Virtual Reality Training Gives Residence Assistants New Tools to Deal With Underage Drinking at Colleges

RAs are often face-to-face with underage drinking

RAs are often face-to-face with underage drinking

Alcohol misuse among college students is a persistent public health problem.  With funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), SIMmersion announces the development of a state-of-the-art virtual training tool to empower resident advisors (RAs) to talk about underage drinking with their fellow students and uncover risky drinking tendencies before they escalate.

Resident Advisors (RAs) on college campuses often find themselves striking an uneasy balance between conflicting roles. Ideally, they are supposed to act as friendly mentors to their student peers, helping them navigate the complex social environment of a college campus. But, embedded as they are in the same halls where students live, they also have authoritative duties as the first line of policing and response for episodes of underage drinking or risky drinking.

As students themselves, the authority, experience and training RAs can bring to bear in an alcohol-related crisis is limited. A focus group of RAs convened at Northwestern University identified a strong need for additional training in how to talk to students about alcohol and identify problem situations before they escalate. In response to this need, SIMmersionannounces the development of an innovative virtual training tool to help RAs practice strategies for talking about alcohol with their residents before dangerous or illegal drinking occurs.

With funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and support from experts at Brown University, Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pathways Research in Canada, SIMmersion will create an e-learning solution for RAs centered on a realistic role-play conversation with a virtual resident, Alison Monroe. Users of the simulation will learn to talk about alcohol in a natural way, peer-to-peer. RAs can practice talking honestly about drinking to find a supportive middle ground between praising and condemning the behavior. If warning signs about alcohol misuse appear, RAs will be able to get experience referring Alison to support services to preempt further harm.

SIMmersion’s groundbreaking PeopleSim conversation engine will govern Alison’s behavior in the simulation and make each conversation unique. Alison’s personality, mood and statements will vary with each play, better preparing RAs for the variety of students they will encounter.

PeopleSim provides virtual characters with three key features: 

  •     An array of different personalities that vary from play to play, so conversations feel fundamentally different
  •     A realistic emotional model driven by the positive and negative things the user says in the conversation
  •     A memory of what’s been said so far in the conversation, regardless of the order in which users went through the topics

Every time the user says something to Alison, a dynamic filtering process takes place to determine how she responds. On average, she will have three to twelve possible responses scripted for every statement the user can make. PeopleSim weighs her personality, her current emotional attitude towards the user and her memory of what’s already been said to assign probabilities to each of the possible responses. A roll of the dice behind the scenes determines the final selection of a response, just as real people in conversation often change what they plan to say or how they plan to phrase their words right at the last moment. With these three key features feeding into a dynamic filtering process, PeopleSim produces role-playing characters like Alison who are lifelike and engaging throughout not just one conversation, but many repeated plays.

The virtual conversation with Alison is the core of a training system that also includes robust, user-driven educational materials that RAs can browse as much or as little as they choose to before, during or after the conversation. Alison’s responses and tone of voice during the role-play provide very clear feedback about performance, augmented by the nonverbal gestures of an on-screen coach. Detailed advice and hints are available at every exchange during the conversation, weaving the system’s educational content into the act of putting skills into practice. A granular after-action review breaks down points of strength and areas for improvement and allows RAs to review the transcript of their conversation. This integrated learning model merges Knowledge Acquisition, Skill Acquisition and Feedback into a unified system to maximize the impact on users of many learning styles.

By role-playing with Alison, RAs will practice raising the topic of alcohol with their residents in a natural way and suggesting referrals if warning signs appear. In the next phase of the project, SIMmersion will expand its offerings with two new conversations for RAs and separate training systems geared for the needs of Student Affairs staff and faculty advisors who deal with students engaged in risky drinking. By supplying colleges with powerful online training tools to address the underage drinking crisis, SIMmersion can help create a safer future for students nationwide.


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Virtual Training Systems Offer Hope to People with Depression

Nearly 10% of Adults Met the Medical Criteria for a Depressive Disorder

Nearly 10% of Adults Met the Medical Criteria for a Depressive Disorder

As depression affects nearly one in ten Americans, the nation’s healthcare providers constantly strive to help their patients and clients cope with the debilitating mental illness.  SIMmersion’s newly expanded suite of virtual conversations for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline trains responders on how to understand depression and save lives.

