Immersive Learning: Why is it Effective?

March 23, 2021 - Sophie Thompson

Immersive learning is becoming increasingly common in high schools, Universities and as part of L&D programs, but is it just a new buzz word or does it have real value?

Rooted in behavioral and cognitive science, immersive learning has the power to greatly enhance the learning experience through greater participation, increased retention, and by providing practical experience of a task on-demand.

This article examines the benefits of immersive learning and ultimately whether it can lead to behavioral change.

What is immersive learning?

Immersive learning leverages technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) to facilitate learning.

It simulates real-world scenarios to create a sense of presence and immersion in the learning process. The learner's interactions with virtual objects mimic those of the real-world, allowing the learner to learn through experience in a safe environment, where they are free to make (and learn from) mistakes, without real-world consequences.

Immersive learning utilizes one or more of the following technologies:

  • Virtual Reality (VR) - fully immerses you in a virtual world with the use of a headset
  • Augmented Reality (AR) - enhances your real-world view by adding digital elements over it
  • Mixed reality (MR) - digital and physical objects co-exist and interact in real-time using a combination of VR and AR
  • Simulation learning - 3D visualizations and simulations provide a semi-immersive experience

How can immersion improve the learning experience?

Immersive technology can realistically simulate real-life situations, which mentally and emotionally engages the learner. As a result, completion rates and meaningful engagement with learning materials increases.

In addition, the technology enables on-demand repetition, where immersive scenarios can be repeated as many times as a learner needs to fully absorb the learning material.

Immersive learning can also help learners improve their decision-making in real-world situations. Students can see the results of their actions in VR immediately with real-time feedback, allowing the learner to easily recognise areas for improvement and consequences of a decision made. In turn, this supports their self-regulation and self-assessment in how they would respond to the scenario in real life.

Here are six key reasons why immersive technology is a valuable investment in education and workforce training.

1. Promotes learning through experience (experiential learning)

With immersive technology, students can learn more quickly by being an active participant in the learning experience. They learn by 'doing' and interacting in a way that simulates real life experiences, leading tolong-term knowledge retention.

Immersive technologies create an environment where students can interact with objects, both virtually and physically. Hands-on experience helps to build soft skills and operational knowledge.

Any scenario can be repeated as many times as a student requires in order to master the skill or learning objective - this eliminates the fear of making a mistake and creates a safe learning experience.

Learners get an opportunity to apply theory in practice. Their actions receive immediate feedback and have certain outcomes that allow students to check whether they made the right decision.

How does active learning benefit a student? Firstly, immediate actualization of theory improves knowledge retention, with retention levels from VR learning up to 75%, compared to 5-10% for other learning methods. Hands-on experience stimulates an emotional response from a learner and makes training more memorable.

This experiential learning benefits academic learning as well as on-the-job training.

For example, new employees can learn how to perform their day-to-day tasks or learn how to behave in difficult situations, such as giving negative feedback to a colleague. It allows working through a wide range of situations in a safe environment, which does not entail any real-world risks for the organization or employee.

By learning through experience, learners also build their confidence and skill set at an accelerated rate. A 2020 study from PwC, for example, found that VR learners are 4X faster to train and our own research has shown nearly 90% of our learners were more confident with our VR training.

2. Awakens curiosity with immersive environments

Immersive technology can be much more exciting for learners compared to traditional learning, as it engages more of the senses and can make you feel like you’re in a completely different situation to reality.

Immersive learning tools can recreate any kind of environment or situation, which opens up a world of opportunity. Learners can take a virtual trip to ancient Rome, visit the moon, or explore the depths of the ocean. It can promote curiosity and sparks interest in students way beyond regular 2D videos.

The captivating virtual scenarios encourage learners to open their minds and explore the impossible. Naturally, it is more interesting than traditional school assignments, and with a rise in students relying on an essay writing service for their latest essay, could VR learning be the answer to learner recall too?

3. Improves learning analytics

Immersive learning gives teachers and trainers a level of performance and usage data like never before, where they can get data driven insights from the learners through real-time and post-performance feedback, which helps to measure learning and identify areas for improvement.

