Comprehensive Virtual Training System Will Provide Doctors with New Tools to Address Childhood Obesity

Talking to Parents about Childhood Obesity

Talking to Parents about Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity in the United States remains at historically high levels and is an important health problem. With the support of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), SIMmersion will develop a comprehensive virtual training system to give doctors new tools to respond to the epidemic.

The average pediatrician sees roughly thirty patients a day—toddlers, teens and everything in between. For nearly a decade, one stubborn fact has been true about those thirty young patients: roughly six of them have been obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With 12.7 million children and adolescents coping with obesity, and millions more overweight, what can primary care health professionals do to make a dent in the epidemic?

Encouraging research shows that health professionals are influential in the lives of families, and that even brief advice about obesity can have a meaningful impact if delivered well. Lack of knowledge and skill in what to say on the sensitive topic, however, keeps most practitioners from routinely addressing obesity prevention and treatment.

To address this gap, SIMmersion has been funded by the CDC to develop and evaluate a comprehensive virtual reality training system to help health care providers conduct effective conversations with parents and children about obesity (contract # 9R44DP005954-02).

The Training System

For this system, SIMmersion will leverage twelve years of simulation technology to develop multiple role-play conversations with virtual parents and children. Interactive educational materials and repeated practice in realistic patient encounters will give providers skills and confidence they can take to real-world practice.

“A big challenge for providers is to talk to a parent about an obese child,” says Dale Olsen, Ph.D., President of SIMmersion. Parents’ reactions could be unpredictable, from minimizing the diagnosis to disputing it to taking offense. SIMmersion’s PeopleSim conversation engine allows virtual characters to respond differently in each conversation to capture a whole range of realistic scenarios. By empowering providers with strategies for how to continue the conversation in a productive way regardless of parent reaction, SIMmersion’s system will help more providers feel confident in raising the topic.

The three role-play practice simulations will allow providers to practice (1) sharing concerns about a child’s weight with a parent, (2) conducting a follow-up visit with the parent of an overweight child a month after the initial discussion regarding weight, and (3) involving the child in a conversation about healthy choices. Constructive feedback throughout the role-play conversations will ensure that every teachable moment supports the skill building. An on-screen coach, descriptive scoring, and replay features will provide impactful feedback.

Training Evaluation

A joint university research team will evaluate the effectiveness of the completed product. One hundred health care providers will be randomly assigned to a training–as-usual control group or a group that will receive access to the new training. To assess their baseline skills at talking about obesity, all participants will complete interviews with so-called “standardized patients,” specially trained actors who behave like real-world patients. All participants will complete a second round of standardized patient interviews after the experimental group has had the opportunity to take SIMmersion’s training. Each interview will be documented and scored on defined skill criteria.

The team hypothesizes that providers who take the training will show improvement in their skills at talking about childhood obesity with patients and parents, and that they will be more effective than their peers who did not take the training.

By training providers in best practices for talking about prevention and treatment, SIMmersion’s course could help providers nationwide curb rates of childhood obesity, one patient and one family at a time.

About SIMmersion

SIMmersion’s mission is to train communication skills faster and more effectively by combining the world’s most realistic simulated experiences with highly interactive training content and extensive user feedback. For more information, contact SIMmersion online or call at 443-283-2555.

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In Current Marketplace, New Virtual Sales Training Helps Business Address Knowledge and Skills Gap

Supportive Selling with Dan Williams

Supportive Selling with Dan Williams

Old sales methods rarely work in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. To address gaps in knowledge and skills, SIMmersion has developed new sales techniques based on extensive influencing research and a new training system utilizing proven skill-building technology.

Businesses large and small depend on salespeople to bring products to the marketplace. Gaps in skills and knowledge, however, leave many salespeople employing outdated methods, with high costs for their employers. The 1-3% success rate for cold calling cited by Duct Tape Marketing, for instance, means a vast amount of staff time spent facing unproductive rejection.

To meet the needs of the next generation of sales people, SIMmersion developed new sales techniques and launched a virtual training system called Supportive Selling with Dan Williams.

Next-Generation Sales Techniques

In today’s marketplace, customers can easily go online to conduct their own research on products, services and the reputations of companies. A sales approach that depends on listing features or making claims is less and less effective for the contemporary, informed customer.

To develop next-generation sales techniques, SIMmersion began with the best existing sales research and then added relevant approaches from healthcare counseling and other fields where influencing the behavior of others is critical. The result is a method called Supportive Selling, which gives salespeople a clear structure to every sales call and specific Tools for Selling to employ moment-to-moment within the conversation.

