations multiple times, ensuring mastery of skills,” says Chris Hall, chief learning officer and assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Training and Development.

Such a unique environment has led to a reduction in training-related injuries for the agency. For instance, injuries during arrest techniques training decreased from 96 to 43 and injuries related to driver training dropped from 55 to 35.

“The synergistic application of artificial intelligence and virtual reality into Customs and Border Protection’s TD function has revolutionized how we train America’s defenders to protect the American people, safeguard our borders, and enhance the nation’s economic prosperity,” Hall states.

Low code can be equally effective

For 135 years, privately owned BankWest has been serving customers throughout South Dakota. According to Becky Burke, vice president of learning and strategic development, “compliance with laws, regulations, policies, and procedures is critical in the banking industry, and required training and education can be dry and boring.”

To make learning more engaging, the organization uses podcasts and videos. For example, employees must know how to detect and take action against fraud. The L&D function worked with subject matter experts to develop an internal podcast called Fraud Talk. Delivered biweekly, each five-minute episode covers real-world scenarios based on current trends within BankWest’s markets and concludes with a quiz.

Combined with other training on fraud, the company limited loss caused by fraud to approximately $3,300 in 2022. Furthermore, based on the podcast’s success, the bank has added other podcast series, including Loan Stew, All Loans Considered, and Security Now.

Another pressing issue is employee retention. Burke shares that BankWest operates in many rural communities that have a population under 3,000, so low turnover is essential. To boost retention, L&D revamped employee onboarding to include a facilitator-led scavenger hunt for QR codes in which each code links to a video of a department leader describing how to interact with that division.

“We wanted to find an innovative way for new hires to have fun and help them see the different areas of the organization and meet staff,” Burke explains.

In late 2022, the company started creating animated training videos. The L&D function is using the technology in a series of 90-second animated videos called Training Tidbits for its new supervisor development program.

“The implementation of video and podcast production has expanded how we can deliver information effectively and efficiently, and the addition of animated videos has grown learning engagement and satisfaction,” Burke concludes.

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