As the world becomes increasingly technologically driven, traditional classroom based learning where a teacher, lecturer or trainer stands at the front of a class is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Creating a participatory environment where educators are facilitating active, immersive learning can be hugely beneficial to a learner’s development; enriching their knowledge base and practical skills.
Could immersive learning not only hold the key to addressing the challenges of the digital age, but significantly improve education and skills development by harnessing the power of technologies such as virtual, augmented and mixed reality?
Immersive Learning Theory
Traditional classroom based learning techniques largely rely on auditory and written learning styles. Whether in an educational or work related training space, this has significant and widely recognised limitations. Every learner is unique and this is reflected on how they process and retain information. And for many, providing engaging and interactive content offers a more inclusive and accessible learning experience, especially for those that are predisposed to a visual and kinesthetic style of learning.
Immersive learning is a hugely effective way for many learners to develop their knowledge and skills. It provides artificial, digitally created content and environments that accurately replicates real life scenarios so that new skills and techniques can be learned and perfected. Learners aren’t simply passive spectators; they get to be active participants who directly influence outcomes. And what’s more, it offers a risk-free and safe space where learning can be repeated and success can be accurately measured. It’s practice-based learning where the sky is the limit.
Types of Immersive Learning Technology
From immersive learning in schools, to practical work based training, to informal educational experiences such as interactive museum exhibitions, getting to know the different types of technologies is the first crucial step for educators looking to embrace immersive.
Each type of immersive technology can bring unique benefits that can be applied in different ways within a learning context. These include:
Virtual reality (VR) completely immerses learners in alternative digital worlds. Content is accessed through VR headsets such as a HTC Vive or Oculus Quest, often combined with headphones and hand controllers that allow the learner to navigate their way around their virtual space.
Rather than blocking out the real world, augmented reality blends it with digital content. Digital assets can take many shapes and forms, so it can be flat and 2D, which is great for instructional information, or be more complex and ‘real’ in 3D. Content can be triggered by specific objects or geographical places. Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets allow the learner to access content, making it easily accessible. Widely recognised examples include Pokémon Go and Snapchat filters.
Mixed reality combines elements of virtual and augmented reality. Like augmented reality, it overlays digital content with the real world. This content is anchored to and interacts with objects in the real world. A major difference between mixed and augmented reality is that in mixed reality, digital assets can be visibly obscured by real world objects.
360 degree video tends to be live filmed, rather than computer generated. Although you can access this content via a VR headset and are fully immersed in an environment, the learner is anchored by the filmmaker’s viewpoint. This means that the learner can move their heads to see the world around them, but interactivity is lost as they can’t walk around independently or interact with their surroundings. It’s a great way to introduce virtual field trips, transporting students to far flung places without leaving the classroom.
Immersive Learning vs Experiential Learning
Immersive learning can be compared to experiential learning techniques. Although closely related, there are some key differences that set them apart from each other.
Use of technology
Immersive learning relies entirely on technology such as virtual, augmented or mixed reality to access content and experiences, whereas this is typically not the case for experiential learning.
Linear vs non-linear
Experiential learning is designed in a linear way, where specific actions have right or wrong outputs. Immersive learning explores non-linear activity where a learner’s actions can reveal numerous possibilities. It’s a more holistic approach where there isn’t always a right answer.
Immersive learning relies on a dynamic environment where 100% of the learner’s thinking capacity is required, whereas experiential learning takes places in a static environment that can require far less from the learner.
Benefits of Immersive Learning
Ultimately, immersive learning exists to provide learners with new skills and increase their knowledge base. Whether learning is being applied in schools, colleges and universities, in workplaces or beyond, it is hugely beneficial for individuals at all stages of their lives.
Improved learning through doing
Immersive learning builds on decades of neuroscience research, which shows that our brains are in effect tricked by digital content, so we tend to react to immersive experiences the same way we would in the real world. This makes immersive learning a gamechanger for practice-based learning, as it indicates how we would react in real life scenarios.
It provides a distraction free environment
With the advent of mobile and digital advances, modern life is increasingly full of distractions that we just can’t resist. But this has the potential to have a negative impact on learning experiences and a learner’s ability to learn and retain information. Virtual reality offers a particularly effective tool in this respect, as it blocks out the real world, providing a distraction-free environment where learners can completely concentrate on the task in hand.
Practice makes perfect
Repetition leads to perfecting techniques and significantly improves retention of learning. Immersive technologies provide the space to repeat activities and explore different outcomes based on the learner’s different actions and reactions. This is especially crucial for practical training, as it helps to build muscle memory and perfect specific techniques where errors in the real world could be catastrophic, such as intricate surgical skills for medical students.
Brings learning to life
Although immersive technologies offer a brilliant way to develop practical skills, it also has the potential to help learners to fall in love with learning and spark curiosity. Virtual reality has the potential to transport the learner to different times and places, and AR’s ability to enhance and increase our understanding of the world around us. A great example is the Natural History Museum’s Hold the World project, which introduces learners to rarely seen specimens from the museum’s collections – and all with Sir David Attenborough as your personal tutor.
