RankUp is a learning platform for veterans entering or reentering the civilian workforce, although it could potentially be adapted for other types of career changers. Designed to be used in conjunction with or following a training program focused on hard skills (e.g. a coding bootcamp), this platform helps veterans explore their chosen career path, develop soft skills they’ll use in the workplace, and learn how to present themselves throughout the hiring process. RankUp uses virtual reality simulations in conjunction with other educational materials and exercises, and participants are matched with mentors for support throughout their learning journeys.
Virtual reality is a promising technology for producing positive educational outcomes. VR supports effective transfer of learning as it allows users to learn through an immersive situation that resembles the real-life scenario in which they’ll need . It has received particular attention in the area of career development: the Department of Education recently debuted the EdSim Challenge to elicit ideas for educational VR simulations connected to career skills. Exploring different careers and working on related skills in a VR environment gives users a chance to dive into the worlds of those careers and learn how to navigate them. Workplace simulation games have been shown to enhance participants’ social skills and business vocabulary comprehension.
Since VR is sometimes used in military training, veterans may be familiar with VR and other types of simulations, and they would understand their value in preparing for a real-life situation. VR also helps veterans who may be unfamiliar with civilian workplaces a chance to see what civilian jobs look like, what options are out there, and how their skills might apply to these different settings.
RankUp uses VR modules at regularly spaced intervals throughout the journeys of users to give them opportunities to practice the skills they’re learning and see how those skills are applied to the context of the career they’re pursuing. In between the VR experiences, users watch short videos, read articles, and analyze short case studies, some related to general workplace and interviewing skills and some specific to their chosen career path. They participate in exercises that help them identify their strengths and reframe them to show hiring managers how they connect to the chosen career. Their advancement through these activities is visually illustrated with checkboxes and progress meters.
At the completion of each unit, the users participate in the VR simulations, which serve as clear, intermediary goals to reinforce their progress through the platform. These engaging experiences give users a sense of how far they’ve come, as they are able to test out what they’ve learned to solve the challenges presented in the simulation. To ensure users’ ability to access the VR experiences is high, they can be completed using a simple, affordable VR headset (e.g. Google Cardboard), and RankUp will also partner with centers serving veterans to make more advanced headsets available on a drop-in basis. In addition, regular check-ins and encouragement from mentors who have faced similar challenges help users stay on track and feel accountable. These check-ins can be done via text or video call, with at least one video call per unit recommended to increase the sense of connection and accountability.
After completing a simulation, users have the option to share a link to a highlight clip of the simulation with their friends and family. This clip can be viewed on a computer, using a simple VR viewer such as Google Cardboard, or using a higher-quality VR headset. Sharing the clip allows people close to the user, who may have a powerful effect on sustaining and supporting the user’s motivation, to understand what their learning experience is like and see them demonstrate their success in the simulation. It also could inspire others in the user’s circles to try out the platform or share it with connections who may benefit from it.
The platform is designed to allow several types of outside companies to participate in various ways. Companies interested in hiring veterans can use the platform for advertising available positions and identifying candidates who may be a good fit. We would offer several popular career tracks to start with, and companies who see RankUp as a valuable educational and recruiting tool could then partner with us to develop additional tracks, which could feature company offices as a backdrop for the simulations and connect users with hiring managers.
RankUp’s homepage allows visitors to select a career to explore and, with one click, enter a video or VR walkthrough of a prominent company in that industry. This walkthrough gives veterans a glimpse into a “day in the life” at that job, showing them the types of tasks, interactions, and projects they would encounter. From the homepage, visitors can can also quickly access a mentor through a pop-up chat box to help them determine if the platform is the right fit for them.
If they decide to start the RankUp journey, users are paired with one of these mentors. RankUp mentors are fellow veterans who have transitioned successfully to civilian jobs. When they first use the platform, veterans are asked about their reasons for participating and their goals for their RankUp experience. Mentors use this information about their mentees’ motivations to tailor their interactions with them, reminding them how they are progressing toward their goals and speaking about the benefits of the platform in ways that are closely linked with their mentees’ original motivations to participate. Mentors check in with users at the end of each RankUp unit and encourage them to make a plan for how they will complete the next unit, taking advantage of the moment when their motivation is high, as they’ve just been successful in completing an engaging simulation RankUp thus relies on pleasure (the fun of the simulation), social acceptance (from the mentor), and hope (for a successful new career) as motivators to support users’ sustained progress. Veterans who complete the RankUp program and begin a civilian job in their field have the opportunity to give back by serving as mentors on a paid, part-time basis.
 Dede, C. (2009). Immersive interfaces for engagement and learning. Science, 323, 66-69.