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Study: Virtual Reality More Engaging for Students Than Traditional Educational Materials

VR Cover

Virtual reality is not only an exciting technology for gaming. A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Warwick in UK showed that it is also engaging as an educational tool. This recent finding is also very helpful in promoting a larger scale adoption of new technologies in various industries.

The Research

The research started with an experiment. In this experiment, the research team selected three groups of students and assigned them to three learning methods. One group was in a fully immersive virtual reality environment. Second group received traditional textbooks. Finally, the third group used 2D videos of the VR environment.

In order to make the experiment relevant, all three groups of students learned the same lesson in biology.

What the researchers wanted to find was how virtual reality influences students at an emotional level, not just at a cognitive level. To achieve this end, they asked the students to describe their learning experience.

Video Learning – No Longer Engaging and Interesting

Many learning systems around the world still treat video presentation as modern and engaging teaching material. However, the feedback given by the students involved in the experiment contradicts this view. They reported that watching the videos was a “basic” and “boring” learning experience.

The Sci-Fi Prediction of VR – Pygmalion’s Spectacles. Stanley G. Weinbaum, a well-known science fiction writer from the 1930s, had the vision of what Virtual Reality is and what it may become, even before the official term was coined. In his 1930s short story Pygmalion’s Spectacles, he shares the idea that a wearer of a pair of goggles can experience fictional worlds through holographics, touch, smell and taste. This truly made him a visionary in the field of virtual reality.

Surprisingly enough, the students who used textbook-style materials had a more positive response than those who watched the videos. Also, when the students took a test based on what they learned, those who used textbooks performed better than the students who learned with the help of videos.

Virtual Reality Boosts Mood and Helps Memorize Faster

However, the best reports and test results came from the group of students who learned with virtual reality. The immersive environment of the lesson created positive emotions in the students and helped them retain more information.

A member of the research team, Devon Allcoat, a Psychology PhD student at the University of Warwick, explained the results of the experiment:

“This study showed that VR could transform classroom teaching, as you could use VR to go for a walk with dinosaurs and increase engagement in the classroom and give pupils a more positive learning experience.”

Virtual Reality Can Represent the Next Educational Revolution

Apart from its scientific value, the experiment conducted by the university shows that virtual reality is a serious contender of traditional teaching methods. Students of all ages are more receptive to situations they can relate to. Reading or seeing something is a detached experience.

The Virtuality Group Arcade Machine Experiences. The 1990s saw huge developments in virtual reality. With the rise of the arcades and arcade games, it was only a matter of time, before developers started coming up with new and exciting concepts and ideas. A company known as The Virtuality Group was at the cutting edge of virtual reality, launching a wide range of arcade games and machines that let either one or a couple of players immerse themselves into amazing 3D visual experiences. This happened in 1991, a year before the movie The Lawnmower Man further introduced the Virtual Reality concept to a wider audience of people.

However, certain learning topics cannot be experienced directly or replicated in the classroom. Students and teachers cannot travel back in time to witness a historical event. No one can go inside an erupting volcano to understand its mechanics. Going to the Great Barrier Reef is beyond the financial possibilities of most schools around the globe.

Yet, all these experiences can be made available to students – through virtual reality. Seeing is believing, but experimenting is understanding – and memorizing.

The experiment conducted by the University of Warwick is detailed in the paper “Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement”. It is published in Research in Learning Technology Journal.

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