IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

SAP Uses VR to Improve ‘Soft’ Skills Among the Underserved

Tech company SAP is promoting the use of virtual reality to help students gain the skills they need for the job market. The company offers a VR program designed to assist students from underserved communities.

A person using a virtual reality headset.
While virtual reality (VR) remains in its infancy, K-12 and postsecondary educators are already experimenting with the emerging technology to keep students engaged in academic and vocational courses.

Noting a growing interest for augmented and virtual reality in education, tech company SAP earlier this year launched its Skill Immersion Lab, a VR program designed to teach teens and young adults communication, leadership and teamwork skills needed in the workforce.

The program, launched in partnership with workforce nonprofit JFF, worked with students ages 14 to 20 at BTECH High School in New York City, Boys and Girls Club in St. Paul, Minn., and Quad YouthBuild in Louisiana before its conclusion in July, according to a blog post from SAP.

SAP Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Katie Booth said the goal was to improve student performance in activities geared toward strengthening interpersonal skills via the use of a VR-driven curriculum platform called Talespin.

According to Booth, the platform afforded instructors the ability to improve student engagement, particularly with low-income students of color whom the company focuses much of its work on.

While a communication course might be the last thing on some of the most disenfranchised students’ minds, Booth said VR kept students interested.

“Even before the pandemic, these were groups of students that have a lot going on,” she said. “But students are really responding to it.”

Booth said the VR tool assesses aptitudes in “empathetic communication” by simulating interpersonal scenarios, while the program and instructors provide feedback to identify areas in need of improvement. The use of VR also familiarizes students with an emerging tech tool.

“These kinds of [interpersonal] skills are hard to get feedback on in real time, and they can do that with these programs. Part of the technology is they can see in real time what they’ve accomplished and what their scores are,” she said. “Students are going back and they’re redoing modules and scenarios to improve their scores.”

According to a 2021 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited by Booth, teamwork and communication skills are among the top skills employers are searching for. While demand for these skills grows, research from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation suggests that VR’s potential for immersive learning may prove useful in closing achievement gaps in K-12 schools.

By improving children and young adults’ “soft” skills in communication, Booth said, the program could ultimately expand access to high-paying careers, such as those within the tech sector and other lucrative industries that communities of color remain largely boxed out of. She said the program’s first cohort was selected with this in mind.

“We chose these sites very intentionally. They’re in different and diverse parts of the country, ranging from urban to rural, and in different education programs and pathways,” she said in an SAP blog post. “This meant learners with different backgrounds, experiences, and environments participated.”

According to Booth, the program is planning to expand in the years ahead, with the goal of “getting this technology into as many learners’ hands as possible,” and demonstrating the potential of VR as part of the ed-tech toolkit in schools and vocational programs.

“It levels the playing field because these are, a lot of times, communities that don’t have this kind of [mentorship or ed-tech access] in the school building or at home, and these are skills that are essential,” she said. “It’s really reinforcing these skills that can be developed through this technology … It’s building those bridges and showing that it’s effective and can work.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.