Next-Generation Training

To succeed with Supportive Selling, salespeople need knowledge of what to do and the skills to put the model into practice. SIMmersion leveraged a dozen years of virtual reality simulation technology to create a training system, Supportive Selling with Dan Williams, that would address gaps in knowledge and skills alike.

“The field is crowded with companies trying to meet the sales training demand,” says Dale Olsen, Ph. D., President of SIMmersion. “Research shows that typical training, such as lectures complemented with classroom role plays, are expensive and are not very effective.”

By contrast, so-called ‘serious games’ that combine the engagement factor of video games with rigorous training content have demonstrated results in fields across the economy. As a past finalist in the International Serious Games Showcase and Challenge, SIMmersion brought to bear its experience at combining instruction and entertainment when creating a virtual conversation with the buyer Dan Williams.

Users talk with Dan in an effort to sell him several training products.   They receive ongoing feedback on their decisions from an on-screen coach who reinforces good choices and gives constructive feedback on where to improve.  At the end of each conversation, users see how much simulated commission they earned versus a global leaderboard of other Supportive Selling users.  Achievements are awarded for accomplishments during the conversation.  “Each play through of Supportive Selling will be an entirely new experience,” says Dr. Olsen.  “Users can talk to Dan as many times as they would like to improve their scores and their skills.”

New Technology Introduced

SIMmersion is known for simulated characters with realistic emotions, powered by the PeopleSim conversation engine. For this system, PeopleSim was augmented to allow Dan Williams to have two separate trains of thought at once: how he feels about the specific product the user is describing, and how he feels about the user overall.

Dan decides whether or not he is interested in a particular product based his needs and what the user says when talking to him. The user’s comments affect Dan’s desire for the product. At the same time, the user’s comments across all topics help Dan form an overall opinion of the user as the conversation progress.  Dan may like the user’s product, but not the user, or just the opposite.  For him to commit to move forward with a sale, Dan’s overall opinion about the user must be positive and he must like one or more of the user’s products.

Technology that will address the skills and knowledge gap of salespeople can result in more successful sales calls, with ramifications for businesses of any size. SIMmersion’s Supportive Selling with Dan Williams is an innovative training entry in an important marketplace.

About SIMmersion

SIMmersion’s mission is to train communication skills faster and more effectively by combining the world’s most realistic simulated experiences with highly interactive training content and extensive user feedback. For more information, visit or contact SIMmersion online or call 443-283-2555.

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On World Autism Awareness Day


This World Autism Awareness Day, SIMmersion’s virtual conversation training systems are helping people with autism spectrum disorders build social skills and succeed on job interviews.  Research on Autism Social Conversation Training with Sam Martin and Job Interview Training with Molly Porter show that SIMmersion’s technology is engaging and can drive gains in key social skills.

This year, World Autism Awareness Day comes just a week after new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased to 1 in 68 children in the United States.

“Behind each of these numbers is a person living with autism,” says Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks. “We need a comprehensive strategy… to address our community’s needs across the lifespan.”

SIMmersion has joined the effort to support the autism community with targeted virtual conversation training applications designed to boost key social skills for people with ASD. Research on Autism Social Conversation Training with Sam Martin and Job Interview Training with Molly Porter show that SIMmersion’s technology is engaging for individuals with ASD and can drive meaningful improvements in social skills.

“Our systems are ideal for addressing the needs of people with autism,” explains Dale Olsen, Ph.D., President of SIMmersion. The company’s virtual characters are represented by video of actors, maximizing realism and relevance to authentic social situations. Users have a wide array of choices for what to say at any time and how to say it, capturing nuances of conversation. The technology enables users to have a realistic social encounter and learn from any errors without the anxiety of real-world consequences. Immediate feedback on every choice is provided by the character’s dialogue and an on-screen coach, so no teachable moments are missed.

Two of SIMmersion’s products, developed with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), are specifically targeted to benefit users with ASD. Autism Social Conversation Training with Sam Martin, available for free on SIMmersion’s Training Center, lets users build conversation skills as they practice talking with a friendly stranger at a party. Job Interview Training with Molly Porter was designed to help individuals with serious mental illness like ASD navigate a particularly vital and stressful social encounter: the job interview.

In Autism Social Conversation Training, users practice skills instrumental to collaborative conversation like showing interest, asking relevant questions, and avoiding non sequiturs or social missteps. Drilling these skills in role-plays with a virtual character can help users learn to employ the skills in face-to-face conversations.

Adults and teens with ASD in a study from Catholic University found Autism Social Conversation Training engaging, easy to use, and helpful. They also considered the virtual character, Sam, to be realistic and personable. “I felt like I was talking to a real person,” said one participant. Developing comfort in casual social encounters helps people with ASD build the foundational social skills that can prepare them for success in more high-stakes interactions, like job interviews.

