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How Science is Driving Success at Portico Studios


Effective training is critical to success in business, especially in the hospitality, retail and human resource sectors. Whether training wait staff to meet customer needs, training employees to communicate and complete tasks successfully, or training managers to conduct productive employee reviews, the quality and consistency of the training will directly affect the company’s bottom line. Effective training allows employees and management to master the day-to-day basics of the job, but also exposes them to extreme situations that, when handled poorly, can devastate a company’s reputation and lead to millions of dollars in losses. One need only harken back to April 2017 when a passenger was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, to understand that training in extreme situations, as well as the basics, is necessary to be effective.

The Science of Virtual Reality Training

The use of virtual reality (VR) for training has grown exponentially over the past decade. VR gives the learner a feeling of “presence” that they do not get from reading a training manual or watching a video (Seidel & Chatelier, 2013). This feeling of presence emerges when you place an individual in an immersive environment that is rich in contextual cues. For example, immersing a waiter-in-training in a virtual environment identical to their restaurant environment, includes all the rich contextual cues that are present on the job (artwork on the wall, layout of the tables and service areas, music playing in the background, etc.). This rich context and feeling of presence increase attention, engagement, and motivation, which are central to effective learning (Maddox & Markman, 2010), and also increase employee retention and satisfaction.

Early applications of VR used 360-degree video to train. The learner had a first-person perspective, and the learning occurred by observing correct and incorrect behaviors. For example, a waiter-in-training might observe a first-person view of a highly competent waiter in action and might then observe an incompetent waiter in action. The waiter-in-training learns to mimic the correct actions and avoid the incorrect actions through observation and mental repetition. Although observational VR training is better than manual or video training, extensive scientific research reveals that immediate feedback training is superior to observational training (e.g., Ashby, Maddox, & Bohil, 2002; Worthy, Markman & Maddox, 2013). In fact, immediate feedback training can lead to as much as a 50% improvement in learning relative to observational training (Ashby, et al, 2002).

The critical factor in immediate feedback training is that the learner actively generates behaviors and receives immediate corrective feedback, instead of passively observing behaviors. Without taking a deep dive into brain neurochemistry, suffice it to say that learning is best when the brain circuits that initiated the behavior are still active when feedback is received. If the action is appropriate, then that behavior will be strengthened, and if the action is inappropriate, then that behavior will be weakened. For example, a waiter-in-training might approach a virtual customer, interact with that customer, and receive feedback regarding the quality of that interaction, whether high or low. The brain uses this feedback to strengthen the behaviors associated with appropriate interactions and weaken the behaviors associated with inappropriate interactions. Physical repetitions followed by immediate corrective feedback are superior to mental repetitions facilitated by observation.

Portico Studios VR Training Platform

Franklin Alioto and Jeff Meador, co-founded Portico Studios, an xR technology company focused on immediate feedback VR training with a primary focus on the hospitality and human resource verticals. In these sectors, real-time communication and interactivity are key to success on the job. Employees must be trained to accurately assess the intent and motivations of others and to generate appropriate responses, all in real-time. Thus, an effective VR training platform must incorporate real-time communication, interactivity, and immediate corrective feedback as its foundation. The Portico system achieves all these goals and is quickly disrupting the hospitality and human resource sector. The Portico system facilitates real-time communication, interaction, and feedback between the learner and virtual agent through speech interpretation combined with their proprietary AI-intent system. This allows the virtual agent to determine the intent of the learner and to respond accordingly, in real-time. Thus, when the learner speaks to the virtual agent, the virtual agent’s response serves as an immediate feedback signal. For example, if a waiter-in-training responds inappropriately, the virtual agent can respond in a way that makes clear that they are dissatisfied. Not surprisingly, this system quickly and accurately trains employees to master the day-to-day basics of the job, but can also be used to expose employees to extreme situations, such as an unruly customer or a situation that escalates regardless of the employee’s behavior.

To quote Franklin Alioto, CEO of Portico Studios, “Interactivity, which takes on many forms such as using controllers for physical interactions, haptics, and audio, is vital for immersion and sense of presence. At Portico, we take it one step further and layer in voice interactivity and real-time communication. It is when you combine all these various elements into your product that the experience starts to feel real. This interactivity and immediate feedback drive optimized learning and retention.” Why is this so successful? Because Portico Studios is bringing expertise in interactive content and leveraging the science of immediate feedback training to drive a revolutionary performance training system.


Ashby, F.G., Maddox, W.T., & Bohil, C.J. (2002). Observational versus feedback training in rule-based and information-integration category learning. Memory & Cognition, 30(5), 666-677.

Maddox, W.T., & Markman, A.B. (2010). The motivation-cognition interface in learning and decision-making. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(2), 106-110.

Seidel, R.J., & Chatelier, P.R. (2013). Virtual Reality Training’s Future: Perspectives on Virtual Reality and Related Emerging Technologies. Springer Science and Business Media.

Worthy, D.A., Markman, A.B., & Maddox, W.T. (2013). Feedback and stimulus-offset timing effects in perceptual category learning. Brain & Cognition, 81(2), 283-293.

Author’s Biography:

W. Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, LLC. His passion is to apply his 25 years of scientific and neuroscientific expertise, gained by managing a large human learning and performance laboratory, to help businesses build better training products. Todd received his Ph.D. in Quantitative and Cognitive Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara that was followed by a two-year post-doctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard University. Todd then embarked on a 25-year academic research career achieving status as a leader in the fields of human learning and memory with an emphasis in understanding the computational interplay between motivation, personality and incentive structures and their effects on optimized learning, memory and training. Todd published nearly 200 peer-reviewed research reports, and was the recipient of a number of federal grants. Todd is especially interested in applying his optimized training expertise to the emerging technologies of VR/AR/MR, as well as eLearning, and he is currently writing a book focused on bringing the science of optimized training into the commercial sector.

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