Do you have trouble falling asleep, or getting out of bed?

Do you have trouble concentrating?

Is the list of things that give you pleasure a small one, and getting smaller?

The Center for Disease Control asked eight questions like these to hundreds of thousands of adults in the US in an unprecedented effort to determine just how common depression is. The sobering finding was that nearly ten percent of adults met the medical criteria for a depressive disorder; not the sort of sadness that comes and goes in any life, but an emotional weight heavy enough to hinder a person’s ability to work, participate, and stay healthy. Depression is also one of the top two risk factors for suicide; along with substance abuse disorders, 90% of people who take their lives struggle with the condition, reports the National Institute for Mental Health.

SIMmersion’s newly expanded suite of virtual training conversations for responders of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline helps them understand depression and give hope to callers in crisis. The Lifeline answers an average of 89,000 calls a month in crisis centers around the country, according to the department of Health and Human Services. Providing nonjudgmental support to the people who call the hotline is a delicate skill necessary to help navigate moments of crisis. SIMmersion’s training suite lets responders build their skills through realistic virtual calls before they interact with the broader population.
SIMmersion’s training includes conversations with: 

    •     Ray Scott, a man so overwhelmed by his depression that he’s prepared to commit suicide. By listening to Ray’s story, users give him the chance to voice his negative thoughts, work his way through them and decide to stay safe.
    •     Amy Walker, a woman who fears that her ex-boyfriend may be considering suicide. Amy, like many people who know individuals at risk for suicide, is anxious about what steps to take, especially because their relationship is complicated. Users can offer Amy support and gather the information necessary to reach out to her ex-boyfriend before a tragedy occurs.
    •     Tyler Matthews, a veteran whose PTSD symptoms and difficulties transitioning to civilian life are making him consider suicide. This brand-new training conversation helps responders navigate the specifics of serving veterans and draws on additional resources from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A state-of-the-art conversation engine called PeopleSim allows SIMmersion to create these virtual characters, each of whom has hundreds of possible responses to what a user says during the conversation. The characters have realistic emotions that change in the course of the conversation, demonstrating more or less trust in the user depending on how supportive or antagonistic the user’s choices are. Video of real actors is used to make the conversation feel as close to a face-to-face meeting as possible.

In each of these conversations, responders receive feedback from an on-screen coach with constructive suggestions for how to proceed. A comprehensive after-action review lets users see how well they met their objectives and what areas they can improve in to serve their callers better in the future.

The Lifeline simulations help responders react to the needs of people with depression in time to avert tragedy. Other SIMmersion products take a preventative look at depression by training physicians and counselors to screen their patients or clients for depression in the course of discussions on substance abuse or chronic pain. More information on SIMmersion’s healthcare training products is available at

Because SIMmersion’s systems can be delivered online and require no specialized equipment, the training is as accessible as possible to as many providers as possible. Given the prevalence of depression, and the need for exemplary training across the health care system, the fact that robust training is more available than ever is one reason to be hopeful about a brighter 2014 in the field of mental health.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available toll-free 24/7 anywhere in the United States. To talk to a responder, dial 1800-273-TALK (8255) or visit

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Breakthrough Virtual Training Helps Doctors Save Lives During the Holidays by Curbing Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Training Doctors in Best Practices for Brief Interventions

Officials warn that the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is “especially dangerous” because of drunk drivers.  This year, a powerful virtual training simulation by SIMmersion, developed in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), will help doctors reach out to patients before their risky drinking makes the holidays tragic.

Whether it’s beer during Thanksgiving football games, spiked egg nog at holiday parties, or champagne on New Year’s Eve, there are plenty of opportunities to drink during the holidays. More chances to drink, however, means more chances to drink beyond healthy limits, or to drink and drive; a decision that’s just as dangerous for occasional drinkers as for dependent drinkers grappling with alcoholism.

