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How Does Virtual Reality Enhance Learning?

Jul 14, 2021 / SkillsVR

With today's toddlers mastering tablet use before their parents, one thing is abundantly clear: teaching methods need to evolve with our personal technologies and beyond. But it’s not just the future generations, according to Pew Research Centre roughly 85% of all adults in the US own a smartphone. That number jumps to 95-96% in adults aged between 18 and 49.

Our workforce is more technologically advanced than ever before. Therefore, our training practices need to adapt as well.

How Humans Learn

There are some indisputable truths when it comes to how humans learn. The challenge becomes not reinventing the wheel, but rather evolving these principles within the technology available to increase retention and understanding.

First and foremost, humans are storytellers. Creating narrative, even subconsciously, is how we make sense of the world around us. This is well illustrated in the Heider and Simmel Experiment from 1944.

Participants were shown the movie above, without preamble and were then asked to write down what happened. Of the 34 participants, 32 described the shapes as people, 2 as birds. They assigned human emotions, and genders and even created complex narratives to explain why the shapes “behaved” as they did. This has been foundational in understanding how the human brain takes in, interprets, and retains information.

Combining these principles with studies like Bloom’s Taxonomy we can get a solid understanding of how humans learn and adapt our training accordingly.

So what do we know?

  • Humans create stories to make sense of the world.
  • Hands on learning and repetition are excellent tools to teach and reinforce knowledge.
  • We can increase outcomes by increasing learner engagement.

So how do we keep learners engaged while learning a subject that isn’t particularly interesting to them?

Virtual Reality, Gamification, and Learning

That is where gamification comes in. Gamification is exactly what is sounds like, the application of typical elements of game play such as scoring, competition, rules of play etc, to other areas of activity; like learning. Virtual Reality, and SkillsVR in particular, aim to gamify  learning to increase engagement and retention.

A study run by PWC compared processes and outcomes from traditional classroom learning, e-learning, and VR learning within their management training program. They found that not only was the VR solution more cost and time effective, but learning outcomes greatly increased.

Confidence in acting on issues covered within the training increased to 275%, that is up 40% from classroom learning and a 35% improvement over e-learning.

Focus during the learning also improved. VR participants were 4 times more focused than their e-learning peers and 1.5 times more focused than classroom participants.

Perhaps most impressive was the increase in emotional connection to the material. Emotional connection to a topic enhances recall and understanding by the learner. Particularly when teaching soft skills that revolve around empathy and understanding, finding a way to personally connect learners to the material is vital. VR participants were 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more than e-learners.

VR allows us to put the learner directly into the scenario we are trying to teach them, allowing them to gain “real world experience” without the nerves or fear of judgement from coworkers. They can fail as many times as they need to until the message sinks in without fear of persecution, relaxing the learner and allowing them to focus solely on the task at hand.

We can also create a narrative within the game, allowing learners to make sense of their virtual world through guided storytelling. SkillsVR found success in training security guards to de-escalate hostile situations by using realistic avatars and adaptable responses to put the learner directly into a realistic situation. Allowing them to recall that narrative and translate it into real world behaviours on the job.

It’s not just soft skills like those in the PWC study, either. The medical field is finding value in using VR simulations for procedural training. Doctors, nurses, paramedics and more are able to practice procedures thousands of times without consuming valuable resources or risking patient harm. While traditional methods of training with cadavers are still a primary focus, VR can support this hands on training with a virtual version. This also gives professionals a low-stakes training ground that still reflects the level of patient care that should be administered.

SkillsVR has taken procedural health and safety training into the virtual world as well. Allowing workers to practice good safety, PPE and hygiene practices in a safe and controlled environment. Earning Unit Standard certifications becomes on the job training in a virtual space, translating educational material into “real world” scenarios, on a virtual platform of course.

These innovative applications of VR technology are just the beginning. With the increase of use in business, commonality in the education sector is bound to follow. Soon, a global pandemic could have less impact on the education sector with the rollout of VR learning.

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