Research indicates that more than two-thirds of individuals with mental health concerns would like to work, but deficits in social skills can create barriers to obtaining work or retaining a job once acquired. Job Interview Training with Molly Porter helps users over that hurdle by allowing stress-free practice on a realistic conversation with Molly, a virtual interviewer. Users practice skills vital to interview success, like conveying dependability, demonstrating interest in the job, and sharing in a positive way. Users can also practice filling out a mock job application and fielding Molly’s personalized questions about their answers.

In research at Northwestern University, participants with ASD who trained on Job Interview Training with Molly Porter went on to perform significantly better in live interview role-plays than a control group, and reported higher levels of self-confidence in their interview skills. Early follow-up data suggests that users of the system are more than twice as likely to obtain real-world employment within 20 weeks than their peers who didn’t receive the training.

A public health crisis on the scale of ASD has no easy solutions. But this World Autism Awareness Day, SIMmersion is doing its part to shine a light on autism with training applications tailored for the needs and aspirations of people with ASD.

About SIMmersion

SIMmersion’s mission is to train communication skills faster and more effectively by combining the world’s most realistic simulated experiences with highly interactive training content and extensive user feedback. For more information, visit

For unlimited free use of the Autism Social Conversation Training with Sam Martin, visit SIMmersion’s Training Center at

For a free trial of Job Interview Training with Molly Porter, visit


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Innovative Collaboration Between SIMmersion and Medscape Will Use Virtual Patient to Introduce Doctors to the Spirit of Motivational Interviewing

MI convo

Motivational Interviewing (MI) helps patients work towards change

Motivational  Interviewing (MI) is a proven approach for encouraging patients towards positive change, and the Blending Initiative—a joint project of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA)— seeks to expand1Y0-223 the adoption of MI by practitioners. SIMmersion announces a partnership with SEI and the Blending Initiative to create an engaging virtual introduction to the spirit of MI for primary care physicians.

A patient confesses that he’s been struggling with drugs for years, but is finally ready to make a change.  One doctor says, “Here’s what you should do.”  Another doctor asks, “What do you think you’ll do?”

According to three decades of research on Motivational Interviewing (MI), an innovative approach practitioners can use to encourage behavior change, the second doctor is much more likely to help the patient devise a plan, stick to it, and feel like a participant in a collaborative relationship.

“A simple principle that emerged from our earliest discussions,” writes William Miller, Ph.D, one of the co-founders of MI, “was to have the client, not the counselor, voice the reasons for change.”  This approach builds the motivation of patients to work for change, and has a profound effect on retention in treatment and positive outcomes across a practice.

SIMmersion will use its PeopleSim technology to create a training application allowing primary care physicians to explore how an MI-inspired approach could work in their practice while engaging in role-plays with a realistic virtual patient.

MI has been proven effective across the spectrum of healthcare disciplines, but adoption is relatively low.  This lack of widespread1Y0-251 use drew the attention of the Blending Initiative, a collaboration between the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to accelerate the dissemination of research-based treatment methods into clinical practice.  The Blending Initiative wanted a system that would allow users to get hands-on practice with MI in a virtual setting, which made SIMmersion a prime choice for a contract.

“We’re excited to participate in this project,” says Laura Boteler Humm, COO of SIMmersion.  “We’ve been integrating the spirit of MI into all of our physician training systems since 2007. Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention with Christy Johnson, Prescription Drug and Pain Management with Tom Kramer, and Prevention of Childhood Obesity with Kelly Robinson all have reflective listening, collaborative relationship building, and support for autonomy interwoven into the scripts. But this is particularly exciting for us, because we get to make the spirit of MI the focus of the training. Because users will be  focusing just on MI, they’ll be able to learn tools like identifying and responding to change talk.  Hopefully, they’ll see that it’s effective and that patients like it, so they’ll seek out more training.”

SIMmersion’s contribution to the product will be a role-play conversation with a virtual patient who reveals that he is using cocaine.  Since primary care physicians have ongoing relationships with their patients, even brief interventions can have lasting effects on the choices patients make.  The conversation will demonstrate to users how effective a collaborative, MI-inspired approach with patients can be.

The PeopleSim conversation engine that powers SIMmersion’s characters will make the virtual patient’s personality change from play to play, giving an array of experiences and increasing the replay value.  Dynamic pathways through the conversation let users dig deeper with questions, change topics freely, and even backtrack on their way through the conversation, just like a real encounter with a patient.  The patient’s level of engagement with users will change dynamically based on what users say.  A collaborative style will encourage openness and participation, while a directive style will make the patient more reserved and passive.  Feedback from the character’s dialogue and an on-screen coach will let users learn from missteps in real-time, and a comprehensive after-action review will allow them to see details of their performance and ways to improve in the future.

