Immersive technologies, from video to virtual worlds, have evolved sufficiently that we can confidently predict the impact these delivery modalities will have on learners. The results are not everything we would want or expect, but they are decisive.
This article will prepare you to answer two questions:
- What are the primary advantages of immersive learning technologies over traditional learning environments?
- Why are these technologies so important for contexts where learning is optional, such as in a corporate environment?
We will see that immersive training technologies are well suited for building learning cultures.
The Definition of a Learning Culture
A learning culture is an organizational environment or mindset that promotes and supports employees’ continuous learning and development (L&D). It is a culture where learning is valued, encouraged, and integrated into the everyday activities and practices of the organization.
Individuals and teams are encouraged to acquire new knowledge, skills and competencies to enhance their performance, adapt to change, and achieve personal and organizational goals. Learning is seen as an ongoing process rather than how it has been traditionally perceived — as a one-time event or formal training program. Immersive training technologies are well suited for building learning cultures.
Immersive Training Technologies Increase Motivation to Learn
Immersive learning is not proven to help learners achieve more learning and the results have consistently shown this over the last few years. To measure this consistency, we need to look at aggregates of studies, or literature reviews. This type of analysis is a “study of studies” where the researcher does not study on their own, but rather systematically reviews and analyzes the results of other studies. The following literature review on immersive learning technologies summarizes both sides of the debate.
The research study, “Learning Outcomes of Immersive Technologies in Health Care Student Education: Systematic Review of the Literature,” states that, “Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality play an important role in the education of preclinical medical and nursing university students. When compared with traditional educational modalities, the learning gain is equal with immersive technologies.”
Now let’s look at the impact on “secondary” objectives of learning, as described by the same review: “Learning outcomes such as student satisfaction, self-efficacy, and engagement all increase with the use of immersive technology, suggesting that it is an optimal tool for education.”
However, immersive learning has no documented impact on learning gain. It does not help the brain achieve any more than a traditional course. But it does increase three very important secondary benefits, including: satisfaction, self-efficacy and engagement.
The Measured Benefits of Immersive Learning
- Satisfaction. “I am satisfied with the course, and I would do it again.”
- Self-efficacy. “I believe in my ability to learn and change.”
- Engagement. “I am focused on the course material during sessions.”
Considering that immersive learning tech closes the gap between learners and source material, these results should be no surprise. Immersive courses are simply easier to engage with and pay attention to. As a result, we are more attentive in these environments, feel more productive, and confident in the results of our time spent. Engagement leads to a greater feeling of self-efficacy, since we are thinking more about the source material as opposed to the time until our next meeting. We put more into the course, and we get more out of it thereby increasing our level of satisfaction.
Don’t Forget the Importance of Social Ties
Immersive learning technologies like VR do not have a monopoly on engagement, self-efficacy and satisfaction. The social elements of training are equally important, and they are an integral element that could help explain why immersive learning techniques are effective. Human connection, that sense of belonging to a group, helps us build meaningful ties to the course material.
This is exactly the conclusion drawn by Simone Grassini and others in their study of virtual reality (VR). Grassini’s team divided a training group up into a control, who watched a video, and another who experienced the course material in VR. Their results are shared in their report, “The Use of Virtual Reality Alone Does Not Promote Training Performance (but Sense of Presence Does)” and state that, “There were no significant differences between groups for any of the performance measures… Importantly, the results of the present study indicate that a high sense of presence during the VR simulation might contribute to increased skill learning.”
Although we might not “see” social elements like we do VR, we do experience them in a deep and meaningful way. By tapping into core needs, the sense of connectedness also increases engagement with the material, making it easier to focus and learn. Certain “brands” of immersive learning (gamification, for instance) focus on these social elements, but we should also place video conferencing and hybrid tools on the same spectrum. Features like shared whiteboards, breakout rooms and an ever-increasing array of tools help hybrid courses become more immersive, engaging and productive. These work to increase focus on the material but also to build meaningful ties between learners and instructors.
Should we learn more in less time, or should we spend more time learning?
Traditional instructors focus on how their students can learn more. They ask the question; how can I train my students to understand, and problem solve in this enormous field of study that I call my life’s work?
Organizations, on the other hand, focus on building a learning culture. They want to increase participation, so that everyone becomes a good student. In the working world, especially the one we are running into, we all need to learn and adapt, as is reflected in LinkedIn Learning’s 2023 Workplace Learning report.
The “collateral benefits” of instruction (engagement, self-efficacy and satisfaction) might be considered secondary in traditional academic settings, but in a corporate context, they might be the most crucial elements.
As with any activity, the more consistently we walk away from a learning experience with a positive feeling, the more likely we will be to return and try again. On the other hand, if we are left with a negative attitude after learning, we are less likely to return to it.
In corporate settings, we can provide real incentives in the attempt to induce employees to learn, but ultimately, employees must choose continuous learning.
To build a learning culture, we need to increase the value of learning for each employee, so that we provide that extra motivation to learn that so many employees need.
It is mutually beneficial for the whole organization when employees commit to growing their skills, broadening their knowledge and taking advantage of learning opportunities. Let’s keep in mind as much as immersive technologies have an impact on the participants of corporate training programs, if we want to increase the number of employees who will choose learning, we should also focus on the collateral benefits of engagement, self-efficacy and satisfaction. Because they boost the benefits of human connection, productivity and retention are the qualities that L&D should drive toward. The same approach applies when trying to increase participation in and results of your corporate learning program.