“The holiday season can be an especially dangerous time on our nation’s roadways due to drunk drivers,” said former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2012. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drunk drivers caused more than 10,000 deaths in 2012, an increase of nearly 5% from 2011.

Just as law enforcement is on high alert to stop drunk drivers during the holidays, the country’s medical professionals are doing their part to help patients make safer choices about alcohol long before they get behind the wheel. To support doctors across the country, SIMmersion joined forces with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the Alcohol Screening & Brief Intervention simulation. This groundbreaking training program lets medical professionals talk to a simulated patient, Christy Johnson, about her potential for alcohol abuse and steps she can take to stay safe.

“Research shows that when doctors screen and intervene with their patients, alcohol consumption drops and stays down,” says Dale Olsen, PhD, President of SIMmersion. “But due to a training gap, many doctors were having problems talking about alcohol use effectively. Talking to Christy gives them realistic practice in what to say, when to say it, and how to say it to help patients change their behavior.”

In the simulation, Christy has come to the doctor’s office for treatment of a minor injury after a car accident. It’s up to the doctor playing the simulation to decide what screening questions to ask to determine her risk level for alcohol misuse, and what appropriate steps to take depending on the answers she gives.

Christy is portrayed in video by a professional actress, so speaking with her feels as real as a face-to-face conversation. Her responses vary from play to play, as does her level of alcohol misuse. For example, sometimes she’s a low-risk drinker who just needs support and encouragement to keep making safe choices. In other conversations, she’s a dependent drinker whose life is being seriously impacted by her alcoholism, and a referral to expert counselors is the healthiest path forward for her. Because SIMmersion’s PeopleSim technology provides Christy with life-like emotions, the quality of the doctor’s “bedside manner” during the entire conversation has a huge impact on how forthcoming and friendly she is. The variety of realistic responses Christy brings to the conversation makes the training highly applicable to interventions with real-world patients.

In addition to the conversation with Christy, the training system includes extensive e-learning drawn from NIAAA research which doctors can review at any time. An on-screen coach offers feedback on everything said during the conversation to make the most of every teachable moment. In a comprehensive after-action review, doctors can see measures of their performance and receive constructive feedback on how to improve. “The freedom to make mistakes is a huge part of learning,” says Dr. Olsen. “It’s much better for doctors to make those mistakes in a SIMmersion system than by trial-and-error on real patients.”

study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that medical professionals who trained with the Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention simulation were significantly more effective at screening and intervening with human patients than practitioners who didn’t receive the training. “The reviewers who watched the videotaped appointments could tell which doctors had taken the training, and which doctors hadn’t,” says Dr. Paul Grossberg, MD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Since Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention is now online at and is accessible to doctors anywhere, more patients than ever may be receiving the benefits of a supportive intervention about their drinking as the holiday season begins. That’s something all of us can celebrate.
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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New Technology Empowers Doctors to Combat Prescription Drug Addiction

Helping Doctors Address the Prescription Drug Crisis

With millions of Americans abusing prescription drugs and rates of fatal overdose soaring, many doctors struggle with how to provide their patients needed medicine without feeding the addiction epidemic.  SIMmersion’s Prescription Drug and Pain Management Training System, created 350-018in partnership with researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, trains doctors in patient-centered techniques to address the prescription drug crisis without compromising care.

Today, a teen in New Mexico will pop a friend’s Adderall to help him study for an exam.

A woman in Florida will take some expired Xanax to get through a sleepless night.

A man in West Virginia will swallow a few extra OxyContin because the old dosage isn’t stopping the pain like it used to.

People make choices like these all across the country, every day. A comprehensive report this year from Trust for America’s Health states that roughly one in every fifty Americans is abusing or misusing prescription drugs, a rate that has exploded since 1999. According to the report, there are more overdose deaths per year from prescription painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined. In a majority of states, drug poisoning has become the number one cause of injury death, even higher than traffic accidents.

