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Virtual Reality Immersion as a Learning Tool
Episode

Alex Young, CEO, and Founder at Virti

Virtual Reality Immersion as a Learning Tool

Virtual Reality technology can be a potent tool when used for learning.

In this episode, we hear from Dr. Alex Young, the CEO, and founder of mixed reality training platform Virti, about how VR can facilitate repeatable, safe environments for professionals to build and train soft skills through personalized, immersive experiences. He talks about how Virti seeks to democratize through its platform the experiential soft-skill-training scenarios by making them affordable, accessible, and easily customizable to anyone around the planet.

Dr. Young discusses the science behind how virtual reality connects having an experience, remembering it, and creating lasting behavior changes from it. He explains the learning-with-virtual-reality process in detail, provides examples of how Virti’s platform has been used in healthcare and other sectors, and even talks about how the Metaverse is related to his work.

Tune in to this episode to learn how Virti is training professionals’ soft skills with Virtual Reality!

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Virtual Reality Immersion as a Learning Tool

About Dr. Alex Young:

Dr. Alex Young is an NHS trauma and orthopedic surgeon by training. He is the CEO and founder of mixed reality training platform Virti. Virti develops immersive training tools to improve human performance in organizations and institutions around the globe. Powered by cutting-edge ‘XR’ technology and AI, Virti helped train NHS staff at the peak of the pandemic and has also worked with hospitals, universities, MedTech companies, and corporates across EMEA. Passionate about improving human performance, Alex built and sold an events company during medical school at Bristol, before boot-strapping and scaling an award-winning medical education company while still training in the NHS. Virti, Alex’s most ambitious venture to date, has won a wealth of awards and grants, including being voted one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2020.

 

Outcomes Dr Alex Young (founder & CEO, Virti): Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Outcomes Dr Alex Young (founder & CEO, Virti): this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Saul Marquez:
Hey everybody, Saul Marquez here with the Outcomes Rocket. I am so excited to join with you and the amazing Dr. Alex Young who has previously been on the podcast. He’s a surgeon, tech founder, and learning expert. As the CEO and founder of Virti, he helps organizations and healthcare institutions build resilient, connected, and high-performing teams through impact and immersive learning experiences that build soft skills. He’s passionate about cutting-edge advances in education and training. Alex scaled and sold his first EdTech company while he was still at university and gained a master’s certificate in education while still working as a doctor. Just an incredible person, he contributes to Forbes, an entrepreneur, and interviews fellow productivity and performance experts as the host of a popular podcast called The Human Performance Podcast. Just an incredible person, if you haven’t checked out the podcast we did together, we’ll leave a link there in the show notes. Just incredible the work that they’re doing with AI and virtual reality. Dr. Young, Alex, welcome back to the podcast!

Alex Young:
Hey Saul, great to be back on. Thanks so much for having me back.

Saul Marquez:
Hey, man, it’s a pleasure, and so, you guys have been busy. And so for the folks that haven’t had a chance to level set on what you do and how you do it, give us a snapshot of that, and then we can go from there.

Alex Young:
Yeah, absolutely, so Virti itself is a digital training platform that I kind of conceived when I was training as a trauma and orthopedic surgeon in the UK. One of the things that I kind of noticed was that a lot of the things we learn in work on the job often are quite difficult to recreate in safe, repeatable environments. You know, in healthcare that might be things like having a difficult conversation with a patient or making a decision under pressure in an emergency environment, and these are kind of things that we refer to as sort of soft skills or power skills, depending on what you’re reading at the moment. And I think there’s a huge gap there between how those are really taught at scale, because if they’re taught online digitally through videos, they’re not that engaging. And if they’re taught in person using role-playing actors, there’s not a huge amount of data attached to it, and often there’s a lot of bias that comes in from people’s experiences of good and bad communication and empathy and things like that. So Virti’s real mission was to democratize and make these experiential, experiences really affordable and accessible to anyone on the planet. And as you mentioned in your very overly kind intro, you know, my mission now is to blend virtual reality technology, which can obviously transport people into some of these very emotive, very specific environments, but allow them to sort of fail and go through the experiences safely and then obviously collect a lot of data from them. And what we do with AI is we’ve got these clever avatars that look like sort of computer-generated video game characters that you can speak to in these safe environments, go through different soft skills or communication scenarios, whether in healthcare that’s breaking bad news, explaining a diagnosis, managing your patient. And then we look at the results of those experiences and those scenarios, and we can allow learners to compare themselves to others to look at what a gold standard is and to really try and remove any bias from their sort of soft skills training. And there’s some other cool stuff you can do there, like you can switch up the demographics, you can put the learner into the position of a patient to develop empathy, you can put them into the position of someone who comes from a very different background for them to touch on things like bullying and harassment and diversity training, that’s what we kind of obsess over, it’s how can we get the best out of your people in any setting.

