I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand – Confucius
Virtual Reality is the ultimate medium for delivering what is known as “experiential learning”. This education theory is based on the idea that we learn and remember activities by doing it for ourselves, rather than being told what it entails.
But what do the studies say? Is there really any data to back up what many of us assume to be true, that students learn better within a virtual reality environment?
Learning By Doing
According to American educator David Kolb effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) which are then (4) used to test hypotheses in future situations, resulting in new experiences.
Now, imagine a scenario where students experience an immersive module on photosynthesis. With the help of a controller, they can go inside the plant and get a sense of what it is to be chloroplast or understand how plants meet the requirements for the process of photosynthesis. Such ‘look-see-do’ modes of learning encourages students to explore, identify, and experiment with the content at their own pace.
Let Students Engage
VR moves beyond traditional learning and provides an active learning environment where students are engaged and excited to explore more. With properly created VR libraries, they would be able to more deeply absorb sometimes abstract concepts, without distraction. This would pique their interest and encourage motivation (“I want to learn this topic because I’m interested and engaged”) over incentive (“I want to learn this topic because I will get certificate at the end.”)
Let Students Choose
With proper VR content in the classroom, science could become much more interesting and fun. Students have agency over what they want to explore, and this may in turn encourage thoughtful consideration of what they want to be in the future. For example, a chemistry or biology lab within the virtual world might ignite a future scientist or a doctor within a student. This can further be extrapolated to different career options.
Let Students Teach
With tools like the VR at the teacher’s disposal,the opportunity to create yet another instance of having a student connect with a topic or concept is realized. With such engagement, another venue for exploration, through instruction, may also take hold. That is that students may wish to share the experience of being inside the Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower with their friends and teachers, and discuss the topic at length, and with enthusiasm. Instructors will hopefully notice an increase on time-on-task, assessment results, and even a student’s cognitive processes. A lofty goal, but when a young mind gets actively engaged, loftier goals have the chance of being attained.
The growing accessibility and sophistication of educational technologies opens up increasing possibilities for students to explore, and relate their experiences. A tool like the VR, only when combined with good, vetted content, has the potential of bringing students to the centre of the learning process, where they can learn to connect with abstract concepts, discuss these with their peers and teachers, and demonstrate that newfound knowledge in the real world. This is the true bridge between knowledge and understanding.