America’s doctors are on the front lines of this public health crisis. Prescription painkillers, stimulants and sedatives are crucial tools physicians can employ to treat patients and alleviate their suffering. But when the potential for misuse is so high, many medical professionals struggle with the decision to prescribe or not to prescribe. “Questions about the benefits and risks of chronic analgesic therapy mean that… more work will be needed to assure that no one suffers needlessly from pain,” says June Dahl, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

In response to this training need, SIMmersion developed a partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Together, the team created the Prescription Drug and Pain Management Training System. This state-of-the-art training system with role-playing simulations helps physicians build skills in three different dimensions of this complex public health topic:

  •      Screening patients for risk factors of prescription drug misuse and abuse
  •      Empowering low-risk patients to use their medication responsibly by introducing prescription agreements
  •      Transitioning high-risk patients from opioid medications to alternative pain management therapies

Physicians can review comprehensive e-learning at their own pace and put their skills into practice in three life-like conversations with Tom Kramer, a simulated patient created using SIMmersion’s PeopleSim engine. Tom is a new patient looking to refill an oxycodone prescription his previous doctor gave him for back pain.

Prescription Drug and Pain Management Training System

A groundbreaking emotional model makes Tom Kramer’s responses realistic. The quality of the doctor’s “bedside manner” throughout the conversation has a direct effect on how cooperative and open Tom is in his answers. His personality is different in each conversation, as are his responses to the user. For example, in the screening conversation, sometimes he is an ideal candidate for opioid painkillers and sometimes he is simply a scammer out to sell the oxycodone.    Because Tom’s responses and motivations differ every time the doctor uses the simulation, the skills developed in the training are more likely to generalize to a variety of real-world situations.
Detailed feedback from an on-screen coach is available at every moment during the simulation, so no teachable moments are missed. Additionally, a comprehensive after-action review gives a breakdown of the user’s performance with constructive suggestions for how to improve. In SIMmersion’s training systems, users are free to try different approaches and make mistakes in their conversations, building their skills without fear of the consequences of real-world failure. No special equipment is needed for the training, so doctors can conduct their training anytime, on any computer, getting the repeat practice that makes skills second nature.

The Prescription Drug and Pain Management Training System is one of SIMmersion’s most ambitious and intricate products, with hours of training across three separate simulated conversations. The scope of the project reflects the complexity of the prescription drug epidemic, and the need among prescribing physicians to have a system that provides real training, not simplistic answers. “If we could convince every front-line clinician in the country to spend 4-5 hours playing this simulation,” says Dr. Michael Fleming of Northwestern University, “we could dramatically decrease rates of opioid overdose and opioid-related harm.” SIMmersion is proud to be part of the national effort to help doctors keep their patients safe and stem the tide of prescription drug misuse.

SIMmersion’s PeopleSim® level 4 interactive training systems can now be delivered as a SCORM-compliant web-based application, on DVDs, and through mobile platforms. These systems can be made 508 compliant. For more information, contact SIMmersion online or call at 443-283-2555.

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SIMmersion Joins Effort to Save Veterans with Groundbreaking Suicide Prevention Simulation

Veterans Crisis Line

  Twenty veterans in the US take their lives every day, a trend that the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are fighting to reverse. SIMmersion’s state-of-the-art Suicide Prevention Training system allows responders on these crisis hotlines to get the realistic practice they need to save lives.

“I’m…” Tyler, the young veteran on the other end of the phone, sighs heavily before continuing. “I’m seeing things that aren’t there. Faces. Voices… I hear voices from overseas. I can’t trust my own eyes. My own mind.”

“I can’t live like this,” he finishes in a quiet voice.

Tyler is not alone. This Veterans Day, as we celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the people who have kept our country safe, it’s important to remember that hundreds of thousands of veterans struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mental illness, physical disability, and the challenges of returning to civilian life after military service. Some, like Tyler, wrestle with thoughts of suicide because of all their stress factors. Every time a veteran takes his or her own life, it’s a painful reminder of how far the nation still has to go to provide servicemen and women with the help they need, when they need it.