Saul Marquez:
I think that’s fantastic. And oftentimes the soft, soft skills go without any attention, you’re not trained on them, so how do you execute on these things? So it’s been a while since we’ve talked, what would you say is some of the things that you’ve done new and differently, and maybe new approaches at Virti?

Alex Young:
Yeah, so we’ve been super busy and I think it’s worth saying that even pre-pandemic we were very much a sort of remote, remote, first company, and post-pandemic where a lot of the rest of the world has sort of taken that on board, we’ve been able to share quite a lot of how we train and upskill our own teams and staff and so, in the healthcare sector, we put a real push on to not just sort of providing people with these simulated experiences to go through on-demand, but also actually giving them the creation tools to really sort of scale and recreate their own training in their own vision and image, which for learning development professionals or for doctors and nurses, is really, really powerful because every hospital, every organization does things slightly differently in terms of training and especially in healthcare, one hospital in, in New York City, might do something very different from somewhere in New Jersey, certainly somewhere in California in terms of the medications they deliver to patients or the types of treatment they offer, and so by allowing that configurability, suddenly it becomes much more bespoke, more personalized, and they can really make those scenarios their own. So that’s been one really great thing and it’s been really fun seeing the elements of creativity that people, when they use the platform, come up with. And that’s, that’s very, very exciting because we’re sort of a tools-first platform where we provide people with these creativity tools to create some of these immersive experiences, and then they can hop into them.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, you know, just a quick one there, so they don’t have to wait on you. So say they have an idea and they want to implement it into the training, they don’t have to wait on you or your people to make that happen. Now the platform is customizable so they can make their own changes and implement their own versions of the training.

Alex Young:
Exactly right.

Saul Marquez:
That’s awesome.

Alex Young:
It’s really fast for people to then use. And if you think about what we do as a company, we really kind of create these training scenarios, which is very kind of conversation-based, and it’s quite complicated using AI and natural language processing, but the no-code suite of tools really sort of simplifies things for people. Say, we together now on this podcast wanted to create a training scenario or a medical training scenario, we could do that very, very quickly just by jumping into the platform. And equally, one of the other things that we started to do now is open up our services and our system to sectors beyond healthcare, because we sort of saw them as a huge problem in the corporate setting where soft skills, if they’re not taught properly, can lead to people getting burnt out, getting stressed, especially if they’re on the end of difficult conversations like receiving a performance review that might be good or bad, having a difficult conversation with the customer, or trying to close a sale, you know, near the quarters. And so all these things have similar analogies to what we do in healthcare, which is, be very empathetic with people, structure your conversation, develop your communication and soft skills like decision making, and allow that to happen in these safe environments so that people can really get good really quickly.

Saul Marquez:
That’s awesome, I love that, and having that capability is key. It sounds like you’ve started working outside of healthcare now, so for anybody listening that you’re thinking, oh, well, this is only healthcare, well, it’s not, it’s also for outside of healthcare, a lot of applications, you know. And so, Alex, what’s been one of the key findings, right? Like what would your happiest customers say about working with you guys right now?