It is truly user centred learning that can be personalised
In a traditional classroom setting, learners are often working in a way, or at a speed or level that doesn’t work for them. Some will find it too slow and may lose interest, whereas others may struggle to keep up. Unlike more traditional forms of learning techniques, immersive learning can be truly tailored to meet the needs of each individual, meaning that each experience is unique and can be undertaken at a level and pace that meets their needs.
Learning experiences from the classroom to the workplace need to be measurable to ensure the level of comprehension and proficiency on the part of the learner. Future Visual’s VISIONxR(™) platform highlights how immersive learning can be built with evaluation at the heart of any experience. The learner’s experiences can be monitored in real time by their teachers, trainers or peers, giving them the chance to get immediate feedback. Additionally, performance data can be recorded for analysis after the experience has taken place – and also repeated at a later date to test retention of knowledge and skills.
It’s a safe space to learn
Whether you’re wanting your students to visit hard to reach and dangerous places, or teach new practices and procedures, by recreating real life scenarios in a digital space, immersive learning provides a safe and risk free environment to explore and learn from mistakes made.
Best Practices for Effective Learning
Ultimately, immersive learning, like any form of education and training, exists to increase a learner’s knowledge base or arm them with new skills. Adopting immersive technologies can add significant benefits to a learner’s educational experience, however its successful development and implementation can be challenging.
There are key practical steps that educators can take when introducing immersive technologies into their education and training programmes, including;
1 – Exploring if immersive is the right learning tool
Remember that immersive learning is simply another channel to engage with a learner – it is not the driver. Before committing to an immersive learning programme, make sure that your learning objectives and desired outcomes are clear and that immersive technologies will help you to achieve this. Introducing tech for the sake of it runs the risk of it simply becoming a costly and ineffective gimmick.
2 – Choosing the right technology for the job
With each immersive technology coming with unique benefits and downsides; adopting the right one for the job is crucial. Subject matter is a key factor; for example transporting a learner to Mars may work best in VR, but be less impactful in AR. Other considerations could include whether you want it to be a shared experience, how much physical space and time you have and, crucially, what your budget is. The technology (in addition to content) also needs to be age appropriate; for example, if a child is at an age where they would be accompanied by an adult in the real world, would you want to put them into a fully immersive, solitary VR space?
3 – Clear onboarding & safe environment
Immersive technologies can be fun and engaging learning tools, but they can also be daunting to new users. Ensuring the learner feels safe and understands what they are doing is essential. Before starting any experience, your learner should be given clear and simple instructions on how the hardware works, what to expect in the experience (and what is expected of them) and how to leave an experience if they feel uncomfortable.
You may also want to consider how you guide the learner through the experience, for example, providing a friendly avatar guide for prompts and navigation.
4 – Planning your structure
If you are used to planning classroom based content, you may need to think differently about the structure of an immersive learning experience. Remember that the learner potentially has far more control, so different scenarios and actions need to be pre-empted and storyboarded. Don’t forget that bite sized experiences are generally far more effective for keeping learners engaged and focused – a maximum of around 20 minutes for even the most experienced immersive users.
5 – Keep it learner focused
Whether you are teaching primary age children or highly skilled professionals, you need to ensure that any immersive learning experience is focused on the user. When developing immersive content, you need to consider their tech levels and tolerance in terms of duration.
Remember that immersive learning isn’t a magic tool or quick fix to solve every educational or training challenge. As an educator, you need to consider how immersive learning can complement, rather than replace other forms of learning and add value. And don’t forget it can be expensive; in addition to the cost of hardware such as headsets, you need to factor in the cost of content development when creating bespoke experiences to fit into your course curriculum.
Immersive Learning & VR
Virtual reality offers the ultimate immersive learning experience. By donning a headset and headphones, learners are transported out of the real world to a virtual space.
It is a tried and tested way of giving learners unique vocational training by replicating real life scenarios and adding gamification to course content. But virtual reality can also open up a world of inspirational content for learners that can be seamlessly blended with existing course curricula. Innovative examples such as ClassVR highlight how virtual reality can be adapted to meet the needs of learners of all ages, bringing interactivity and visually spectacular content into the classroom environment to help improve literacy, contextualise existing knowledge and improve engagement and knowledge retention. Moreover, it can help students to get creative by developing their own immersive content.
Immersive learning is an incredibly effective way for people of all ages and experience to broaden their knowledge base and perfect new skills. Technological advances in the last few years, from VR headsets becoming more affordable and the increasing functionality of mobile technology has meant that immersive technologies are now moving from niche to mainstream.
These advances are opening the doors for educators to embrace and exploit the power of immersive learning – and for learners to learn without limits and fulfil their true potential. While immersive learning cannot replace traditional learning techniques, it can significantly contribute to make learning more engaging and impactful. And that’s an exciting lesson to be learned by us all!