When a veteran like Tyler turns to a crisis hotline, it puts a heavy responsibility on the responder who answers the phone. Saying the right things could help Tyler stay safe. Saying the wrong things, however, might end in tragedy. The responder must be trained to a very high standard for this work, where job performance is literally a matter of life and death.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Fortunately for this responder, Tyler is not a real person in crisis, but a simulated character developed by SIMmersion for the Suicide Prevention Training system, a state-of-the art training experience for the responders on the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Tyler was designed to stand in for a whole range of real-life callers with whom responders might actually engage on the Veterans Crisis Line. A panel of responders and subject matter experts from the VA and the Mental Health Association of New York City worked closely with SIMmersion’s developers at every step of the way to make the training as real and effective as possible. Real responders who helped SIMmersion test the simulation were thrilled by its authenticity, commenting, “It really is feeling like a real call,” and “This is so good… I think you’re nailing it.”

As with all of SIMmersion’s simulated characters, Tyler is designed to provide a different experience with each new call. The crisis that has prompted him to call the hotline varies from play to play, as does his risk level for acting on thoughts of suicide. His reasons for wanting to die and wanting to live vary, as does his way of relating to the caller—sometimes desperate for connection, sometimes suspicious, sometimes withdrawn. As the player listens to his story and builds his trust, he becomes more and more willing to cooperate and take steps to keep himself safe.

SIMmersion’s PeopleSim conversation engine allows them to create characters so vivid and real that talking with them is like having a real conversation. These characters remember what is said to them throughout a conversation, and they have an emotional model that lets a player build trust with good statements or damage it with bad ones. Characters have hundreds or thousands of possible responses they can access during the conversation, captured in video or voice-over by professional actors, so the conversation always feels authentic and unpredictable. At every turn, players have a wide range of statements to choose from, so they can say what they want, when they want to say it, the way they want to say it, and see how their simulated conversation partner responds.

Responders get feedback from an on-screen coach and from a comprehensive after-action review, so no teachable moments are missed. Responders can try different approaches and make mistakes in their conversations with Tyler, thus building their skills without fear of the consequences of real-world failure. Best of all, responders can play through a call with Tyler anytime, on any computer with an internet connection, getting the repeat practice that makes skills second nature.

“There’s more to living…” Tyler says, thoughtfully, as his call draws down. “In living, there’s more than I thought.” SIMmersion, the Veterans Crisis Line, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are united in believing that this simulation can give crisis line responders the training they need to help even more veterans make the choice to live.

SIMmersion’s PeopleSim® level 4 interactive training systems can now be delivered as a SCORM-compliant web-based application, on DVDs, and through mobile platforms. These systems can be made 508 compliant. For more information, contact SIMmersion online or call at 443-283-2555.

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The Soft Skills Challenge

It is easy to lecture on soft skills and then for students to pass a test showing that they have learned the material. But will behavior really change as a result of the lecture and testing? Do role plays result in behavioral change? Research shows that behavior changes at a minimum require repeated 70-177practice with extensive feedback. Simulation technology now offers the capability to go past traditional training and produce effective soft skills training.

Technology Overview

I first became aware of the challenge of teaching soft skills while I was at the FBI Academy in 1995. I was working for a Johns Hopkins University think tank which supports DoD and NASA technology and we were identifying big challenges where new technologies could be used to help law enforcement and counterterrorism personnel. In our discussions, it was pointed out that a big challenge was to teach special agent trainees how to conduct a criminal investigation, a fundamental Bureau soft skill. A key component is to teach people to say things that are appropriate for the situation, but may not be natural to say; that is, to interact with people in a way that is new. At that time, the FBI’s training consisted of about 40 hours of classroom training, working with mentors, followed by more classes, and more mentors.


Training soft skills is challenging regardless of the discipline, whether it is sales or suicide intervention, leadership or addiction counseling. A technique used by addiction counselors is called Motivational Interviewing or MI.  Research has proven this technique to be very effective, but like other soft skills, MI requires saying things that may not be natural or intuitive for counselors. Extensive research shows that MI is difficult to train. Specifically, counselors can read up on the techniques and take workshops, but the research shows that they perform the same six months after the training as they did prior to the training. Unfortunately, trained counselors perceive they are applying the MI techniques properly. People successfully learn MI by taking the workshops and then recording real counseling secessions and having independent experts review the recordings and provide feedback. Practice and extensive feedback appears to be the key to success.


