Training in the 21st Century

Training Survey Says: Part I—What Methods Work

In September, Training in the 21st Century™ posted an on-line survey on Training to learn more about what kinds of training methods companies are using, which seem to be most effective, and what new methods are planned for implementation. We’d like to thank all those who participated in this study. We hope the information we gathered will provide insights and ideas to each of them, as well as to our other readers.

Many respondents to this study are using a blend of methods for training: 45% use four or more of the training methods listed in the graph below,  Continue reading →

What Is Blended Learning?

The term “Blended Learning” is used to describe a mix of learning environments that combines old and new resources for learning and development. This strategy creates a more integrated approach for learners.

Computer technologies and the Internet have led to explosions of knowledge, with a resulting increased need for people to process and utilize that new information. Fortunately, those same technologies also offer a wide array of surprising new possibilities for learning and development. Many of the technologies people think of as resources for staying connected with friends, and for entertainment, are being incorporated into formal Blended Learning programs. Continue reading →

Two Types of Immersive 3D Experiences and Their Impact on Training

Two types of immersive 3D experiences are being researched and discussed in relation to training, and it seems important to try and separate the two. Most people familiar with monitor-based 3D environments know the experience as one in which small figures/avatars act as our agents inside the world we see on our monitors: We use our keyboards and mice to direct our avatars, inside our monitor screens, to interact with other people’s avatars and with the environment around them, and to talk using VOIP or chat.

For most people, whether they’re playing video games or attending 3D training sessions, the monitor-based 3D experience is what they think of when they read reports of the impacts of 3D immersive experience on people’s real-life behavior and self-perception. Continue reading →

Why IBM Uses 3D Virtual Training: It Works!

IBM is one of several large, successful companies that have pioneered the use of 3D environments for their virtual training programs. Research they conducted1 to assess their 3D training programs’ effectiveness showed that simulation-based training improved information retention rates of employees to between 70% and Continue reading →

The Power of Games for Learning

An assignment (or “quest”) for a 3-week program I’m attending via Boise State University (3D GameLab1), was to watch and comment on a TED Talk2, “7 Ways to Reward the Brain.” This talk is exploring the power of games for learning and is an excellent synopsis of the elements that make games such powerful learning tools. Tom Chatfield begins by exploring the way games tap into both ambition and pleasure to engage players, then explores key elements that can be adopted to construct wonderful and effective learning programs.  Here’s an overview of these elements:

  • Ways to measure progress that encourage continual growth: Using experience bars that show incremental movement along a continuum, simultaneously indicating how far you’ve come and how much further you have to go, taps into people’s ambition to keep moving forward. Continue reading →

The Effectiveness of 3D Virtual Environments in the Real World

What we see our avatars doing inside 3D worlds affects what we do in the real world. That’s what the research shows and that’s what my personal experience and observations suggest. It’s also one of the reasons my partner and I have made training in 3D an important component of our blended learning  offerings. So what is this research, you may wonder? Here’s a little information about a few research projects conducted in the past few years.

Research at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab1 found that when people entered a virtual world in which their avatar was active (running, playing soccer, etc.), they were much more likely to be physically active in their real lives, that day or the next, than people who found their avatars hanging out and/or lounging around.  As someone who spends way too much time sitting in front of my computer, I wage regular battles between the dueling thoughts, “Yes, I’ll feel better after I’ve gone to the gym,” vs. “But I’m too tired now. I’ll just kick back and relax.” Anything that tilts the balance towards going to the gym is a hit with me.

There have also been several research projects on the effectiveness of 3D virtual environments for health and weight loss programs. The results show that 3D education and experiences are valuable tools for mastering the behavior (and thinking) changes that are the foundation of weight loss. One project, conducted by Club One at their virtual site in Second Life (Club One Island)2 found the virtual participants actually lost more weight than those participating in their real-world weight-loss programs: In the 12-week programs, an average of 8.08 lbs. was lost by the virtual world participants, compared with 5.98 lbs. lost by those enrolled in the real-world program.

University of Houston researchers also found Second Life a valuable asset in the effort to control obesity3. The outcomes of their International Health Challenge “a multicultural obesity prevention project conducted entirely in Second Life,” was a success for participants and offered the added bonus of being accessible to people from a wide range of income levels, backgrounds and locations.

For me, some anecdotal evidence is just as convincing as quantitative research: A friend who is working to lose weight realized she’d started taking breaks to eat all her meals, instead of her normal habit of working through lunch. She was taking a few minutes to relax and pay attention to what she was eating, and had happily noted that she was eating more slowly, and enjoying her food more as she ate less of it. Wondering how this serendipitous change had come about, she traced it back to experiences while touring Club One Island. The impact of some of their vivid information and experiential learning activities had affected her behavior, even though she’d made no conscious decision to change what she was doing. What she had done was set the goal to lose weight. Her mind, with the benefits of 3D experiential learning, did the rest.