Alex Young:
Yeah, I think the most important thing for us has always been to align to the business goals of basically whoever we work with. So a lot of the people we work with deploy the system for things like onboarding. So obviously in that kind of first 30 days of a new employee starting, they’re getting a lot of information, and if that information that is given to them in the form of training is not sufficient, again, that can lead to that employee churning or just not being productive, which obviously then leads to inefficiencies in business processes or lost revenue and things like that. And when you then spin that into specifically kind of things like sales onboarding, if you’ve got a new salesperson, you can’t ramp them up quickly enough or you can’t get them to adapt their behavior to the way that you do sales in your organization. It’s incredibly costly, and it’s also a little bit unfair on the individual you’re bringing in. So what we’ve done is we’ve done a lot of work using some of these virtual humans, as we call them, as well as some of our video training system to really optimize how that onboarding process works. And so some of the cool stats we’ve had recently is we’ve been able to reduce onboarding time and the need for kind of physical onboarding by up to about sort of 50% for some organizations, which is awesome, and we’ve also got lots of data around, probably my favorite data is just an employee saying that going through the platform in a safe, repeatable way through these scenarios makes them feel less anxious and better prepared for actually then encountering them in the real world, which is really cool. And it’s, you know, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to then think that if people are better prepared and they’re going into real-life high-pressure situations, they’ll likely perform better when it matters, just like an athlete kind of rehearsing in their mind, taking that winning three-pointer at the end of a game.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, you know, you know, it’s so interesting, Alex. And, you know, I wonder about the science, I’m just curious about it, right? Because, you know, I got my Oculus and I love, I do meditation, and so, it does help me. I’m wondering how being in an environment, I’ve never done training like that, you know, so does the brain distinguish, or does it, does your brain kind of think that you’ve been there and done that? Can you share any of those types of data points with us? Because that’s really interesting.

Alex Young:
Yeah, for sure. So I’m, as you know, just a massive learning nerd. So I think since we last spoke as well, I’ve also now launched kind of a YouTube channel, a thought leader YouTube channel that also connects to LinkedIn, where I talk about a lot of the learning science behind some of these concepts and.

Saul Marquez:
Oh, that’s pretty cool. What’s that called?

Alex Young:
That’s, the YouTube Channel is basically just my name. So Alexander F. Young, and you can sort of find that through my sort of SEO blog on our website as well.

Saul Marquez:
Hey, folks, we’ll link that up here in the show notes, so no need to go look for it. It’s right there, just look at the show notes. Yeah, I’m going to check that out, tell me more about that.

Alex Young:
It’s real good, but yeah, I think the VR is really interesting because when I first put on a headset, I think I played a video game. I was a bit cynical in terms of, yeah, is this actually impacting my learning? And for anyone who is in learning development or who is in medicine, who might be listening, people always talk about is there evidence behind the impact that this new technology, whatever it might be, makes? And so for us at Virti that was really important. And if you look at kind of how people actually form memories, there’s basically kind of three steps, really. So you’ve got your sensory memory where you see, or you hear, or you smell, or you taste something, and that’s the kind of input. And then if your brain kind of filters it and perceives that to be important, you focus your attention on it and it moves into your short-term memory, and your short-term memory is called the short-term memory because you can only hold about sort of 5 to 15 seconds of information or seven chunks of that information. And you then need to do what’s called encode that to move it to your long-term memory and then remember it pretty much forever. So your long-term memory is pretty much like a computer system that’s got unlimited capacity, whereas if you don’t organize things in your short-term memory, you might not be able to remember it for that long. So how does virtuality then fit in with that? Well, one of the cool things that VR can do is, because it basically immerses you in a completely different environment, it’s taking over that sensory component. So what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, not quite what you’re smelling unless there are suddenly headsets that come out, but certainly those first two, really allow us, as kind of instructional designers, to control what the learner is going through. And if you then kind of think back to anything that you can remember really, really vividly, there’s probably some kind of really strong emotional sensory component to it. So whether it is that feeling of happiness like a wedding, or sadness like a funeral, being able to kind of connect and lock in some of those feelings and put people in these very realistic scenarios allows for people to really kind of connect with what they’re learning on a better scale. And then in the short-term memory, you can run people through these scenarios, allowing to rehearse in safe environments on-demand. So instead of just sort of seeing something once in work and then forgetting it, you’re able to go on this cycle of repeating it, redoing it, practicing it, remembering it pretty much whenever you like. And that’s what then moves things into your long-term memory. And we did, got a lot of work on this at Virti when we were operating solely in healthcare, where a lot of the hospitals we worked with wanted to prove out that things work. So we did one study that actually compared virtual reality training using our platform, compared to face-to-face training for doing CPR and life support skills, and some of the evidence that sort of came back from that, and it was a randomized controlled trial with just under 100 folks in that trial, and what they basically found was that because people could go through the scenario repeatedly, and because it was able to recreate that stress and emotion of sort of identifying that someone was unwell, performing CPR, whereas the in-person training was on a mannequin and was, you knew it was kind of not that realistic, they actually were able to perform the steps more quickly when it mattered because the stress levels were reduced. They felt like they sort of been there before and also improved learner confidence, which was huge. So that was really, really interesting. And that’s kind of like just a bit of a dive into some of the learning science behind how we consider virtual reality to really sort of plug into connecting the dots between having an experience and then actually really remembering it, creating lasting behavior change and getting your people to be as efficient with whatever they’re doing as possible.