What patients appreciate about MI, writes Stephen Rollnick, PhD, the other co-founder of MI, is having  “a little space with a professional who lets you wonder aloud what change might be like, and who enjoys with you the easy feeling when you make some progress.”  With this training system, SIMmersion and its partners can give healthcare practitioners an engaging introduction to the spirit of motivational interviewing, and the helpful, easy feeling it can impart to patients across the healthcare system.

About SIMmersion

SIMmersion’s mission is to train communication skills faster and more effectively by combining the world’s most realistic simulated experiences with highly interactive training content and extensive user feedback.  For more information, visit  Free trial systems available at the Training Center,


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From Our Staff: Web Developer Nicolas LoGiudice on the Website Redesign

Nicolas LoGiudice, Web Developer

Nicolas LoGiudice, Web Developer

As announced in our official press release, SIMmersion launched a redesigned website early this month.  The project was challenging yet rewarding for Web Developer Nicolas LoGiudice, who described his design choices in an interview in advance of the press release.

Here’s the full interview, slightly edited for formatting.

  • How would you describe the impression you wanted the new site design to have on users?

In this new age of rapid information exchange,1Y0-256 you only have seconds to engage a new user, and hopefully, keep them interested enough to browse your full site. My goal was to modernize SIMmersion’s web presence, equaling the quality of our technology and products. I wanted it to be extremely clean and easy to navigate and read; nothing should overwhelm or scare the user away. I also wanted the site to translate well to any browser, screen size or device.

  • What are some specific technical choices you made to create that user experience?

With so many phones, tablets and other  portable devices in the market, responsive design was a must.  Taking this into consideration, I wanted to utilize frameworks that would  allow me to design for any viewing size – without a loss of resolution or content.

I used Bootstrap 3.0 as my core framework, which includes many common web design schemas/tools/libraries (jQuery, CSS3, HTML5).  Starting on this base, I added several libraries to aid other requirements:  FontAwesome to assist with scalable iconography, retina.js to help with iPad display, and a myriad of other libraries to help with smooth scrolling, animations and browser fixes.  In development, I utilized various programs to assist with the creation and distribution of the new site: Visual Studio, Photoshop, Illustrator, Edge Animate, FireBug and Filezilla just to name a few.

As far as actual design decisions, I went with the modern conceptual choice of large, wide, full-screen sections. This choice was based off of several factors:

  1. Ability to translate to any browser, screen size or device.
  2. The common usage of larger and wider screens (the old defacto design scheme was 940px in width, which is just far too small for the average widescreen monitors most people use now.)
  3. In keeping with newer trends– widescreen design is being used by innovative and modern companies in the newest designs across the web.  SIMmersion’s technology is cutting edge, and we need our presence to be cutting-edge as well.

SIMmersion's new site uses design to drive engagement

  • How does the design relate to SIMmersion’s mission and/or the overall image we want to project to users?

SIMmersion’s technology is complex and  sometimes hard to understand at first glance.  I wanted to project a  simple, clean and easy image with the new design to help compensate for the complexity of the underlying technology.  Also, while SIMmersion is a very serious company, we still want our products to be fun and engaging, so that was taken into consideration as well.

  • How do people tend to look for information when they visit a site?

Users usually start in the middle to upper left of the page, and then track to the right, unless something else grabs their attention. With the landing page, I used this basic concept to lay out the information in a logical manner.  The site navigation is also laid out in such a manner (starts with the most important links on the left.) I also made sure that the user would be able to get to any and all of the site pages easily, so I included a full footer with all of the site links, as well as page-specific navigation to ease the exploration process.

Delving deeper into the design, there is a consistent language across the whole site, starting with a title or heading, then a tagline that acts as a summarization of the content, and then the content itself, in small, easy to read portions. This way the user would be able to get the1Y0-259 message of each section clearly and quickly.

  •  draws a really varied audience, from parents of autistic children to doctors to generals looking us over before a briefing.  How did all the different kinds      of end-users we serve with our products enter into the design?

This concept was a challenge.  Having to  design for commercial space and military/government space in the same scheme is extremely difficult.  Luckily, as far as language, I had help from the SIMmersion team (COO Laura Boteler Humm and Script Engineer Ben Allen-Kingsland).  As far as the design, I tried really hard not to alienate any demographic while still adhering to a firm theme.

I used a strong color palette, but simple colors: whites, blues and gold as an accent.  Blue and white are comforting colors, as well as ‘corporate’ colors, so they work well in all  fields.   A lighter theme with strong, crisp colors lends itself to a clean, modern style, which was one of my main design goals.

