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Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

XR’s Promise for Equity, Advancement & Opportunity

November 04, 2021 / by Kristina Francis

Kristina Francis

Executive Director, JFFLabs

XR opens new frontiers of economic opportunity, helping workers from all backgrounds strengthen in-demand skills and drive business and social impact.


-Laura: So next up, we have a presentation from Kristina Francis from Jobs for the Future. She’ll be talking about XR’s promise for equity, advancement and opportunity. Over to you, Kristina. Over to you.

-Kristina: Okay, great. Thank you so much. I’m so energized after that last conversation. So hopefully

-Laura: So next up, we have a presentation from Kristina Francis from Jobs for the Future. She’ll be talking about XR’s promise for equity, advancement and opportunity. Over to you, Kristina. Over to you.

-Kristina: Okay, great. Thank you so much. I’m so energized after that last conversation. So hopefully everyone who is listening is as well. Again, I’m Kristina Francis, executive director for JFF Labs. For nearly 40 years, JFF has committed to building a society where everyone has the skills, resources and credentials they need to achieve economic advancement, and about 3 years ago our amazing CEO, Maria Flynn, launched JFF Labs to really bridge the traditional systems in which we have worked so extensively to entrepreneurs and tech innovators and investors who are building new solutions which previously unimagined potential to change lives. At JFF Labs, we believe that when employers put people’s growth and well-being at the heart of business strategy, businesses and people alike can thrive, and we’ll get closer to the kind of economic mobility that we’ve all talked about this morning or this afternoon and the opportunity we believe is critical for our country and our world. It was so great to hear my friend Chike Agoo share great examples and remind us that it takes a whole society approach to create an equitable workforce, a workforce that looks like America, and with every passing year if not every passing minute, talent, learning development has become more and more central to any organization’s agility, resilience and growth, and I know many of you are experiencing that, and it’s vital for employees as well, employees who are eagerly seeking to sharpen their skills, seize new opportunities, add values to their teams and their organizations and provide for their loved ones and communities. Now amidst the remarkable upheaval that we’ve all experienced over the last 18 months or so, we’ve seen just how vital it is for people to have access and opportunities to grow and to thrive, and as I say to my team, to find ways to live in their genius. I know many of you are here considering what XR can do to support your learning and development strategy. In our time together today this afternoon I hope you’ll came away with two sets of insights. First, the opportunity of today, why we believe XR technology can both be a powerful tool for business and social impact, driving equity and advancement and opportunity, and the second is the promise of tomorrow, the 5 years that we just talked about, the opportunities we see for future innovation investment, impact in talent, learning and development with this technology. Before we dive in, let me tell you a little bit about JFF’s work in respective on immersive learning. We believe that the best innovations for work and learning should reach everyone, not just a privileged few, and that’s why we’re so passionate about the promise of immersive learning. We’ve made it a priority to help employers, investors and others in education across the workforce ecosystem better understand and implement immersive technology so that more people can connect to opportunities to learn, to work and to advance. I think Mark made the point earlier, it’s not about the future, it’s about now, the education, the adoption, the exposure, and Liz also talked about the access to technology, and Greg mentioned the value equation and also becoming more immersive. It’s all so true. At the beginning of last year, JFF Labs, we released our 2020 immersive learning market scan, and I hope you all take a look at it. Through a partnership with Walmart, we analyzed the immersive learning marketspace, reviewing hundreds of mission-aligned companies to uncover trends, market dynamics and impact and insights. In that scan, we featured 58 immersive learning technology companies, that we felt had the potential to have outsized business and social impact. We selected 11 innovators to watch that represents trends and momentum where we were seeing. Following the scan, we led an accelerator cohort of four growth stage companies with especially strong opportunities for impact in this space. They were Talespin, Mursion, Floreo and Interplay, and what an exciting cohort that was. From Floreo that leverages virtual reality to improve social, behavioral, communication and life skills for individuals across the autism spectrum, to Talespin which is a VR company that realized that in moments of great uncertainty focusing back on education is the best place to start, and through their training platform, they help put people in position to connect with new opportunities, and since we’ve run several demonstration projects to showcase the impact of these technologies on workers and learners. And building from that experience, we started to see the opportunities for today. So here’s where we’re excited. There’s a potential to democratize opportunities to hone some of the most complex skills that employees and managers need today in their tool kits, especially in today’s environment. XR technology allows for personalized learning at scale. Imagine hiring a one-on-one coach for building a bespoke training project for every worker seeking practice to refine their skills. Instead we see a combination of models that may end up trading off deep effectiveness for scalability including group practice sessions, desktop-based training and content or pairing training participants with one another for role playing sessions. There’s a reason for the term executive coaching, often truly one-on-one training is limited to C suite or the ranks of senior leadership or those that can afford it within time or money, but immersive learning training is one-on-one coaching, in the headset, in the glasses or on the tablet. XR training uses natural language processing, eye movement tracking, branching narratives to adapt and respond to a learner’s unique combination of responses, just as a human instructor would without the distractions of a busy classroom or work environment, an at-home office. The technology allows for the kind of repeated practice and safe space for failure that often simply doesn’t or can’t exist in more traditional approaches to training. This means that workers on the front lines can have access to the same kind of training that in the past was accessible only to senior managers. They can prepare for situations that they