Training Approaches

In addition to mentor programs and careful review of recorded work to provide feedback, many organizations, including Achieve Global and Integrity Sales, address the challenge by providing follow up training after the basic training is complete. Still there is real concern that behavior changes do not last, and privately people have admitted that even with follow-on training, the change in behavior does not last. Training any skill requires learning the concepts, engaging in extensive practice, and receiving feedback. Is there a way to train soft skills that can combine the educational content of traditional methods, with the repeated practice and extensive feedback that make skills last, all using the internet? Simulation offers an approach.


Simulation for Teaching Soft Skills

The US government spends billions of dollars a year developing and training people using simulations. Industry also knows the value of training using simulations. A Boeing 747 pilot will spend hours practicing in a realistic flight simulator before ever flying a real plane. While trainees don’t experience the same G-forces, the experience must be realistic with the same visual sensations experienced in the 747. To successfully train soft skills the same principles must be applied, only rather than a plane, a person needs to be simulated and that person must seem real. There must be extensive feedback and the educational content at the user’s fingertips. As much as possible, the user should experience a wide range of situations.


My First Training System

The first simulation I developed meeting these requirements was for the FBI in 1998. [Reference 1] The simulated person was sometimes innocent and sometimes guilty of a crime, yet each play of the simulation was guaranteed to be different. The simulation included a model for emotions to replicate longer-term changes in rapport. Video was used to capture the subtleties in human behavior. The system was design to require trainees to think about what they should say as they went through the conversation as opposed to effectively being a multiple choice test, each time selecting the best one of five choices. When using the system, the agent trainees were in the boot camp stage of their training and were only asked to use a laboratory computer to play the system for a few minute. In spite of being sleep deprived, the trainees volunteered 6.5 hours on the system. This speaks to how engaging the simulation was in 1998. The more students played, the more their scores improved, but the question remained: were their skills really improving?


Simulation Training Efficacy

The question of efficacy remained until sufficient funding could be found for a formal research study on SIMmersion’s Alcohol Intervention Training System. Screening and Brief Interventions training was an integral part of the simulation training, while Referral training was not. In 2007, the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin, Madison performed a study involving 100 healthcare providers as subjects, including MDs, PAs, RNs and forth year medical students. To start off, the subjects were tested for their skills in delivering alcohol screenings, brief interventions, and referrals using three different standardized patients to play the roles of someone who may be abusing alcohol. The subjects were scored on their initial abilities. Fifty subjects were then randomly 70-178assigned to the research group and given the opportunity to train and the 50 others were assigned to the control group. The subjects in the research group were provided with the simulation training system and shown how to install it. After six months, all 100 subjects returned and were again tested using three different standardized patient encounters. The research group showed significantly more improvement in their skills than the control group for screening, brief interventions, but not for referral. I was pleased to see that the simulation approach provided long-term changes in behavior.




Training soft skills will always be challenging since it requires people to change the way they communicate, and habits that have been developed over a lifetime. Other on-going research shows that simulations can be very effective if the technology provides educational materials matching the experience gained using the simulation, allows for repeated practice, and provides extensive feedback.


1) Own Einspahr; The Interview Challenge, FBI Bulletin, April 2000

2) Fleming, M., Olsen, D., Boteler, L., Stathes, H., Grossberg, P., Pfiefer, J., Schiro, S., Banning, J., & Skochelak, S. (2009). Virtual reality skills training for health care professionals in alcohol screening and brief intervention. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 22(4), 387–398. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2009.04.080208

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E-Learning Development Tip

I once asked a large company training manager about the value of the programs he purchased. He said that nothing changed as the result of the training. The only value was in bringing people together from across the company. Why did nothing change?