  • What was the biggest challenge in doing this overhaul?  How did you get past it?

As with any overhaul, even deciding where to start is a challenge.  The former had over 85 separate pages,  with extremely dense wording, numerous overlaps in sections – the list goes on and on.  Deciding where all the information should “live” was the first big challenge.

I knew I had to really think critically over how to organize all of the disparate information found on the former site, so I began that process before I wrote a single line of code. I have two whiteboards on either side of my office, and I drew the old  site, with all of its links and sections on one side, and then the new  design on the opposite wall, and spent several days constructing a new, clean hierarchy. I was given the distinct requirement of not removing any information that was found on the old site, so that was another variable which made this process challenging.

  • What are you most proud of about the new site?

This project marked my first time creating and publishing animations for the web.  While at times extremely difficult to integrate, especially given the responsive nature of the site and the  amount of devices that could potentially be viewing the site, the animations were extremely rewarding when finished.  Due to their time consuming creation process, there are only several on the site currently.  As time permits, I hope to add more to illustrate some of our more technical concepts.

I’m also really proud of the rest of the Technology page in general.  I created all of the imagery and iconography from scratch, and I think the flow, color palette and layout make it extremely fluid and easy to follow.

Congratulations to Nick on all his work on the new!

Questions for Nick, or thoughts on the new design?  Leave a comment below.


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Innovative design decisions on SIMmersion’s new site increase user engagement

SIMmersion's new site uses design to drive engagement

SIMmersion’s new site uses design to drive engagement

Through its site and online training center, SIMmersion makes the case for how its state-of-the-art technology can improve the outcomes of important conversations in business,1Y0-309 healthcare, military settings and more.  Web Developer Nicolas LoGiudice speaks about the design decisions he made in a recent overhaul of the site to support the full range of users who visit

Ten seconds.

That’s about how long a landing page has to grab a user’s attention, according to the Nielsen Norman Group.  Think about your own browsing; if you come to a site that looks unprofessional or seems irrelevant, how quickly do you return to your search results and try something else?

At the other end of the spectrum, if you find a site that’s intriguing enough to keep you from bolting immediately, how often have you found yourself clicking through page after page to learn more?

Users who don’t bounce away in the first seconds tend to show high engagement, digging deeply through a site and lingering for an extended period.

A well-planned design is crucial to getting and maintaining this more engaged, high-value traffic.  SIMmersion announces a newly revamped site at with design decisions intended to increase engagement and help users over that initial ten-second hump.

“I wanted it to be extremely clean and easy to navigate and read,” says Nicolas LoGiudice, web developer for SIMmersion.  “Nothing should overwhelm or scare the user away.”

SIMmersion’s previous site was in line with contemporary designs when it was developed, but changing trends prompted the need for a fresh approach.  The new design employs large, widescreen sections and a lean writing style, focusing on taglines and key ideas to entice users to learn more.  The widescreen trend is associated with high-tech innovation, LoGiudice explains.  “Our technology is cutting-edge, and we need our presence to be cutting-edge as well.”

The modern widescreen sections also help readability across devices.  “With so many phones, tablets and other portable devices in the market, responsive design was a must,” says LoGiudice.  To accommodate the whole gamut of viewing sizes without a loss of resolution or content, he incorporated a range of libraries into the core Bootstrap 3.0 framework, from FontAwesome for typography to retina.js for iPad optimization.  The result is a page that adjusts its design dynamically as the resolution changes, so the presentation is clear on any device, at any size.

Recognizing the power images and logos have to convey a great deal of meaning at a glance, LoGiudice created custom iconography throughout the site to support the text.  “SIMmersion’s technology is complex and sometimes hard to understand.  Icons and imagery help the site stay fun, engaging, and easy to follow.”

Animations on the Technology page illustrate complex technical processes in seconds without the weight of words.  SIMmersion’s dynamic player pathways are one such topic.  The company’s technology allows users to take almost any path through a virtual conversation, with topics opening, closing, and shifting dynamically based on their choices.  An animation of a map with many routes to a central point conveys the concept of flexibility and user choice immediately.   “The animations were extremely rewarding when finished,” LoGuidice says.

Apart from the challenge of implementing a clean, approachable design for every browser and device, LoGiudice had to weigh the preferences of SIMmersion’s widely varied audience of users.  Given that SIMmersion has training solutions for users in business, healthcare, law enforcement, the military and more, the background of any given visitor could vary enormously.  Visitors’ interests could also vary widely, from solo users looking for off-the-shelf training to decision makers looking to contract a custom  system for their organizations. tbcfircrest “Having to design for commercial space and military/government space in the same scheme is extremely difficult,” LoGiudice admits.  “I used a strong color palette, but simple colors: whites, blues and gold as an accent.  I tried not to alienate any demographic while still adhering to a strong theme.”

