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Welcome, welcome! This week, we’re diving into research about interpersonal skills (IPS), communication, and self-efficacy. Specifically, we’re answering:

  • How do learners perceive interpersonal training?
  • Does the avatar matter in IPS training with VR?

Let’s talk about talking to people

Learner Perception of Live Simulation Activities

Interpersonal skills (IPS), or competence related to interaction and communication with others, are a “soft skill” that many deem important in the workplace. Of course, I agree! The ability to navigate difficult situations, foster a supportive environment, and build psychological safety rest on interpersonal skills within an organization.

A recent study out of Finland focused on the importance of IPS in nurse education (Kukko et al., 2020). While this particular study centers on nurses, which do hold a particularly important communication role, I want to point out that anyone interacting with others in the workplace should also be involved in IPS training (or have IPS competence). So, how do those taking IPS training actually perceive it?

The study evaluated 149 learners in the nursing field after completing training. The training consisted of an interprofessional simulation - essentially, the learners would “workshop” with those in other areas of nursing to practice building IPS. The learners also participated in a discussion, received feedback from the instructor, and had time to reflect on their experience with others (Kukko et al., 2020).

When perception was assessed, results showed that learners had an overall positive perception on the simulation training. They felt that the training helped them to continue to build relationships with those from other fields. Regarding potential challenges and stress, over 80% of learners “considered the exercises to challenge them in a positive way,” while “20%” found the interprofessional simulations stressful” (Kukko et al., 2020). The authors noted that many learners had no experience with simulations, which would impact stress levels. Other studies have found that after participating in a simulation, further simulations do not show increased stress (Kukko et al., 2020). As a bit of an add-on here, research has shown that positive stress can actually lead to productivity and energy (Crum et al., 2013). So, while a few learners may find an initial simulation stressful, the majority of learners seemed to appreciate the “hands-on” experience for building interpersonal skills!

Key Takeaway: Interprofessional simulations are a method that learners appreciate for building interpersonal skills in the workplace. Further, interprofessional simulations may be particularly useful when creating cross-functional teams, as learners noted higher levels of collaboration and lower bias. Simulation training can be integrated into trainings, either in-person (like this study) or virtually (such as through video conferencing).

Read More ($): Kukko, P., Silén-Lipponen, M., & Saaranen, T. (2020). Health care students’ perceptions about learning of affective interpersonal communication competence in interprofessional simulations. Nurse Education Today, 94.

Doppelganger Does it Better

Prior to remote workplaces, building IPS would often take place informally. However, the need for remote and dedicated training on IPS has increased over the years (Klein et al., 2006; DeKay, 2012). Kukko et al. (2020) touched on dedicated training through a simulation involving social learning, but how do we incorporate remote asynchronous learning?

Since it is engaging, interactive, and overall fun, virtual reality (VR) has continued to grow as a valuable training modality! VR can be particularly useful for interpersonal skills training, considering the ability to interact with others (whether characters or otherwise). Kleinlogel et al. (2021) evaluated whether having a doppelganger as a role model in a VR environment for interpersonal skills training was more beneficial than a role model that did not resemble the learner.

Learners in the study, which were university students, were randomly assigned to the doppelganger or unknown avatar condition. In the unknown avatar condition, while the avatar did not resemble the learner, the avatars were gender matched. After creating the avatars, learners returned to the lab to deliver a speech. The learners were provided with 5 minutes to prepare and then delivered a “3 minute speech in front of a large virtual audience in a conference room on the topic of university fees” (Kleinlogel et al., 2021). An image of what learners could see in the conference room is below.

(Kleinlogel et al., 2021)

After the learners’ speech, they were shown a video of a virtual person, either the doppelganger or unknown person, giving an “impressive charismatic speech on the same topic” (Kleinlogel et al., 2021). In this section, the learner view was different. They were positioned “were outside the conference room, looking at the presenter from behind a door through a window” (Kleinlogel et al., 2021). While the virtual person was clearly visible, as the face was also displayed on the whiteboard, their voice was muffled so that learners could not clearly hear. After watching the virtual person give their speech twice, learners delivered their own speech again. Questionnaires were provided before each speech to evaluate changes in self-efficacy (Kleinlogel et al., 2021). Performance metrics were an evaluation of body language persuasiveness.

The findings regarding gender, self-efficacy, and avatar were incredibly interesting! While there were not any significant findings for the broad categories of gender, self-efficacy, etc., a 3-way interaction effect was seen. Specifically, the doppelganger was significantly more beneficial than the unknown avatar for male participants low in self-efficacy (Kleinlogel et al., 2021).

The authors pointed out that female managers are subject to stereotype threat, such that public seeking is considered a “male domain.” While past work has illustrated that female role models can mitigate this, it is limited to famous women - which this study did not include (Kleinlogel et al., 2021).

While more research is needed in this domain due to the 3-way interaction, Kleinlogel et al. (2021) provide preliminary evidence that a doppelganger avatar in a VR setting may be a useful tool to improve interpersonal skills for those low in self-efficacy!

Key Takeaway: Kleinlogel et al. (2021) illustrated positive effects of using a doppelganger role model in VR to improve interpersonal skills with men low in self-efficacy. However, the limitations of this work actually provide powerful next-steps to understand the relationship for other groups.

Read More (Open): Kleinlogel, E. P., Curdy, M., Rodrigues, J., Sandi, C., & Schmid Mast, M. (2021). Doppelganger-based training: Imitating our virtual self to accelerate interpersonal skills learning. PLoS One, 16(2).

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

I’m sharing one of my furry friends this week - meet Pippa! She’s a cuddly baby that demands to be the center of attention, literally always. If you have a meeting with me, you will likely see her emerge from this cat bed (which lives on my desk, roughly 6 inches away) and smash her body on everything until she is cradled 🍼

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Katie Erhardt, Ph.D.

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