Saul Marquez:
That’s fantastic. Thank you for that. Thank you for that, Alex, and there’s a there’s enormous opportunity to discover the potential of VR and AI in what you’re doing. Okay, so I’ve got to ask this, the metaverse is growing, and the attention in the metaverse is growing. Like, talk to us about that, and how does it relate to what you guys are doing? I heard Snoop Dogg just built the club in the metaverse.

Alex Young:
Well, if Snoop’s doing it, I’m all down for it. So, I mean, I think it’s really interesting. I mean, we sort of went into virtual reality in 2018 when we sort of launched Virti, and at the time, it was still relatively young in terms of the headset technology. But VR has been around and the concepts around VR, like the Metaverse, has been around since NASA really sort of used it for training, and back in like the 1980s. And the concept of the metaverse comes from a book where it was all about people living in these kind of shared virtual worlds, and I think there’s two ways to kind of look at things. I think there’s an element of kind of cynicism where obviously Mark Zuckerberg’s rebranded Facebook to Meta, where now everyone is, is using the PR terms of metaverse to talk about what is essentially virtual and augmented reality technology. There’s been no real change in the technology, it’s just how we’re referring to it, but I think it is positive because what we’re seeing now is that people are really sort of connecting with that concept of being in a shared space, especially on the back of the pandemic and kind of things like Zoom burnout, where it’s super tiring staring at tiny green dots on your computer screen or your webcam, whereas if you’re in a virtual environment, you can connect with other people a little bit more socially, and you can also do things that you can’t otherwise do in a kind of desktop format. Say, for example, like that, an example of this is things like architecture or engineering where you can actually have a 3D model of a car or a building, and then the architects or engineers can actually walk around and look at some of those concepts and have a much better insight into how something is being designed and make changes and communicate. So I think there’s a huge benefit to kind of things like communication and immersing people, but that is at the heart or virtual reality, it’s not, the technology hasn’t changed, it’s just how we’re referring to it. But I think the more people we can kind of bring into that kind of way of thinking, the better. And of course, we’re also seeing NFTs and blockchain technology, which, again, has been around for a little while, being included in that kind of description. You know, Web 3.0 is the other one that kind of gets bandied around. But I think it’s always positive because if nothing else, it gives people a little bit like me, who are kind of entrepreneurs, ideas of things to do where they can push the boundaries and create real behavior-changing products that help people.

Saul Marquez:
Awesome. Hey, thanks for touching on that, Alex. It’s been on the minds of all of us. And it’s good to understand how a thought leader like you and the company that you run think about that. What an incredible opportunity to be with you again, Alex. Folks, if you have questions for Dr. Young, please, now’s the time. Make sure that you reach out to him. What’s the best place people can reach out to you, Alex, and find out more?

Alex Young:
Yeah, for sure. So I’m Alexander F. Young on all social media. By all means, connect with me on LinkedIn. And if you want to check out Virti it’s Virti, V I R T I.com, and we’re @VirtiLabs on all social media. And as you kind of mentioned, we also have a podcast which is the Human Performance podcast, which is super fun, that I host, is a bit of a break from my 9-to-5 day job.

Saul Marquez:
Love it and folks we’ll go ahead and link up the Human Performance podcast in the show notes as well as Dr. Young’s YouTube channel, which he’s been doing a lot of these discussions on, and also his website, just for you to have access to other options to educate and take your organization to the next level. Alex, really appreciate you, man. Looking forward to staying in touch.

Alex Young:
Amazing, thanks so much, Saul.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Soft skills in healthcare include having a difficult conversation with a patient or making a decision under pressure in an emergency environment.
  • Virti allows its clients to customize virtual reality scenarios for training with a set of tools that do not need coding knowledge.
  • Virti’s platform has reduced onboarding time and the need for physical onboarding by up to 50% for some organizations.
  • Using Virtual Reality as a learning tool consists of processing an experience through the three stages memories go through to be permanently stored: sensory memory, short-term memory, and finally, long-term memory.
  • The Metaverse has brought a positive light to existing virtual and augmented reality technology as people are connecting more with the concept of being in a virtual shared space for communication and immersion.

 

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