Revamping the entire company site was a challenge, but the developer looks back on the product with satisfaction.  “My goal was to modernize SIMmersion’s web presence, equaling the quality of our technology and products,” he says.   With an innovative, contemporary web design on its site, SIMmersion is positioned to engage users and deliver advanced conversation training to any audience.

About SIMmersion

SIMmersion’s mission is to train communication skills faster and more effectively by combining the world’s most realistic simulated experiences with highly interactive training content and extensive user feedback.  For more information, visit the new site at  Free trial systems available at


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New Virtual Training Approach Evokes Emotions to Boost Memory and Provide Practice in Building Relationships

Effective Training evokes emotions, both positive and negative

Effective Training evokes emotions, both positive and negative


To be effective, training systems should relate directly to real-world situations and be easy for users to recall and apply later on.  In its latest system, “RAs Combat College Drinking,” SIMmersion further refines an approach to virtual training conversations that evokes emotions to boost memory and give realistic experience at building strong relationships.

*trigger warning: contains references to a fictional sexual assault*


College sophomore Alison Monroe dries her eyes.

“There was one night, at a party… We were having fun. And he seemed nice… at first. But then… I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t make him stop. I said no. I did say no…”

This emotional conversation could happen in any dorm in America, but it’s actually taking place inside a virtual reality system called RAs Combat College Drinking, currently under development by SIMmersion. Alison is not a real student but a character powered by SIMmersion’s PeopleSim conversation engine. The Maryland company is paving new ground in training by incorporating emotionally evocative content into its role-play conversations.

“When training only presents information, it can leave users unprepared for the complexities they’ll face on the job,” explains Dr. Dale Olsen, President of SIMmersion. “By including realistic, relevant emotional content, we give users a safe virtual space to experience some of the messy realities of their work.”

Research on the interplay between emotion and memory shows that people are better are remembering details of content long-term if it arouses their emotions in some way. The same mechanism lets people recall emotional life events, like the birth of a child or where they were during disasters like 9/11, in vivid detail years after the fact. Since content that’s emotionally evocative is easier to retain, training systems that elicit emotions will be easier for users to recall and apply in their real lives.

In RAs Combat College Drinking, the user is a Resident Assistant (RA) engaging Alison in conversation about alcohol and how it fits into her life at school. She has several personalities that vary from conversation to conversation, and a realistic emotional model that remembers and reacts to every user choice, good and bad. The different versions of Alison provide a realistic array of emotionally charged topics, both related and unrelated to alcohol, that users must navigate.

SIMmersion’s approach to emotional content is evident in earlier systems, such as the Prescription Drug Screening and Pain Management Training System for doctors and the Hands-On Interview and Interrogation System (HIITS) for law enforcement.

Every day, doctors must navigate intense patient emotions in order to safely prescribe opioid medications to manage chronic pain. Tom Kramer, SIMmersion’s virtual patient in the Prescription Drug System, emulates real patients’ pleas:

“Please … I need them. The pain was so bad before I was on them. I can’t hurt like that again.”

When pain and emotions are real, it’s hard to establish a safe course of treatment. Maintaining a compassionate working relationship while identifying the risk factors for abuse requires a delicate balance. SIMmersion’s system lets doctors practice navigating these emotionally charged scenarios without the high stakes of real life.

Law enforcement officers experience similar difficulties during investigative interviews, where extreme emotions can mask guilt or innocence. In HIITS, Jennifer Lerner is the prime suspect in the theft of sensitive documents. Determining innocence or guilt is challenging because of the wide range of emotions she brings to the conversation and the unpredictable nature of her varied personalities. Sometimes the interview veers to the personal :

“I tried for ten years to make it work so that Carlotta and Gabriella would have a father, but he cheated all the time and when he hit me, I knew I had to end it… and I still miss him. It just doesn’t make any sense. I was so unhappy when he was there, but I don’t have anyone to share things with.”

For an officer, saying the wrong thing at this moment could ruin rapport for the rest of the interview, while finding an appropriate way to express sympathy could build the trust that can lead to the truth. Practicing how to approach emotional moments without a real case on the line is one of the ways HIITS provides significant value to trainees.

HIITS, which was a finalist in the 2013 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge, incorporates emotional moments like these at natural but unpredictable places throughout the conversation. After completing the training, one officer said, “You forget you’re talking to a computer because it’s so realistic.” This emotional realism makes the training stick with users long after the fact, building real-world proficiency.

