Training employees to behave in ways that support your organization is critical to its success. While hard skills are relatively easy to train, soft skills training requires a more nuanced approach.
According to Investopodia, hard skills are “specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured”. Examples of hard skills can include learning how to operate a piece of machinery, file an annual financial report, or fill out a travel reimbursement form.
Soft skills are not quite as easily measured or described. However, all soft skills have some aspect of human behavior wrapped up in the skill: being a good leader, effectively communicating, providing good customer service are all examples.
With online training becoming a more and more predominant feature in the corporate training landscape, the way that organizations provide their soft skills training is transforming. This transformation is moving from a traditional, live approach, to one that incorporates eLearning as part of a blended solution. And, even as this current transformation is underway, there are exciting possibilities just around the corner in the form of virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
Soft skills training today
Today there are two main ways to develop soft skills for trainees: a traditional approach and thorugh eLearning. The traditional approach involves a live corporate trainer and the eLearning approach incorporates a course management system to provide the training.
In traditional training, the soft skill can be taught either directly or indirectly. The direct approach would involve a training session or a set of sessions with a corporate trainer leading the sessions.
And, if your organization is large enough, then you’ll probably have an instructional designer on staff to develop the course. This would be ideal as he or she would have a better understanding of your corporate culture, which would lead to a type of training that rings true with your organization. Otherwise, you’ll have to hire a freelance instructional designer, which would be the most cost-effective way to get a training program off the ground.
As an indirect approach to soft skills training, one can’t underestimate “training by example”. If Management all begin their day at 6am and leave the office at 6pm, then you’re sending a very strong message to all of your employees about “work ethic”. If your Supervisor listens to you, respects your ideas, and makes you feel empowered, then you’re sending a very strong message about customer service. And, this type of informal training can be both low-cost and incredibly powerful.
Using eLearning to develop soft skills can save your organization both time and money. Typically, eLearning involves a course management system where you can upload videos and assessments. The trainee can take the course at his or her own pace and the system will then automatically determine whether the trainee has passed the course.
This method can be very effective to teach hard skills. And, for soft skills, it can be a great way to get an employee to think about his or her behavior in different situations.
With that said, since there’s no real way for a course management system to simulate behaviors (not yet anyway…), this approach would be best complemented by some traditional training. As one example, a course management system could be used to give an employee some background showing the correct ways to react to different types of customer complaints. Then, as a follow-up, there could be a live session where they test their skills.
Soft skills training of the near future
I tried out a virtual reality headset for the first time a few weeks back, and all I can say is “Wow!”. In one scene, I was immersed in a human body, and I could see blood platelets moving through the bloodstream. In another scene, I was underwater and watched as two Great White sharks swam uncomfortably close by. It was almost too realistic.
Because of its realism, virtual reality will become an intricate part of the eLearning landscape, integrated through a company’s course management system. While typical online training software is made up of videos which try to engage the trainee, a virtual reality experience will make the training that much more realistic: you’ll “feel” like you’re actually in the situation which will make the experience all the more powerful.
As one specific example of how this might be used, let’s consider customer service training. Instead of giving your employees a PowerPoint on how to improve customer service, you would create a virtual reality environment where the trainee watches someone provide customer service.
And, since it’s virtual reality, you could conceivably create different customer care scenarios. In one scenario, a customer service representative would show the right way of handling a customer while in a second scenario, the customer service representative could show how not to treat a customer. And even though the trainee would not necessarily be interacting with the customer, being up close and personal in the process will have a much stronger impact than watching a video.
Soft skills training of the far future
Looking out towards the end of this century, artificial intelligence will dominate the eLearning landscape and will be an intricate part of soft skills training. You’ve probably heard of artificial intelligence being used to win at Jeopardy or drive a car. And while too broad of a topic to really get into, the basic concept of artificial intelligence is that we teach computers how to learn on their own.
Without artificial intelligence, you could program a robot to follow instructions and bake a certain type of cake. However, with artificial intelligence, the robot will be able to make new types of cakes once it “understands” what a cake is.
And with soft-skills training, things could get really interesting…
Imagine being in a virtual reality environment interacting with a customer. The customer can be programmed to be nice, impatient, angry, or shy, etc. Then, the customer can interact with you in the environment. Because the environment uses artificial intelligence as part of its programming, the customer will react in a natural way depending on how he or she is treated. And, this makes the training immediately applicable to real life without any of the potential consequences associated with bad service.
Having an organization with employees who behave in ways that support that organization’s mission is critical to its success. And training these so-called soft skills can involve traditional and eLearning approaches. In the future, one can imagine soft skills as being taught in virtual environments aided by artificial intelligence.