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 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 U.S. Government Loves VR. Both NASA and the U.S. military are investing in virtual reality. NASA uses the technology to try to connect engineers with the devices they send into space. Using the Oculus, and motion sensing equipment from the Xbox One gaming console, NASA engineers are developing ways to control a robotic arm with gestures made by the operator here on Earth. The military uses VR to recruit and to train soldiers before they are deployed. The simulated scenarios provide opportunities for teams to work together in immersive, realistic environments to better prepare them for the chaos of combat.
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.
Working with co-author Roy Pea, the David Jacks Professor of Education and director of Stanford's Human-Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute, Bailenson and his team brought the Stanford Ocean Acidification Experience to more than 270 high school students, college students and adults.
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.
All generations, whether Generation Z, Millennials or Baby Boomers everyone wants to get their hands-on VR devices and explore the virtual worlds.
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.