might rarely encounter on the job, but when they do encounter them, they’re ready for them. For example, in an early demonstration product, JFF worked alongsidea logistics company to train frontline supervisors, and how they have conversations with direct reports, in this case, who experienced body odor. An incredibly difficult and personal conversation, but one for which supervisors could now be much better prepared to handle and deliver. Growing skills can help employees build trust and confidence across their teams, strengthening relationships, contributing to a sense of greater belonging and ultimately growing performance. This has enormous implications for equity and advancement. JFF saw this firsthand through the Skill Immersion Lab, a partnership with SAP, in which we collaborated with three partner sites to deliver VR training designed to strengthen communication skills to about 50 students aged 14 to 20. Of these learners, 85 percent said they became more confident in communicating, 79 percent improved their ability to understand others opinion, and later today you’ll have a chance to hear more from Katie Booth, our terrific partner at SAP, and our team who partnered on the skill immersion lab. There were other benefits for workers too. Universal access to training gives everyone the chance to refine skills needed to step into growth opportunities, again creating that safe space to explore skills, to try, to fail, if you’re like me, to try and fail again, and then really be in that tolerant risk-free virtual environment. It can help protect employees, especially those from marginalized communities, who may feel for themselves to be at greater risk if they make a mistake even if it’s part of a learning experience. And XR training platforms offer more level playing field to evaluate employees skills compared to human reviewers, mitigating implicit bias and helping recognize talent in whomever it appears. Our jobs demand more sophisticated skill sets, and we know that the faster and more effectively we can equip employees with the skills they need to succeed and grow in the roles, the better positioned they’ll be to make an impact on the job and often times to get the job. I’m also excited to share more about where we see the promise of tomorrow’s immersive technology. We’re only just beginning to realize the potential of these tools for advancement, for opportunity, especially in developing the human, the soft skills that are critical and necessary in business. First we’re seeing that the likely convergence of augment reality and virtual reality technologies will increasingly allow employees to move seamlessly between awareness and practice and execution. As we’ve spoken to many leaders across the space we sense a dividing line between VR being used to support training and practice outside the flow of work versus use cases for AR which are more typically seen within the flow of work such as digital work instructions or seeing what I see through remote assistance technologies. As hardware continues to evolve and devices such as leading edge glasses emerge. They’ve got, Greg spoke about that earlier, that are able to switch seamlessly between VR and AR modes, the lines are beginning to blur. We also secondly see growth in authoring tools that will fuel even deeper learning and business process improvement. The explosion of low code or no code tools is increasingly putting XR training, design and development in the hands of learning and develop professionals like yourself and your technology counterparts and to many entrepreneurs also who are starting businesses. While this might feel daunting for those new to XR who are just starting to wrap your arms around this technology and its potential, it can also offer tremendous opportunities to more deeply understand learning and work dynamics with companies and pinpoint new approaches. For example, in a recent demonstration project we worked with a small cohort of small advanced manufacturing companies across the US to implement digital work instructions using Augmentier, an augmented reality technology platform. Several of these sites found that creating work instruction not only helped workers operate more efficiently, but it helped workers and business leaders spot inefficiencies that spurred business process redesign and cost savings. As a learning and development professional beginning to author trainings in VR, you’ll have the opportunity to make choices like what race or ethnicity are the avatars that my learners will see. How might the way in which they respond to the questions or the prompts from learners vary based on geographic location or position in the company? What interpersonal dynamics are at play in your organization for what you’ll want to create these trainings? Question like these can inspire reflection and deeper learning about organizational culture, behavior, practices, opportunities and challenges and ways that could inform entire learning strategies in corporate culture. Finally, XR technology offers almost infinite ways for people to step into someone else’s shoes and more deeply understand the perspective of others. One of the unique advantages is the ability to place an individual in any setting or scenario. We have the capacity to share knowledge across language, cultural barriers. It’s not this silver bullet to equity issues, but it’s a powerful tool to see what it’s like to experience circumstances far outside an employees’s everyday life. XR platforms like Embodied Labs for example, a portfolio company with JFF Labs investment arm gives caregivers the chance to experience what it’s like to be a person living with conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Lewy body dementia. Praxis Labs which just raised $15 million for a series around, congratulations, takes employees through scenarios in which they experience an incident of racial bias directly, as a bystander or someone complicit in the incident and offer opportunities to practice inclusive approaches. We are excited to see so many more XR tools and use cases being designed or developed by or in close partnership with traditionally underrepresented entrepreneurs with lived experience. This provides a way of ensuring these tools are fully representative of the experiences and the vital voices that we need to hear. As you can tell, we couldn’t be more excited by the tremendous opportunities of XR technology, the opportunity to deliver high-quality, personalized training at scale and to continue to revolutionize enterprise training and learning. I hope you will dive deeply into today’s sessions, ask questions, push for clarity, explore. We are happy to have you here, and as you consider ways in which you want to bring XR technologies into your company to support your goals of equity, advancement and opportunity for your people and for your business, please reach out. We’d love to help. We’d love to strategize. We’d love to partner. Thank you for your time today and have a great rest of the afternoon.

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