The Power of Wow – IBM Leadership Training Goes ‘3D’

© IBM, Bert De Coutere

“I have never seen such powerful visualisation of a learning goal,” says Bert De Coutere, Business Area Manager at IBM Learning Development Europe, talking about one of the central elements in the brand new leadership training module. Participants will include emerging managers from around the world who want to learn how to leverage the potential of their teams without incurring huge travel expenses. In the 3D world of Second Life, they experience social challenges – as a female leader managing an all-male team, a gay consultant in a global role or a wheelchair-bound employee seeking a position as a sales rep. In the virtual world, participants are able to break down symbolic barriers. At OEB, Bert De Coutere will demonstrate the unparalleled immersive experience of the medium, and how it can act as a strong memory builder.

OEB: Who will be taking part in the IBM 3D Leadership Training module?


The ‘Inclusive Leadership in the Workplace via Second Life’ training module is available in our global, corporate learning catalogue. Participants are a mixture of managers and non-managers, leaders and emerging leaders. It is particularly suitable for team leaders and managers, who are obliged to think from a leadership perspective.


This virtual world session is one part of a series aimed at enabling participants to practice inclusive leadership in the workplace. Between fifteen and thirty places are available for this session, with five breakout rooms.


OEB: How precisely does the 3D session work?


The Learning Commons (see text box) allows for participants to log in via their Intranet ID, and on their first visit an avatar is created for them on the spot. Participants are up and running in one minute.


The training session starts in the main room, where participants take a virtual seat and the two hosts outline the introductory activities and make a presentation.

IBM’s Second Life
IBM uses a behind-the-firewall installation of Second Life. It is called the Learning Commons, as it is a common virtual infrastructure for learning which can be booked by training managers just like they would book any classroom. In the early days, IBM discovered that many people were developing the same kind of 3D objects for their training courses. The Learning Commons now provides all the basics, such as auditoriums, breakout rooms, 3D objects and scripts for whiteboards, presentations, chairs, polling and voting, randomised group assignment, etc.

For example, at one point during this briefing, the floor changes into a world map on which everyone can stand to indicate where they are from. Then the floor changes into a four dimensional staircase, where participants reflect on the inclusiveness stage their team is at by walking to the correct spot.


OEB: Which scenes are most impressive?


A very memorable moment is when a virtual brick wall takes centre stage. When the host asks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could break through this wall?”, the wall smashes into pieces and participants can help move away the bricks. I’ve never seen such visualisation of a learning objective before!


However, the true power of the virtual world comes from the activities available in the five breakout sessions. Each session represents a case from one of the diversity constituencies. They start with a briefing on the tasks to perform using a billboard. One room, for example, presents an exercise involving a woman leading an all-male team, or has participants answer the question “How was your weekend?”, or makes them select job candidates regardless of age. These activities are built with 3D objects and ‘puppets’.


At the end of every breakout activity, participants sit down on sofas and review the debrief discussion points which they then summarise on a whiteboard. Afterwards, all participants gather again in the main room for debriefing and discussion of the experiences and whiteboard notes with the coaches.


OEB: Why did you decide to redesign the ‘Inclusive Leadership’ module, shifting from a virtual classroom session to a 3D immersive session?


IBM took an interest in the potential of virtual worlds years ago, and has even set up an Emerging Business Opportunity unit to refine and develop the business potential of these environments. One of the areas of interest was how virtual worlds could improve training.


© IBM, Bert De Coutere

We have always focused on inclusiveness and diversity training, which are part of our core values, but years ago these would be classroom-based sessions where breakout sessions would involve a large sheet hanging at the back of the room. Then we redesigned the session for a virtual classroom to eliminate travel costs and to open it up to a mixture of international participants.


Now we have gone one step further and redesigned the virtual classroom session as a virtual world experience. We have a checklist to evaluate the suitability of a particular learning programme for virtual worlds, and this particular one has unlocked the potential of virtual worlds in a way that neither the classroom nor the virtual classroom could ever do.


OEB: What kind of feedback have you had from participants?


We have conducted a survey comparing the virtual class in Centra and the virtual world session in Second Life, asking about the most and least effective features for 3D worlds. I will be presenting the statistics during my session at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN. But here is an example of what some of the participants have said: “Holds my attention like no other media”, “Immersive experience is a memory builder”, “Group interaction feels more connected and real”.


OEB: Are you going to be presenting your OEB session “virtually”, i.e. in the 3D environment you will be talking about? Will you be the avatar?


I have host access to the virtual world, so we could go in for a sneak preview. But we have also made a movie of what is happening in the session that I am happy to share.




Bert De Coutere’s video on his OEB session on YouTube:


At ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2010, Bert De Coutere will present Redesigning Leadership Training for 3D Immersive Worlds as part of the session Learning in Three Dimensions, Maybe Four which will take place on Friday, December 3, 2010, from 11:45 – 13:15

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