A meta-analysis of virtual reality training programs for social skill development

Matt C. Howard, Melissa B. Gutworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Recent years have seen an increase in the number of researchers and practitioners applying virtual reality (VR) to develop social skills, but varying levels of success have been observed when applying these VR training programs. Due to these disparities, review and summary work is needed to determine (a) whether these programs are effective and (b) the attributes of these programs that lead to success. In the current article, we perform a meta-analysis to determine the overall effectiveness of VR training programs for developing social skills, and we also study the effect of several moderating variables that may influence the effectiveness of these programs. We test whether certain aspects of the applied hardware (e.g. input devices, output devices), applied software (e.g. game elements, Second Life), participant population (e.g. general/specialized), and study design (e.g. type of control group, type of measure, others) influence the success of these programs. Sources were identified using EBSCO and Google Scholar, and, after our inclusion criteria were applied, 23 samples were included in our meta-analysis. Using a random-effects approach, we show that VR training programs, on average, perform better than alternative training programs for developing social skills, but almost all the other findings contradict current notions regarding these programs. Of note, gamified programs produced slightly worse outcomes than non-gamified programs, and programs utilizing immersive technologies (e.g. head-mounted displays) produced slightly worse outcomes than programs utilizing non-immersive displays (e.g. monitors). We provide suggestions regarding the effectiveness of VR training for social skills in comparison to alternative training approaches, the attributes of VR training programs that produce better outcomes, and directions for future research and practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103707
JournalComputers and Education
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Learning
  • Simulation
  • Social skills
  • Training and development
  • Virtual reality


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