Three characteristics that distinguish VR from all other media
The technology of virtual reality is increasingly finding its way into companies. Especially in the area of corporate learning, more companies are switching their training to VR. Why is this? What exactly makes VR so unique compared to other media such as e-learning and online events? The uniqueness of VR stems from a combination of immersion, presence and what I call „ontological openness“.
Immersion – Ready to dive in?
VR is unique because of the high level of immersion it generates, the emotion of presence and ontological openness. Immersion is derived from the Latin word immersio, which means to immerse or deepen. So it is also understandable that the term was originally used to denote the immersion of a baptised person during a baptismal procedure.
In the technological context, immersion means deep diving into a virtual environment. However, an immersive quality of experience can be observed not only in VR applications, but also in completely analogue media. Anyone who has ever become so engrossed in a book that eating, drinking and sleeping became secondary is very likely to experience reading as an immersive experience. Literature itself took up the immersive experience and its consequences several times: Who is not familiar with „The Neverending Story“ by Michael Ende, in which the reader, Bastian, becomes so immersed in the book of the same name that he himself becomes an essential part of the narrative. And it is precisely this example that provides information about what immersion actually is and how it differs from other types of reception. We can experience immersion through the most diverse activities. As we have seen, it is by no means bound to technological media such as VR. But virtual reality applications have the potential to generate a much higher degree of immersion in people than films, literature and other media can. And it is because immersion literally absorbs us from the outside world for whole periods of time that it is so interesting in terms of the psychology of learning. Immersive experience and immersion in a content equally mean a high degree of attention – insofar as attention is understood as a bundling of concentration.
Presence – You are a part of this virtual world
What is meant by the phenomenon of „presence“ in the context of VR? The feeling of being in a mediated world is called presence. Experiencing presence can be divided into different aspects: social and physical presence. Social presence encompasses the user’s impression of perceiving the virtual actors of the mediated world as real or authentic agents and actually being able to interact with them. To achieve this effect, VR goggles make use of face and eye tracking techniques, among others, to transfer the facial expressions of the VR user to the representative avatars in the virtual world. Physical presence, on the other hand, means recognising the virtual environment as an intuitively interactable and interactive space and therefore encompasses both the space and the user’s location in this digital reality.
Ontological openness – The impossible is possible
The „ontological openness“ that completes the definition of VR and thus makes it categorically distinct from other media includes the possibility of creating VR environments 100% according to one’s own wishes.
Ontology is the branch of Western philosophy that deals with the nature of existence and being of things. Accordingly, this philosophical discipline investigates what there is in the world and what essence underlies things. The ontological openness therefore means that VR environments can be 100% self-defined. Development teams and product managers are therefore completely free to design virtual environments; not even the laws of nature have to be taken into account, not to mention everyday interruptions. An annoying mobile phone ringing in a seminar, a coughing fit during an in-house event, or other sources of disruption are now a thing of the past. Every learning scenario can be created exactly the way product management wants it. The ideal learning space is therefore no longer just an idea, it becomes reality in VR.
This ontological openness makes it possible to avoid familiar problems that occur especially in online events. One of the most serious challenges is the phenomenon of „cognitive overload“. First formulated in the 1980s, Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) describes the capacities of the human „working memory“ and states that learners cannot cognitively process more than two to four items at a time in their environment without being overwhelmed. The cognitive-affective theory of learning is based on this theory of cognitive overload and explains, among other things, the stress caused by irrelevant elements in learning scenarios. According to this theory, irrelevant elements are all elements that lead to distractions, i.e. that interfere with the attention of learners and cause them to lose focus of the learning content: Background noises, flashing displays, excited chat processes and other activities are causes that lead to cognitive overload and therefore significantly disrupt or even end the learning process. Only a conscious design of the learning arrangement that takes into account findings from the psychology of learning, such as the phenomenon of cognitive overload, leads to the full potential of VR as a medium for further education.
Virtual Reality is a unique medium! It can be clearly distinguished from other educational formats by its unique combination of immersion, sense of presence and ontological openness. These three characteristics are so enormously useful in terms of learning psychology, because they can make VR a unique learning experience, as they generate and promote attention to the learning content, favour flow experiences and enable the development of ideal learning environments.
Foto: I am an absolute fan of VR! What about you?