Visit to learn more about Tom Kramer and other systems that provide advanced virtual training for important conversations. Try a demo system for free. Learn more about HIITS at

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SIMmersion’s Effective Virtual Training Conversations Featured on Top Serious Games Portal

HIITS provides effective training in interviewing suspects

HIITS provides effective training in interviewing suspects

After recognition in the international Serious Games Showcase and Challenge in 2013, SIMmersion will see its systems featured on the training and serious games 100-101portal, driving higher visibility in the virtual training realm.

“You forget that this is a training program because it’s so realistic.”

“An ideal training tool.”

“It gets kind of addictive.”

These testimonials from police officers who trained with SIMmersion’s Hands-On Interview and Interrogation Simulation (HIITS) point to the high levels of engagement that effective simulations and serious games can inspire. Since 2002, SIMmersion has developed a reputation for pushing the boundaries of the field in virtual conversation training, reaching finalist status in the 2013 international Serious Games Showcase and Challenge.

SIMmersion announces another step forward with the featuring of HIITS and other systems, an international portal for training simulations and serious games.

“ClarkChart has always been dedicated to making it easier for organizations to find the right serious games for quick and successful use, as well as providing an industry hall of fame,” says Clark Aldrich, managing partner of CAD and editor of “SIMmersion is a natural fit for inclusion in this highest level of industry significance, and I am happy that they now have their own dedicated place on ClarkChart.”

Aldrich describes the potential of simulations and serious games in an article for the journal Inside Learning Technologies & Skills:

“[Simulations] allow the student to experiment with their traditional behavior… this is impossible in classroom-based role-play, where people are on their best behavior.”

It was this specific disconnect between the limitations of classroom role-plays and the critical need for social skills training that drove President Dale Olsen to found SIMmersion. Virtual conversations like HIITS use realistic scenarios, true-to-life dialogue, and vivid characters portrayed in video by live actors to create an impactful experience second only to a real conversation. However, in a SIMmersion role-play, there’s no fear of embarrassment or impulse to be on ‘best behavior.’ Making mistakes and experimenting with behaviors are vital to the skill-building process.

Aldrich continues: “[Simulations] present tailored, not generic, after-action reviews and debriefings.”

SIMmersion’s learning approach features exactly this kind of tailored feedback at every step in the learning process. After every statement the user makes, an on-screen coach offers non-verbal cues to cheer on successes and flag mistakes. The coach also provides on-demand insights into every statement and character response, supporting users with hints and suggestions for improvement. At the end of the conversation,200-101 a debriefing provides quantitative scoring and qualitative feedback based on details about the user’s performance. Systems also track performance over time to help users see the progress they’ve made and consider their next steps.

Finally, Aldrich writes, simulations and serious games empower users to “apply and improvise the material to appropriately adapt it to situations not covered in the formal course.”

Building skills that generalize outside the training system is a key strength of SIMmersion’s virtual conversations. Training company MindQuilt reports that roughly 90% of traditional workplace training content is forgotten post-instruction. When users are passive recipients of information that may or may not be relevant to their day-to-day work, it follows that retention will be low.

In contrast, SIMmersion’s unique systems get users actively involved in educational content that matters to them through realistic virtual role-play conversations. The unique PeopleSim conversation engine gives characters varied personalities and an emotional model that realistically reacts to user choices during the conversation. Consequences of good or bad choices are immediately apparent in the way the on-screen character responds. Dynamic player pathways through the conversation script allow for following up, backtracking, and an ever-shifting network of topics to pursue, so no conversation will ever play the same way twice. A wide range of character personalities and responses lets users experience many of the possible cases that can occur in the real-life conversations depicted by the role-play, so skills built generalize to more than one scenario.

Because the experience is engaging and has high replay value, retention from a SIMmersion system tends to be substantially higher. One year after completing the HIITS course, 90.9% of the police officers surveyed reported that they were still applying the skills they’d learned in the system and found them effective, meaning that the same nine out of ten users who typically forget training content had internalized it instead. This dramatic case shows the potential of simulations and serious games like HIITS to drive real results in the training realm.

Learn more about HIITS and other SIMmersion products at or

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Mathematical Simulations vs. the PeopleSim Conversation Engine

Basic mathematical equations, like F = MA or Force equals mass times acceleration, have long been used to describe physical events.  With the development of computers, complex equations could be integrated into models  to understand and predict the effects of air flow of an airplane’s wing, to estimate the effect of a change in policy on the economy, or to predict the weather. 

Like equations-based simulations, training simulations, such as fire drills, war games and role-plays also have a long history.  Participants actually took part in the exercises being simulated, as opposed to simply analyzing the output from a model and drawing conclusions

As computers became more powerful, it was only natural that these machines would be used to integrate the complexity of mathematical models with the interactivity of training.   Perhaps the best known example is the flight simulator, used for decades to train pilots.