Using immersive technology to train students and employees enables more detailed and accurate learning analytics. With XR (extended reality) technology, you can analyze data on a student's performance like never before, and based on this information, teachers and trainers can update learning experiences and guide students further as they progress along their learning journey.

Data such as the duration of use, number of repetitions, completion rates, eye contact, body language and number of correct answers or interactions all help teachers to get more detailed insights into the progress a student is making.

The learner themself is able to track their own progress too and together the student and instructor can use immersive learning to enhance the learning experience, and ultimately accelerate the transfer of knowledge and behavioural change.

Yet, the learning analytics available through immersive learning is not only useful for quantitative data. Instructors can also evaluate engagement rates and learner recall based on feedback from other students who are also in the immersive experience.

For example, during a live training session where learners and instructors all meet inside the same virtual environment. (learners can meet together inside virtual or augmented environments).

4. Transforms workforce training

Immersive learning will start to replace some expensive in-person training, as it can be deployed at scale and more cost effectively. Not only are there cost and accessibility benefits, but as we’ve already discussed, employee performance can also be accurately tracked, and easily identify areas that require additional training.

Immersive learning facilitates the upskilling of employees through realistic practice and accurate feedback on performance. Companies can use immersive training to effectively onboard new hires, safely train staff in otherwise high-risk situations, and improve employees’ soft skills to help achieve individual and organisational goals.

Crucially, immersive learning can be easily deployed at scale to deliver the same high quality training to employees located all around the world.

Immersive learning simulates real-life scenarios and can train a specific set of skills that are needed in a job role, such as customer service, forklift driving, and sales pitching. XR training is also brilliant for high-risk and potentially life threatening situations.

For example, police officers can learn how to act in case of accidents or dangerous situations and medical staff can perform and practice difficult operations first in VR. In these situations and others, immersive learning helps learners to become more competent and build confidence in their ability, all in a safe environment.

5. Keeps learners attentive and focused

XR captures the full, undivided attention of a learner by immersing them in realistic situations and removing them from distractions. Immersive learning helps learners focus on their learning experience and learn more efficiently.

The traditional learning environment is full of distractions. Teachers have to overcome numerous obstacles to win students’ attention and help them learn, and we all know people who press ‘play’ on an e-learning video then scroll through social media while it plays in the background!

As immersive learning puts the learner at the heart of the learning experience and, especially with VR, removes external distractions, students naturally become more focused on their learning. In fact, PwC found that people were 4X more focused with VR learning than other learning methods.

Immersive training content can be customized for individual learners and therefore more valuable for them as well. If a learner is struggling with a particular task, for example, they might be teleported to a different scenario where they can try a more simple version of the task and start building their skills from a different base.

Courses that use immersive technologies tend to have higher completion rates because of their interactive style and ability to hold a learner’s focus. For example, VirtualSpeech provides e-learning courses combined with VR, with the completion rates for their courses 30-40% higher than traditional e-learning courses.

6. Increases participation

Immersive learning increases engagement levels of learners compared to traditional learning material. The lack of possible distractions, particularly with VR, combined with immersive gamification, make this an attractive alternative to future learning strategies.

Immersive learning encourages students to be active and engaged in the learning material. With immersive learning, the student is frequently required to interact in the virtual environment or complete a task in VR for the learning to continue.

Immersive learning gives students a platform for collaboration, where they can meet in VR and feel a heightened sense of presence and connection than over Zoom, for example. Learners can explore virtual environments together, practice joint problem-solving as a team, provide feedback for presentations or group projects, and discuss their performance in the virtual exercises.

Role-play games and remote collaboration in VR allow everyone to share their knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences, resulting in more active participation.

Deploying an immersive learning program

Now that we’ve looked at why immersive learning is effective, you might be interested in how you can use it in your organization.

There are several key areas you need to think about when deploying an immersive learning program, including where to start, how to integrate with existing training, the logistics of rolling out the program, and how to increase learner adoption.

  • Finding a need and setting objectives
  • Rollout and adoption
  • Integrate with existing training material
  • Allocating resources and cost
  • Employee adaptation to new technology
  • Hygiene and headsets
  • Measure performance and track progress

Read more here: Best Practices for Deploying Immersive Learning Programs