The acquisition of a skill, such as learning to manage, using Excel, or playing the violin, requires much more than knowledge acquisition. If students are given 100 hours of e-learning to read on how to play the violin, they may be able to pass tests, but none of them would be successful violinists. If they were then to watch videos of people play the violin for 100 hours, little would change. If they were given a violin and a chance to practice, but they had their ears plugged so they could not hear, none of them would be able to play the violin well. To acquire a skill, learners must (1) acquire the knowledge so they know what to do, (2) practice applying the knowledge, and (3) receive feedback. We can’t expect someone to learn Excel if they hear a lecture and see others apply the concepts, but don’t get a chance to practice. Skills are difficult to master by reading e-learning materials alone.

Often organizations want to provide training “on-the-cheap”. This allows them to check the box showing that employees have successfully completed the training, but it is mostly a waste. No wonder training is always the first thing cut. When developing e-learning materials, we must provide a chance for learners to practice applying the required skills and get feedback. Simulation is often be used to provide this opportunity, but it is much more expensive. Our community needs to do everything possible to make sure practice applying the concepts is provided as part of e-learning.

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New Approach Leads SIMmersion to International Serious Games Competition Finals

HIITS is a Finalist int he 2013 Serious Games Showcase & Challenge

HIITS is a Finalist in the 2013 Serious Games Showcase & Challenge


Serious games often use graphics to create 3-D environments in which the learner tries to accomplish tasks. SIMmersion’s entirely new approach uses video simulations of people to train conversational skills. This novel game is now a finalist in the International Serious Games Showcase & Challenge Competition.

Dr. Dale Olsen, SIMmersion’s CEO, says “I was pleasantly surprised that HIITS became a finalist in this international competition, because our gaming approach is so different. Traditional serious game technology is not designed to train difficult conversational skills, yet this type of training is particularly challenging and needs gaming engagement quality to be effective.” SIMmersion’s PeopleSim® gaming engine has advanced the serious games framework by making it possible to build games designed to have in-depth conversations or to train advanced conversational skills. Video Describing HIITS

In the Hands-on Interview & Interrogation Training System (HIITS) game, the player’s goal is to solve a case of stolen classified documents by talking with a suspect named Jennifer Lerner. Getting a confession requires players to apply advanced interview techniques to determine if she is guilty and if she is, to then get a confession. Each attempt can take well over an hour and can be a challenge for even highly-experienced police officers. Players can only complete the game and get a certificate when they have gotten five different confessions, each using different specialized techniques tailored to a specific guilty version of Jennifer.

Interrogation techniques are complex and difficult to learn. Investigative mistakes can let criminals go free or result in the prosecution of innocent people. Research on SIMmersion’s HIITS has been shown to help police officers master this skill. Officers love playing this educational game and have reported working through the night to get the required confessions. Gaming principles are used to make the practice required to develop skills fun and more effective, by drawing the learner into an immersive experience? HIITS provides the engaging realism trainees need in ways that other non-gaming forms of training rarely can achieve. For training purposes, HIITS surpasses real investigative experiences by creating more teachable moments and providing essential feedback that is not available during actual investigations. Yet HIITS maintains sufficient realism so that, like in a movie, the trainee feels that the Jennifer and the experiences are real.

SIMmersion’s PeopleSim® level 4 interactive training systems can now be delivered as a SCORM-compliant web-based application, on DVDs, and most recently through mobile platforms like smart phones. These systems can be made 508 compliant. Professional actors are used to create life-like, challenging situations. Each simulated character has memory and an advanced emotional model that allows the character to respond to the user’s statements as a real person would. The result is a nearly freeform conversation that is different each time the simulation is used.

The Serious Games Showcase and Challenge is an international competition held during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, FL. SIMmersion’s HIITS is a finalist for the highly-competitive “Business” category, and is eligible for the Best Business Game and People’s Choice awards. Awards will be announced at the conference on Thursday, December 5th.

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SIMmersion’s Powerful New Simulation Effectively Trains Employee Coaching

Practicing Coaching is as Easy as Talking

Practicing Coaching is as Easy as Talking

Most businesses struggle to get managers to fairly review employees. Few supervisors want to tell individuals they depend on that they are underperforming. Yet employees may be performing poorly simply because they don’t understand what they are doing wrong. Ineffective coaching can result in morale issues and even lawsuits. Effective employee coaching can help employees throughout their careers and make the difference between successful or failed organizations.

