Peter Chan and Carl Harris, two university professors here in Utah, have been experimenting with the use of video ethnography for this purpose for more than fifteen years. Peter has spoken a couple of times at eLearning DevCon, which is where I first heard him discuss their unique approach to soft skills training.
Most instructional designers assume that to teach soft skills effectively using e-learning you create scenarios. If the scenario is interactive, even better. So course developers spend dozens of hours analyzing, writing, and sometimes filming models for a 'live' demonstration. This is an attempt to re-create the live classroom scenario-based approach to teaching soft skills.
Dr Chan and Dr Harris take a completely different approach. Instead of filming scenarios, they film the successful phenomenon in its native habitat (hence the use of 'ethnographer'). In other words, if they are trying to teach new teachers effective teaching or classroom management skills, they find a teacher that is already demonstrating these skills naturally, and film that. This leads to credible footage, but that isn't enough. Anyone can go and film a successful experience, but watching a successful skill demonstration in a real environment is only a small part of the puzzle.
Last year I attended a local TedX conference in Salt Lake City where Dr. Chan presented the video ethnography concept. I recommend viewing his presentation to get a high level view of why his techniques have won him awards and recognition in several continents.
Recently, Dr. Chan has built an extension to Rapid Intake's collaborative course authoring software, eLearning Studio (formerly called Unison), that allows anyone to quickly benefit from of his years of expertise and research in this area. If you'd like to learn more about using Video Ethnography to solve the soft skills training puzzle at your organization, please contact Garin Hess and he can arrange a meeting with Dr. Chan.
What do you think? Can soft skills be effectively taught using technology?
You may also want to see this related article: Instructional Patterns in eLearning: Using Branching Scenario Simulations to Move From Information to Application