It is well-established that motivation plays a very important, and possibly the most important, part in the learning process. Educators know that if we are able to connect learners with ideas and concepts, and motivate them to discover more, that successful outcomes have a very high probability of being realized. But what role does virtual reality (VR) play in this?
Learning is not easy and requires hard work and sustained effort. According to research from the University of British Columbia (Canada), there are three ways to increase motivation:
1. Personal relevance
2. Choice and control
3. Mastery is within reach
Source: Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, 2013,
By its very nature, VR can provide the learner with opportunities for autonomous learning. Modules which have been designed with an eye on curricula can establish a relevance between each module and that which is being taught in class. What is presented in each module would need to be designed slightly differently, attending to a different way of relating that particular concept to the world around us. A cookie-cutter approach would not suffice, as learning about atomic numbers and the Periodic Table would be inherently different from studying about relative motion. Some amount of gamification would increase interest, in some cases, but not everything benefits from a gamified approach. VR can most definitely help with visualization, increasing the connection between learner and concept.
While in a VR environment, the learner is the driver behind the learning. Ideally, students would move through modules at a speed which is conducive for their own learning styles and needs. Each student would naturally find areas where they may need extra time, and instances when they are sure of the subject matter and can move more quickly through. Unlike a video or a teacher-centered lesson, the control is in the hands of each student, allowing them to control pace. This in turn increases motivation as they are the agents of their learning.
In a perfect world, modules would be mapped to the curriculum, ensuring that the material is at a suitable level for the learner, and that mastery of a concept is at least obtainable. It is very demotivating to be confronted with materials that are too difficult and which contain vocabulary beyond a student’s current level, causing them to lose interest, fracturing their connection with the material. Likewise, it is also demoralizing to be presented with redundant, previously-learned information which renders the whole exercise meaningless. It is a tricky balance, but one that needs to be attended to, securing a proper relationship between learner and study materials.
There are a number of ways in which VR can help fill gaps in the learning process. It can provide one more instance of working with, or interacting with, a concept. In addition, it can provide a valuable chance to visualize a conceptually challenging idea, increasing the possibility of more deeply understanding concepts which may not be clearly comprehended. It is unlikely that VR would replace traditional instruction, but it offers opportunities which may assist and enhance the learning process.