Interact interview with Christophe Mallet, BODYSWAPS’ CEO
This post was originally published on Interact's website in June 2020. BODYSWAPS had partnered with Interact, a London-based learning provider to co-develop a scenario around challenging sexism. You can watch the trailer here.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Bodyswaps is essentially a flight simulator for soft skills training. It offers simulations of workplace scenarios where employees or students can practice their soft skills be it active listening, communication or challenging sexism.
The key concept is to allow experiential learning, anytime, anywhere. Not only do we liberate the learners from the logistical limitations of having to be in a set room at a set time but we also empower them to practice, as much as they want, in a space that is both emotionally immersive and psychologically safe.
From a technology perspective, we combine VR and AI to allow learners to practice with their own voice and body language, watch themselves back and get automated personalised feedback.
How did you get into combining technology with learning?
My partners and I originally worked at the crossroads of VR and storytelling. Up until 2018, we had an immersive marketing agency and worked for the likes of the Champion’s League or Adidas. On the side, we avidly read whatever research was being published on VR and behavioural transformation. Then we landed a project in VR training, typically outside of our comfort zone...
Not only was it fun but we thought we could scale the idea up and so we entered Digital Catapult’s Augmentor accelerator. There we met Mel Slater, probably the most important researcher on VR today and a huge inspiration for me...and he kind of tore our work apart. He made us realise we had to make virtual reality work harder, we had to create ways of learning that are only possible in VR, not just marginal improvements on 2D learning.
A few months later we got approached to design training for nurses in psychiatry and fought hard to be able to prototype a body-swapping experience. It was more powerful than we expected and got people really excited. That’s when BODYSWAPS was born.
What is it that makes BodySwaps unique?
2 things: the learning format and the business model.
On the learning format, we worked with behavioural scientists and learning designers to truly foster behavioural change. And the secret ingredient here is self-reflection. In Bodyswaps, you can swap places with virtual characters to see yourself back from their perspective. Sitting across from yourself in a high-stake discussion is quite a powerful learning experience! That helps you identify ways to improve, and, after a few rounds of practice, build the confidence to apply what you learned in the real world.
On the business model side, we wanted to lower the barrier to entry as much as possible and rather than continuing to offer tailor-made scenarios to a happy few, we opted for the creation of an off-the-shelf library of simulations that any organisation, big or small, could afford to access. That’s why all you need is a headset and a quick sign-up and you’re ready to go.
How important is immersive technology in the future of learning?
The Covid-19 crisis has put a focus on the need for innovation in education and learning technologies. Organisations are rapidly transforming themselves to ensure they can be fully operational in a remote context. Therefore, upskilling their workforce for this new world of work has become a strategic imperative. But traditional e-learning and standard virtual classrooms fail to deliver the levels of engagement necessary to foster actual behavioural change. Immersive learning, once a very steep adoption curve has been met, will materialise the potential of remote experiential learning delivered at scale. It opens an era for practicing soft skills safely, anytime, anywhere, which, when programmes are deployed throughout organisations, will truly transform the way we work together.
Do you think this sort of technology is scalable?
The technology is made for scale. After all, a new VR headset costs about the same as what a single employee would pay for a flight ticket and a (bad) hotel night to attend a one day workshop abroad. Beyond cost savings, what makes immersive learning a smart investment is the actual behavioural change it triggers. A recent PWC study found VR learners to be 3 to 4 times more confident to apply the skills they learned to their work than with e-learning. With Bodyswaps, we see improved levels of confidence after a single simulation. And last but not least, learners love immersive learning. Over 95% of people who tried Bodyswaps would recommend it to their peers. For a more in-depth guide on how to scale VR, check out our whitepaper.
What is the future looking like for BodySwaps?
We’ve got tonnes of exciting stuff coming this year, working on new content around D&I and employability skills but also on new features and ways to generate hyper-relevant behavioural data. Stay tuned!
And finally – how is lockdown treating you? What has been your favourite box-set or film?
Best thing I’ve seen all lockdown is Blindspotting. A movie from 2018 tackling race relations and gentrification in America. It’s also quite fun and amazing for hip-hop fans. I saw it before what happened to George Floyd and retrospectively I realise it’s not just a great movie, it’s an important one.