How My Design Thinking Experience Created An Effective Training Program For Experiential Learning Using VR Tech

Katherine Canales/SweetRush Inc.
Summary: One call center associate’s journey from onboarding hell to design thinking nirvana. Follow our heroine as she discovers how VR tech can create experiential learning that’s more fun than a TikTok dance video.

Onboarding Hell To CoDesign Nirvana

Dear Diary: Next Time I Hear The Words "Experiential Learning," I’m Using One Of My Sick Days

Dulintex day 5. More onboarding. Predictably horrible. Today’s exceptionally painful activity was role plays. The semi-patient facilitator explained this is “experiential learning.” Apparently that means that we learn by doing something. Get matched with a frighteningly cheerful man—Bob—who’s playing the angry customer. (I’m playing me. Tip if you’re playing me: slouch more and look indifferent.) The not-as-patient-now facilitator keeps trying to get Bob to be more frustrated, which makes him sweat profusely. We officially arrive at the first circle of hell. Learn by doing…more like, what the heck am I doing here and can I please, please check Insta?

Dear Diary: I Could Really Use Some Actually Good Experiential Learning Up In Here

Dulintex week 2. Today is “on the phones” day and I feel totally unprepared. Maybe I should have paid more attention to that role play. Several calls devolve into what I imagine are red-faced customers about to lose it. I try to keep calm in my cube and cry in the bathroom stall at lunch. The cheerful sweating man (Bob) stops by my cube to say hi. Had just finished a call that could only be described as a dumpster fire. He slowly backs away when he sees my face. I spend the rest of the afternoon doing breathing exercises. My mood lifts until I remember how my bank account is going to sink if I lose this job. I pick up catnip for Switchy so at least one of us can feel good.

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Dear Diary: Me = No Filter

End of week 2. Longest week of my life. The evaluation form for the onboarding appears in my inbox. I am in a particularly cranky mood. Switchy ran out this morning when I took out the garbage. Seems she believes she has a job to get to under the deck. I tell her to enjoy her responsibility-free life—she must have good karma for being a nice person in a past life. (Was I a jerk in my past life?) I write honest feedback about onboarding while imagining the onboarding is Blanka in Street Fighter and I am Chun-Li. Feeling like a hero so I hit send….then panic. I’m sure that was a mistake.

Dear Diary: There Is Apparently A Way To Think Design And They Call It Design Thinking

Dulintex, one month. Meeting with manager Mya. Apparently my hero-moment feedback about onboarding reached her desk. I can’t tell if she’s mad. Poker face. Try not to squirm as I wait for her to fire me. I consider pulling out my phone to search for a new job but resist the urge. We’re trying to make the onboarding better, she says. Pretty tough to make it worse I think. (Thankfully that thought stays in my brain instead of coming out of my big mouth—not feeling so heroic now.) She is going on about “design thinking.” She asks if I want to be involved. Um, sure, seems better than being fired? I leave before she changes her mind. Google “design thinking.” I’m feeling something, maybe a glimmer of hope, or is it just my stomach telling me it’s time for lunch?

Dear Diary: Raise Your Hand If You’re A Nerd

First day of design thinking. Get assigned a room with video chat. Meet with a team called SweetRush. Funny name, is it cute or obnoxious? I decide that I like it. I consider getting another cat and name it SweetRush, then I remember the sad tale of Switchy’s brother. (We are both in mourning.)

SweetRush calls their process CoDesign [1]. We’ll go through 5 steps, which they lay out in pretty pictures. Everyone seems very friendly. No one sweats. The first step is Connect and they want to learn about me—because I am an actual call center person—by doing a talk show and this will help everyone get into our heads. Seems they want to empathize with me. I always wondered what empathize meant and now I think I understand. Of course, I get nervous and darn it, now I’m sweating.

A nice woman named Clare asks a lot of questions. She really wants to know about me, how I like to learn, what I like to do. I tell her I named my cat Switchy because playing Nintendo Switch is the best part of my day. The other folks also mention video games, so maybe I’m not a total nerd? Or we’re all nerds. #NerdsUnite

Dear Diary: Design Thinking Really Helps You Learn About Learning

Second CoDesign step today—Define. I mostly just listen while the learning people at my company talk. I had no idea how many things you need to think about when you’re creating onboarding! Technology, metrics, budget, timeline…I momentarily feel bad for trashing their onboarding program. Then remember if I didn’t say something, I wouldn’t be part of this, so Diary, maybe my big mouth is useful sometimes.

