Virtual Reality For Training – Interview with Dr Celine Mullins

Our ‘Expert Talks’ series is a collection of interviews with leading industry professionals within the realm of Virtual Reality, Video and Animation. Today, we caught up with Dr Celine Mullins, founder of Adaptas.

Celine’s company provides training to managers and business teams to improve their performance in the workplace. She recently embarked on a new Virtual Reality based training project with FBD Insurance and is looking to roll the project out to other companies nationwide.

We caught up with Celine to tell us a little bit more about the project..

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I studied psychology but ended up going into theatre and film, I’ve always had a passion for acting. After a while I kind of found my way back to psychology and eventually set up my business about ten years ago. Originally the purpose of the business was to bring theatre into the workplace as an engaging way of learning. My work has evolved over the last ten years, for the most part into personal development training with groups and teams. I’ve always tried to take a unique approach and do things a little differently. For instance, a lot of the techniques that we use are games based processes and quite unorthodox methods.

I guess theatre was the perfect experience for that kind of work as it has that confidence building element.

Absolutely. I discovered drama when I was 12 or 13 and being a very shy child, it was an incredible tool in terms of getting on stage and buildin your confidence.

So the business seems like a very natural evolution in that you stacked your skills in theatre and psychology and packaged them into this rather unique service?

Exactly, it has evolved and I no longer have any control over it! When I started the company first it was called “Act for Business”. We rebranded to Adaptas about 5 years ago. We changed the brand to meet the requirements of our clients – as increasingly at the time more people were coming to us looking for leadership and development training.

Virtual Reality for Training

So for readers who aren’t familiar – what services do Adaptas actually provide?

We help teams to improve their performance in the workplace. We work on helping individuals with communications.. their emotional intelligence.. we also provide a lot of coaching workshops for managers.

And what kind of techniques do you apply in your workshops?

I’ve always been interested in human behaviour and the idea of being able to see something from someone else’s perspective. There is a method in acting called ‘Form Theatre’. It brings role play to groups. The audience member gets to become the director of the action and they get to become the character as well. We play out real scenarios that are business based and by playing them out, people can see things from a different perspective. So form theatre and role play was the closest I had come to seeing things from other people’s perspectives but Virtual Reality has taken it to a new level!

Why do you think it’s important in business to be able to see things from someone else’s perspective?

Stepping into someone else’s shoes helps you think twice before making a particular decision.

What was your first experience of Virtual Reality?

I think it was an autism experience – the one in the shopping centre that was made in the UK. You are seeing the world as a young boy with autism. Your mom has brought you into the shopping centre. The lights are really bright and the noise is overwhelming.. everything seems really confusing. So I saw the way they had shot it, you’re in his body and your mother is trying to calm you down. Immediately, I saw the huge potential in Virtual Reality in terms of training.

We recently interviewed David Trainor of Sentireal who is working on a Virtual Reality project on behalf of Specialisterne to help employers better understand the needs of those living with autism in the workplace. It seems like a great application for the technology.

Yes. There are a huge amount of Virtual Reality experiences being developed for both healthcare and education. St James’ Hospital have been trialling Virtual Reality experiences for those with early stage dementia. They have been trialling these experiences with patients and are finding that there are huge relaxing and therapeutic benefits.

So tell us a little bit about your own Virtual Reality for Training project?

Well it is a live action virtual reality experience. It’s from the perspective of one of the FBD’s expert customer service agents. So you sit into the body of the customer service agent and you experience a customer call from their perspective. We call it the “Immersive Sales Star” and the idea is that you are experiencing and learning through the perspective of an expert.

How has the project been received by FBD?

They have been getting their training candidates to take the experience over 2-3 days and what they are finding is that it bridges that gap between the ‘safe’ training room environment and being on the actual floor taking calls. They are also using it with their low performers. The people who aren’t hitting their targets and it’s increasing their performance. So the impact has been really good.

So did you go and research the different scenarios or what was your approach?

It was very much a collaborative service, FBD had an example of what they felt was a really good conversation between a customer service agent and a client and we put together a script based around that. We then went and recorded the piece in their offices. We recorded the audio separately so that if they wish, they can layer in a different audio in the future.

It’s very forward thinking of FBD Insurance to adapt this form of training, I saw that Volkswagen are now training all of their employees with Virtual Reality.

Yes, John Mulreid is head of learning and development in FBD Insurance. We just happened to mention to him during a meeting that we were trying out some experiments with Virtual Reality for training and really the conversation started from there. We began exploring the different avenues that we could bring to life with the business. We produced the project with them toward the end of last year.

What problems would you say you are solving for John and his team in FBD?

The audio has been a very important element. So the employees are learning how to better handle objections and to keep the repore going with the client. With any sort of customer service or sales it’s about being able to keep the conversation on track and handle rejections. There are so many things they need to think about at the same time.. So what the research is showing is that we are creating false memories for people.. so that they can better manage stressful situations in real life.

Were your team already skilled in Virtual Reality production?

I have been working closely with Camille Donegan. We met through acting and did a play together about 10 years ago. Camille has seen “Dog House” a few years ago and it was a eureka moment for her. She called me very excited and announced “I’ve got it! This is how we get people to develop empathy”. So Camille introduced me to Virtual Reality initially and then it was the autism experience that made me think wow!

So what is the business model for bringing this to other companies, do they licence it out or how does it work?

For this project, it was a partnership and to test and measure the impact. So we are really looking at the business model now going forward. We have put in a submission for the Irish Institute of Training and Development Awards and we have been shortlisted, the presentation is next week.

Any other great projects on the go?

Yes, I have a book that’s about to be published. It is all about making more use of your brain. The working title is “Maximising your Brain Potential”. The publisher is just doing the final edit at the moment. It’s going to be published as 3 E-Books and a slightly different version as a physical book. I’ve been working on it for so long now – I’m excited to be finishing it. There has been all this research done over the last 15-20 years about how the brain is plastic, it’s not fixed. As we get older we need to be active in challenging our brain and keeping it younger and healthier. So what I have tried to do is pull together all the information that’s out there. I’m going to turn it into an online training course over the next few months.

To keep updated with the work of Celine and her team at Adaptas you can follow them on twitter.

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