One of the most studied – and interesting aspects of human psychology relates to how we learn. As a child, your mind captures and processes information in a simplified way. However, learning becomes a much more complex process as you age, which is a challenge VR helps address.
Immersive learning, supported by VR allows us to learn skills just like we did when we were children, through observation and emulation. This type of learning plays a huge role in why it’s so effective for learning new skills. Even though we become able to process abstract information around age 12, we still learn best by observing and mimicking others, just as children do.
Defining Immersive Learning with Respect to Technology
In the past, immersive learning was a phrase used to describe certain experiences where an individual was placed in a new environment to develop or master a new skill. Let’s take a look at pilot training for example. This training has undergone a massive evolution of techniques over the years; the earliest is a process called “gliding.” When gliding, pilots in training would physically sit in the glider, which was exposed to a strong facing wind "feeling" the controls by keeping the wings in a horizontal position. This was the early version of experiencing flight controls.
Thanks to virtual reality, immersive learning today doesn’t require expensive equipment, going to physical locations, or scheduling training time with experts in their field. Immersive learning can occur in a virtual world, allowing our brain to work as if truly plunged into a new setting, but, with a reduction in the “sink-or-swim” experience that’s common to real-world scenarios.
Through interactions with simulations in a virtual environment, the material you learn can be both stored and recalled more efficiently, compared to traditional learning. While many of us can recall a demonstration or material we’ve read, there’s still another layer of processing that translates this information into data our bodies use to perform a task. Hence, it takes us longer to learn new skills from standard instruction compared to physical immersion or learning via VR. Immersive learning with VR provides a method of interacting with information that allows us to better retain and apply skills learned during immersion to functions in the real-world1.
4 FUN FACTS ABOUT IMMERSIVE LEARNING
1. VR provides meaning and motivation
Aside from simply being fun, VR provides more relevance to well-constructed lessons and simulations, allowing you to better retain information learned, while immersed in the real world. Researchers recently produced a report in 2018 that revealed how the technology provides a useful system for what’s referred to as generative learning – to sum it up, the combination of cognitive stimuli (i.e. what you see and hear), virtual elements you interact with during immersion, and the ability to segment (basically, learning things in chunks) is particularly helpful when learning a new skill2. We all learn at different rates, meaning some of us can pick up a process quickly, but others need to “play around” before a lesson “clicks” in our heads.
2. You forget less (especially with boring subjects!)
Recall a fun class from your past, or a place you visited and enjoyed... how do you remember it? Chances are, you have a pretty detailed memory about events, your surroundings, and other sensations, compared to boring classes or places you didn’t find interesting. This is why developers are looking to apply VR to events like corporate training (and even college curriculum) to enhance retention of information, delivered in various lessons. It’s not going to make every lesson a fun-filled adventure, but VR will increase engagement during lessons that are otherwise boring.
3. Immersive learning can simulate sensation
Your body doesn’t always require physical stimulation to feel a sensation, as your brain can do this on its own, based simply on what you see and hear. In a 2014 study, researchers discovered that VR could be used to produce an analgesic effect, reducing sensations of pain and anxiety3. Interestingly, you can test this phenomenon of “phantom sensations” yourself. When playing certain VR games, if you hop from a ground-level location to a higher elevation and look down, you will experience the sensation of being higher than ground level, even though you haven’t really moved. The working theory is that this kind of immersion could help some to overcome phobias such as heights, certain animals, and many other fears.
4. Quantifying learning in VR is somewhat of a challenge, at least for now
Currently, evaluating the outcomes for immersive learning is typically done by comparing test scores from those who learned a lesson with VR against those who learned the same lesson with traditional instruction. Much like grading artwork, or anything else that’s highly subjective, much of the “scoring” is qualitative, especially when solid data isn’t available for comparison. As such, several researchers are working toward a more a formal way to assess outcomes by attaching meaningful numbers to actions taken in the virtual world4. Ultimately, this will provide a better understanding of how the technology is helping (or in some cases, hurting) which will be utilized to make improvements in future generations of VR technology.
In addition to being entertaining, VR is proving that it has the capacity to completely transform how we learn. At Interplay, we’re on the frontier of immersive learning as we continually strive to make impactful lessons in the virtual world. Shoot us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org to discover how our system can expand your ability to learn.