Dear Diary: In Which I Discover I Am A Design Thinking Prodigy

Jumped out of bed this morning excited to get to work for the next step in CoDesign, Play! We separate into groups and there I am with some really senior people—crazy right, me! We’re talking about ideas and I remember a game I once played where I was a detective and I had to interview different people. I had options for what to say and how to respond, and I got points if I said the right thing. (I was so focused on beating that game that I forgot to feed Switchy—he was very vocal about how that hurt his feelings.)

What if we could make a game about customer calls? They were pretty into the idea. The funny thing was when the groups came back together, another team had talked about games, too! Diary, I might be a natural at this design thinking stuff.

Dear Diary: Can You Imagine?

We got back with the SweetRush peeps today. Everyone was jazzed about working on the game idea. When we got too crazy, these people called Instructional Designers helped us focus back on what people like me need to learn. Can you imagine, instead of a cheerful sweaty guy, I could have faced an angry customer dude in a game? I would be so into making that dude happy and winning points, I’d follow all the steps and practice until I could do it in my sleep. (I actually did dream about that detective game. It was black and white…there was a bird statue…something about whistling…I woke up and realized Switchy had changed the channel to TCM.)

Dear Diary: Experiential Learning + VR Tech Are New To Me But I’m Totally Game (Ugh, I Mean Lame)

Back on CoDesign today and the SweetRushians came back with a couple of prototypes to show us. Do these people sleep? Sit down Diary, you’re not going to believe this—one of their options was a learning game in VIRTUAL REALITY. They said they’ve been using VR tech to create experiential learning. Uh-oh—it’s “experiential learning” again but I don’t freak out because I’m so curious about VR.

For the prototype, they show some images and voiceover and, I kid you not, it was like being back in my cube. Customers getting angry, reallllly tense situations, and—wow—this would be amazing onboarding. The SweetRush person said that instead of clicking on an answer, I could say the answer out loud and the VR tech could award me points for the right tone of voice! They called this voice and tone recognition and analysis technology and showed us a different program they created for a hospital so we could see how it works.

I almost said out loud that if there was a game like that I would play it for fun and you wouldn’t have to pay me but thankfully my brain remembered that Switchy needs cat food and applied the appropriate filter.

Dear Diary: If I Had This Kind Of Focus Every Day I’d Be Dangerous

Last step of CoDesign today. The SweetRush people who I guess do not sleep worked a little more on the prototype and made a whole scenario that could be like a game level. They really wanted me and the other call center folks to try it because this step is called Align and it’s when you test your prototype. Seriously the last time I was this excited was when my ex-girlfriend got us tickets to Comic-Con and I went as Lana Kane and she went as Archer and we literally bumped into Joss Whedon and I almost fainted.

Diary, when I gave my feedback everyone really listened because I am an actual newbie call center person and true story, my opinion is important and valuable. I told them they needed to make the scenario more tense—customers don’t hold back, y’all—and make what I need to say a little more natural and make the choices harder. But it was totally cool and I know I would learn a lot with this game. And the learning folks were like "yeah!" And me and the call center peeps were like "yeah!" And the SweetRush folks were like "yeah!" And I was thinking about Switchy in a VR headset raising his little paw "yeah!"

Several months later…

Dear Diary: My Design Thinking Story Comes To A Brilliant Close

And we have a new VR tech-enabled experiential learning program that is totally freaking cool!

Can you guess what today is? Nope, not my birthday. Nope, not the season premiere of Stranger Things. Give up? VR headsets arrived! And they’ve got our brand new onboarding program using VR tech that I helped create using design thinking—and I don't even mind they call it experiential learning. I’m getting this learning lingo down. Manager Mya asked me (!) to talk about the VR training program at our team meeting and everyone including Bob is stoked to try it. 2,000 people are excited and lining up for something that I worked on!

I think I might stay at Dulintex for a bit, handling difficult customers now feels more like a game I’m good at. Keeping in touch with the learning folks. Googling “how to be an Instructional Designer.” I had a dream last night that Switchy and I were in a VR world…flying in his water bowl to a planet made of kibble…

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