Performance Coaching workshops provide useful information, but they are expensive and don’t provide supervisors with the repeated practice and extensive feedback required to build coaching skills.SIMmersion has solved this training problem with its Coaching for Improved Performance online training system. The training system allows supervisors to practice coaching a simulated employee, Brooke Lerner, until they develop the skills and comfort level necessary to coach their subordinates in a way that makes them feel that the coaching was in their best interest.

David Milliken, Managing Partner at Blueline Simulations, says, that Coaching for Improved Performance “may, in fact, be the first technology application to provide a more effective skill practice experience than traditional role play. This robust game-engine based experience uses thousands of nodes dictated by rules and probabilities, combined with voice recognition and detailed feedback to eliminate the failure points associated with traditional, classroom-based role play.”

With this online training, supervisors will learn about the Coach 5-7 model and, then, build their skills and understanding of the process by repeatedly applying the concepts in simulated conversations with Brooke. No two simulated coaching conversations will be the same. To add to the experience, Brooke has six distinctly different personalities, so supervisors can be confident they can handle a variety of different behaviors that they may confront in their own workplace.

To ensure realism and capture real human behavior, over 2000 video scenes are used to provide a wide variety of Brooke’s responses to learners’ statements. Her developing emotions are driven by what the practicing supervisor says to her over the course of the conversation. The coaching may end with Brooke storming out of the room in tears or with her feeling good about the help the supervisor provided. Feedback from an on-screen coach is available after every exchange and a comprehensive review is provided at the end of the conversation.

The Coach 5-7 model provides five keys and seven simple steps to help the conversation run smoothly. The five keys help the supervisor learn to be sensitive to the best ways to communicate and range from establishing a collaborative relationship to maintaining control of the conversation. The easy-to-learn steps range from setting the conversational tone to summarizing at the end of the coaching.

The web-based training can be utilized as a stand-alone product or can be incorporated in a classroom setting. Because the training system can be used almost anywhere at any time, the training is ideal for both large and small businesses.

SIMmersion’s PeopleSim® level 4 interactive training systems can now be delivered as a SCORM-compliant web-based application, on DVDs, and through mobile platforms. These systems can be made 508 compliant. For more information, contact SIMmersion online or call at 443-283-2555.

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Reflective vs. Active Listening

By Dale Olsen, President and CEO

When talking about communication skills, people often talk about both active listening and reflective listening.  These techniques are used by those who are successful communicators.  They are an important part of leadership, suicide intervention, sales, criminal interrogations,70-243 counseling, job interviews, health-care, and every day communication.  Most definitions I have found for these terms are more complex than the concepts.  The terms seem to have varying descriptions (depending on the source) but involve focusing on what the other person is saying and how that person is saying it.

For what it’s worth, Wikipedia has provided simple definitions that I liked better than most others because of their clarity:

 Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to feed back what he hears to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what he has heard in his own words, to confirm what he has heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.

Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker’s idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It attempts to “reconstruct what the client is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to the client”. Reflective listening is a more specific strategy than the more general methods of active listening.  It arose from Carl Rogers’ school of client-centered therapy in counseling theory.

A key part of the active listening definition is “in his own words” because it excludes using the same words.  However, this definition seems more like that of reflective listening than others I’ve found.  Other definitions put more activity in the active listening by requiring the mood, tone, and gestures to be reflected.  I must admit that the distinction is not clear and that people could argue about whether a specific response is an example of reflective listening, active listening, or both.  Is one a subset of the other? Whatever they are, active listening and reflective listening are viewed as a critical element of skilled communications.  I found Wikipedia’s contrast of these ideas interesting.
I am hoping that this post will draw out your comments on how people communicate, and your experiences with the use of these techniques.  The exact definitions are not as important as people’s experience with the use of these techniques.  I am often aware when these techniques are being used on me, and perhaps it is a little annoying.  Yet, these techniques are an essential part of advanced communication skills and they work. What happens when they are over used?  What is the right mix of reflections and probing question?  Does the answer to these questions depend on the field of interest?  Are people more aware when clinicians use these techniques because they are expected to use these techniques?

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