Six Things to Consider When Designing Learning Experiences for VR

Virtual reality (VR) is transforming the education industry. VR is the use of computer technology to create a 3D environment that learners can interact with. These simulated environments are highly immersive.  This experience is both visual and auditory, which makes it ideal for e-learning.

VR brings with it its own design imperatives that are unique from traditional e-learning scenarios. Great instructional design in traditional e-learning does not necessarily translate into great instructional design for VR. As VR becomes the most engaging and impactful training methodology available, it’s important to understand the many different facets of designing for this medium.

There are three theories that blend well with VR learning: constructivism, behaviourism, and experiential learning.

Constructivism is the theory that says learners construct knowledge rather than just passively taking in information. As people experience the world and reflect upon those experiences, they build their own representations and incorporate new information into their pre-existing knowledge. This is important for VR as learners are experiencing a version of reality, allowing them to absorb information more readily.

Behaviourism focuses on the idea that all behaviours are learned through interaction with the environment. This learning theory states that behaviours are learned from the environment and says that innate or inherited factors have very little influence on behaviour. In VR, learners interact with virtual environments and modify their behaviours based on the material.

Experiential learning is learning by doing. It focuses on the idea that the best ways to learn things is by having experiences. Those experiences then stick out in learners’ minds and help them retain information and remember facts. VR is at the forefront of experiential learning. For example, learners who need to learn to operate machinery can interact with the device in a virtual environment without any risks to their safety; they therefore learn by doing in a virtual world.

Designing VR for e-Learning

There need to be special considerations when designing for VR in e-learning. The usual tricks of the trade won’t always work. Here are some design choices to keep in mind while working with VR:

Keep text to a minimum: VR is specially suited to graphics and animation, so use them as often as possible. Using walls of text in VR can be particularly stressful on learners’ eyes. It’s a case of show don’t tell: whatever you might describe through words should instead be demonstrated through video.

Keep feedback unobtrusive: Constant on-screen feedback is unnecessary. Keep feedback high level so as not to overwhelm the learner. Feedback should be well-timed and well-paced as it takes time for the learner to make cognitive adjustments in their ongoing education.  

Using the space wisely: One of the most powerful aspects of the 3D environment is the ability to connect movement to the training task. Be sure to place tools where they would be in the real world. If you can reproduce activities through object interaction, then do so. Prompt the learner to make decisions by doing what they would do next. You can then build in consequences if they take the wrong actions.

Encourage users to be active: Create opportunities for learners to use physical movements to manipulate content. Kinaesthetic manipulation of content has been shown to have positive effects on learning.

Guided exploration: Total freedom in a VR environment can build curiosity, but once the lesson progresses structure is needed to guide the learner. Use constructs such as pacing, flashing icons, constrained choices, etc.

Deeper assessments: Assessments can be created within a safe assessment space, allowing the learner to be assessed on situations that are realistic and perhaps too dangerous to be undertaken in real life. This provides assessment data that can be better measured and scored. Assessments in an immersive VR environment capture more comprehensive data that can be analysed. Assessment in VR allows learners to be shown the immediate consequences of their actions; don’t shy away from demonstrating the severe results of incorrect actions – VR is a safe environment in which to explore dire consequences. When building assessments, consider the ways in which a learner can make a decision in the virtual environment: through the relevant hand movements; with the VR device tracking the learner’s position and movement; using head motions; or through speech recognition – these are all ways to build immersive and interesting assessments in VR.

There are many considerations when building VR training scenarios. Place yourself into the shoes of the learner while plotting the 3D environment: consider use of the space, the user interface design and the ways of providing feedback. Keeping this in mind while designing scenarios will help create an effective immersive training experience for learners.

Written by Rob Ewart


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