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Laboratoire Angevin de Recherche en Ingénierie des Systèmes

Separated by coma

KIRAE Research Project

Design and development of immersive virtual environments for the development and evaluation of soft skills.
PhD student : Mr. Maxime ALLAIN
Thesis Director: Paul RICHARD
Co-supervisor: Jérôme BESNARD
Industrial supervisor: Lisa DELALANDE (KIRAE)


Start of thesis : December 2021

Group : Information, Signal, Image and Life Sciences

Contact : paul.richard @ univ-angers.fr

Research Project

In order to respond to changes in the world of work, the assessment and development of soft skills have become strategic for business. These skills are considered essential and associated with the employability of individuals: they are likely to increase recruitment opportunities, promote professional success and fulfilment at work. Soft skills are not reducible either to the mastery of techniques or to personality traits, but are complex competences, both cognitive and socio-emotional, explicit and implicit, mobilised jointly. The question of the interactional and intersubjective dimension of soft skills leads, in our opinion, to a reexamination of the practices of evaluation and development of these skills, which do not take these aspects into account and which are not based on any theoretical model that could guide them.

In this context, the use of immersive virtual environments would make it possible to reconcile the experimental validity of laboratory tests and the ecological validity of field assessments, as highlighted by previous research (e.g., Besnard et al., 2016; Jollivet et al., 2018). In the field of soft skills assessment and development, the interests of VR are also increasingly being considered, although the proposed tools suffer from the pitfalls mentioned above (definitions of soft skills, lack of consideration of the multi-modal, context-dependent, interactional and implicit and explicit expression of these skills). To our knowledge, there is no published scientific work on this subject either. We can, however, mention a few tools currently offered by companies (e.g. Bodyswaps) and a study carried out in Australia in 2020 by Ecker and Mower: The Effectiveness of Virtual Reality Soft Skills Training in the Enterprise. This study makes a strong case for the use of immersive VR for soft skills development and assessment. Another study (Mursion & Future Workplace VR Changes the Game for Soft Skills Training Study, October 2020) also supports this approach to immersive VR. In the particular context of behavioural simulations integrating emotional aspects, we can cite the work carried out by LARIS and LPPL in the framework of Hamza Hamdi's cifre thesis (2012), the work of Skip Rizzo initiated in 2015 at the Institute for Creative Technologies (USA), in particular the VITA4VETS (Virtual Interactive Training Agent for Veterans) project, and the work carried out at LIMSI in the team of Jean-Claude Martin (2018).

Our research project has three components:

  1. The design of virtual environments integrating aspects related to the neurocognitive model of frontal functioning,
  2. The implementation of social and emotional aspects via the integration of animated conversational agents interacting with each other and with the user,
  3. The development of an evaluation module (behaviour, implicit and explicit expressions).
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