Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Christina Yu, Vice President at Mursion, a pioneering immersive training and simulation company that uses virtual reality environments to help teach leadership and communication skills. In this piece, she makes the case for why leadership training is important in the military and why the advantages of a synthetic environment are uniquely suited to teaching them.
The modern military is an ever-evolving entity that requires constant training and vigilant attention to the physical and mental welfare of our troops. In an increasingly complex world where the battlefield extends further beyond actual combat, military personnel need to have access to continuous leadership training that is interconnected, immersive, and data-driven to instill trust and confidence in a range of high-stress situations.
By leveraging existing technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) beyond combat-focused scenarios, military training programs can replicate high-stakes scenarios and evoke real-life reactions without putting personnel at risk. Combining human intuition and creativity with machine learning offers meaningful ways in which troops can master essential leadership skills under pressure, allowing them to become more competent and confident in being able to manage their emotions and communications in a crisis.
Enabling Military Leaders with Essential Leadership Skills
The world’s most stressful jobs are the ones in which the choices we make affect others in deeply impactful ways. In stressful situations, our fight-or-flight instincts take over, making it more difficult to use both cognitive and emotional faculties to make an even-handed decision. When it comes to these extremely high-pressure situations, immersive practice is the only way to rehearse for the real thing.
While the U.S. military has employed virtual reality in soldiers’ defense training as well as cognitive enhancement for decades, focusing on the development of leadership skills is a crucial aspect to establishing troops’ courage and tenacity in combat, as well as in handling difficult conversations.
From de-escalating conflict and leading teams in life-threatening situations, to fostering effective communication and collaboration and empowering others while exercising authority, the virtual reality learning platforms offer ongoing leadership training opportunities that are scalable, customizable, and cost-effective.
The Force of the Future
Here’s where immersive training technology offers boundless possibilities. The advanced sophistication and increased availability of XR technologies allow troops to experience a variety of scenarios in which they can practice and master essential leadership skills.
What does VR technology offer to defense-based learning? First, let’s think about what learning is in the first place. Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, which offers a dynamic classification of the five stages of learning:
The upper echelons of this hierarchy — analyzing, evaluating and creating — are often the skills that are baseline requirements in the military today, though so much of our training is devoted to the bottom two levels. Take a soldier newly entered into boot camp. While they are being led through their drills, they are also being groomed for what comes next, including combat. The mastery of essential skills such as leadership, enhanced communication and productive collaboration creates a sense of assurance in the soldier even under the most stressful of circumstances.
Virtual reality simulations accelerate this type of learning by requiring learners to actively demonstrate mastery, a fact that translates into real engagement for learners and a real opportunity for the military to support strong soldiers. Hyper-real simulations allow training to achieve the elusive and productive balance of safety and danger. The training is safe enough that the learner can make mistakes and learn from them, and risky enough to recreate the stress of the encounter, so the learner becomes inoculated for it.
We’ll explore the many benefits of virtual reality-enhanced learning one by one:
Immersive: The immersive qualities of these customized simulations simultaneously stimulate both cognitive and emotional faculties.
Targeted: Focused scenarios center on specific objectives and isolate critical challenges. It’s not the amount of time spent on learning that matters. It’s the impact of that time, the amount of focused energy.
Iterative: Learners can return to their training as needed, stimulating the areas of the brain activated through the practice of repetition and myelinating axons.
Immediate feedback: Learners are given on-the-spot assessments of their performance, highlighting assets and targeting areas of growth.
Virtual Scenarios, Real-Life Results
Today’s virtual reality technology offers such advancements as custom-designed avatars, environments, and scenarios that best address an organization’s existing challenges or perceived threats. When combined with a “human-in-the-loop” approach (in which a trained simulation specialist guides the interaction), these extremely lifelike situations elicit emotions and reactions in the learner as if they were interacting with an actual human being. Unlike traditional training, which is often awkward, arduous, and unpredictable, this immersive training helps the leader simultaneously develop both emotional and rational reactions under pressure, honing these essential skills for improved performance during true high-stress crises.
As technology becomes more accessible and varied in military training settings, specialized virtual reality simulations can evolve beyond combat training and help soldiers develop leadership skills that will build their confidence to serve them well on the battlefield and beyond.