To experience a 3D environment, contact us at or 415-400-4380 to arrange a guided tour/orientation.

For more information on research regarding virtual environments and real life, please use the links below:

1Virtual Human Interaction Lab:

2Club One Island:

3Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, V3, #3, “Developing an Obesity Intervention Program in Networked Virtual Environments”:

Pixels and Policy:

For information on an even more serious use of virtual worlds, see KTCS 9, Training PTSD:

Death by PowerPoint in 3D? Oh, my…

I attended a professional association meeting recently, where I encountered a member who was very intrigued by the topic of experiential learning activities in 3D. But when I mentioned a specific 3D environment, the excitement in her face was replaced with the dull look of disappointment. I had to know what had led to the sudden change of demeanor and learned that, not long before, a member of her organization had looked into using 3D for Orientation Training, and attended a presentation in the very 3D world I had just mentioned. The presentation was a total bust! The reason? It had consisted of all the cute little avatars sitting in a virtual conference room to watch a talking-head PowerPoint presentation. Death by PowerPoint in 3D? Yes, it is all too possible.

I associate this kind of presentation in 3D environments to early movies. In the earliest years of “moving pictures,” stage and vaudeville professionals simply transferred routines and methods they’d used in live performances to the big screen. This worked well enough for a while: audiences were entranced by the medium itself. But soon, creative movie professionals began to explore new, more effective ways of writing, staging, filming, emoting and editing for the big screen. Over time, techniques and special effects unimaginable to early movie makers/goers have become standard fare.

This kind of evolution is at its beginning with 3D learning, but there is already an established body of knowledge and experience for creating effective learning events—utilizing capabilities that are impossible with any other forum or platform. These include simulations, treasure hunts, challenges and quests designed so that participants use what they’re learning, as they’re learning it, in dynamic ways that engage their interest.  A couple of excellent resources that offer insights into ways to make the most of 3D for training are Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration, by Karl M. Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll; and Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds: How to Create Cost-Saving, Efficient and Engaging Programs, by Alex Heiphetz and Gary Woodill.

No doubt there are many other good resources about 3D learning  and training available (please share any that you know of by leaving a response to this blog). Also, keep in mind that the technology for 3D worlds is evolving as you read this, and what is possible/feasible is changing almost as rapidly. The biggest limitations for what can be done right now are the lack of knowledge and experience of those who create learning events, and the unwillingness of organizations to invest in development of this new and unfamiliar platform—what we might call “lagging indicators”—but these will also change rapidly as more people explore and develop the amazing possibilities.

Experience a 3D World to Really “Get It”?

While putting together a video (Machinima) to demonstrate interpersonal, experiential training possibilities of 3D for our website, my partner and I kept hearing the same refrain: no one can actually “get it” until they’ve experienced a 3D world. Nevertheless, we persevered to develop a video clip that, we hoped, would help people understand that, in 3D training, participants are stepping into those environments—via avatars they control from their office chairs—and moving around, acting, and interacting with avatars of other real people (who are also controlling them from office chairs) hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles away.

We thought we’d succeeded at conveying this important aspect of 3D training until we tested it out on friends who’d never been in a 3D world. They liked the video and were excited about what we were doing. But from their comments and questions, it quickly became clear that they thought we were preparing to make a series of training videos consisting of educational role plays to sell to our clients. It was obvious that years spent passively viewing TV and movies made this their default frame of reference when they watched a video of slightly cartoonish characters moving around inside a 3D landscape.

This misunderstanding brought to mind a group I encountered several years ago. They’d moved, during the Spring of one year, from a tropical region to farm in an area of the country with four very distinct seasons. Following the customs of their culture, they spent several months meeting neighbors, learning about the life there, and settling in. This strategy was probably a sound one to use in an area with a year-round growing season, but it wasn’t a good fit for their new region. They had seen pictures of snow-covered landscapes, and were told that the lush growing area they saw around them would become a frozen wasteland late in the year. But the words and images couldn’t override the power of their real experiences. The weather was hot and they thought they had plenty of time. Once they started planting, the season turned too quickly for them to harvest a good crop and they struggled through a harsh, difficult Winter, surviving partly with the help of their new neighbors. It took living through one bitterly cold, snow covered season for them to really “get” what everyone meant by the word “Winter.”

It is always difficult for us to comprehend anything alien to, and outside of, our experiences. And our years spent passively watching TV and movies creates a real barrier to understanding the interactive nature of 3D. We need to find ways to overcome the passive viewer orientation and communicate to people that the cartoonish little figure on their screen is them. It will move, act and speak only when they use their keyboards, mice and microphones to make it move, act and speak. And it will become an extension of them as it encounters other avatars—moving, acting, speaking, and interacting under the control of other real people—to explore the vast opportunities offered by 3D worlds.

If you’d like to experience a 3D environment, contact us at or 415-400-4380 to arrange a guided tour/orientation.

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