While models of human behavior sometimes are described using simple mathematical models, these models are rarely used for training.  Mathematical models that fully represent human behavior do not exist. 

Starting in the late 1980s, attempts were made to train communication skills using a computer, but were not successful.  The approaches relied on very simple logic. 

A significant advancement was made in 1997, when I combined a complex stochastic model, a fundamental new structure, and human scripting, to develop the PeopleSim technology and incorporated it in a simulation to train FBI agents to better interview suspects.  Since that time the resulting PeopleSim technology has evolved and has been used to develop over 25 other simulations. 

SIMmersion is as hard at work as ever at exploring the potential of PeopleSim to create realistic training conversations that build lasting skills.  Visit to see what’s coming next for us.

–Dale Olsen, PhD

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New Study Shows SIMmersion’s Virtual Reality Technology Can Combat Unemployment by Preparing Job Seekers for Interview Questions

Virtual Training Can Prepare Job Seekers for Standard Interview Questions

Virtual Training Can Prepare Job Seekers for Standard Interview Questions

SIMmersion’s system Job Interview Training With Molly Porter provides expert interview tips and role-playing practice with a realistic virtual interviewer. 200-120 A study by researchers at Northwestern University shows that the technology is highly effective at building interview skills, improving players’ answers to standard interview questions and boosting confidence.

“Tell me a little about yourself.”

Molly Porter leans forward, the picture of professional poise. It’s clear she has interviewed hundreds of applicants and knows exactly what she’s looking for from her interview questions. The job seeker on the other side of the desk, on the other hand, is much less certain about the way forward. Molly’s simple request to “tell me a little about yourself” feels like the first step into a minefield.

Fortunately for the job seeker, Molly is not a real-life recruiter, but a virtual character in SIMmersion’ssystem Job Interview Training with Molly Porter. The state-of-the-art training technology was developed with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant # 5R44 MH 080496) to help people with psychiatric disabilities address a topic very much on the minds of the general population: “What are the best things to say in a job interview?”

For individuals with psychiatric disorders, researchers at Northwestern University write that “the job interview may be a significant barrier to obtaining employment [due to] social cognitive impairments.” A system that coaches the social skills required to interview well “may be a significant target for vocational rehabilitation services.” In their research, the Northwestern team demonstrated that Job Interview Training with Molly Porter is effective at building interview skills and confidence in its users.

The study randomly divided a sample of roughly forty patients with psychiatric disabilities, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, into two groups. Each group conducted a pair of mock job interviews with trained role-players. Participants received scores based on how well they presented themselves during the role-plays. Two weeks later, both groups returned for another pair of interviews to document any change in their skill levels.

Between the assessments, participants in the experimental group engaged in multiple sessions of Job Interview Training with Molly Porter. The system opens with easy-to-navigate educational content full of expert interview tips, and is anchored by a virtual interview with Molly powered by SIMmersion’s PeopleSim Conversation Engine. Molly draws from a script of hundreds of standard interview questions during highly realistic mock interviews that never play the same way twice. Her feelings towards the user are shaped by the user’s answers, so a string of good choices makes her more encouraging, while a series of poor ones will make her more brusque. Making mistakes in a real interview can cost applicants the job, but mistakes in Job Interview Training are teachable moments free of stressful consequences. Extensive feedback from Molly, an on-screen coach and an after-action review make sure every training point is captured and users know where to focus for improvement. Users can play at different difficulty levels so the challenge increases along with their skills. If users choose to fill out a sample application, Molly will personalize the conversation with questions specific to their education background, work history, and other details unique to them.

On average, participants played through fourteen interviews with Molly over the course of almost ten hours of training. After completing the second set of live role-plays, the group without SIMmersion’s training actually saw a modest drop in performance. In contrast, the participants who practiced with Molly significantly improved their interviewing skills, especially on key dimensions like sharing personal details in a positive light, and sounding honest and easy to work with. Users of Job Interview Training with Molly Porter also reported twice as much growth in their confidence in their interviewing skills than the other group.
“A virtual reality approach to training job interview skills might be a feasible and efficacious tool to improve job interview performances and self-confidence,” the researchers conclude. Preliminary data from follow-up interviews shows that users of Job Interview Training with Molly Porter are having more success at finding work than participants who did not receive the training, suggesting that the system can drive real results in the job market.

SIMmersion looks forward to a future where every job seeker has the skills and confidence to see “tell me about yourself” and other standard interview questions not as steps through a minefield, but opportunities to shine.

For more information about Job Interview Training with Molly Porter, visit SIMmersion develops immersive simulations to train difficult conversations. Learn more at or by calling 443-283-2555.


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